Authors and Illustrators and Editors…Oh My:When Creating a Book is a Collaborative Effort + Free PB manuscript critique by PB Author Vivian Kirkfield.

I’ve always been a fan of collaboration. As a kid, I loved getting together with friends to plan a fun project. As a kindergarten teacher, I treasured the contributions from parents who brought a wealth of diversity and talent to school functions. It seemed natural to me that there would be a team effort when a book was created—with input from author, illustrator, and editor. But unfortunately, that doesn’t always happen.

In theory, the author brings her vision to the story with words. The illustrator adds another layer of vision. But some editors may fear if too much communication is allowed between author and illustrator, the author may try to influence the illustrator to do things her way. Although I understand that point of view, I also believe that there is so much good that can come out of working as a team.

At this point in my writing journey, I have multiple book deals. That is certainly something to cheer about. But it’s also given me the opportunity to experience different publishing processes. The first contract I signed was for SWEET DREAMS, SARAH (Creston Books, May 1, 2019). Sweet Dreams, Sarah: From Slavery to Inventor

I never saw early sketches, there was no collaboration between author and illustrator, and when the color layouts were finally shared with me, there were many changes that needed to be made for historical accuracy. I’m grateful that those changes have been made and the finished product will be stellar, but that is why a book that was signed in November 2015 isn’t launching until May 2019. Happily, for the other two books that also launch next year, there has been a level of collaboration which exceeded even my expectations. 

PIPPA’S PASSOVER PLATE (Holiday House, Feb 5, 2019) began as a Picture Book Idea Month thought back in 2013. cover on amazon

When one of my in-person critique buddies, author/illustrator Jill Weber, saw it at the end of 2017, she fell in love with it and brought it to her long-time editor in NYC who also fell in love with it and bought it on the spot. Jill signed on to illustrate and what followed was pure pleasure for me, although lots of hard work for Jill. She showed me early sketches—I loved each one. She shared early color illustrations—they were fantastic. And when the book dummy was complete, we shared a cup of hot chocolate at our favorite local meeting place while I got to flip through the pages to see Pippa Mouse and all the other characters come to life. Hurray for collaboration! 

When my agent sent FOUR OTTERS TOBOGGAN: AN ANIMAL COUNTING BOOK to the editor at PomegranateKids, she also sent some sketches from one of her illustrator clients. Essie had a feeling that Mirka Hokkanen’s style would be the perfect match for my lyrical text. And she was spot on right! The editor loved the partnership and signed Mirka to do the illustrations. four otters cover amazon

Mirka and I live 5000 miles apart and can’t meet for hot chocolate, but we were able to connect via Facebook messaging and email. And thank goodness for that, because Mirka, being a conscientious illustrator, did her research before she began drawing (sadly, not every illustrator does that). She uncovered a big problem. All ten of the endangered animals were supposed to inhabit the ecosystem of the Colorado Rockies. “No!” Mirka said. “Not the Golden Cheeked Warbler.” “Yes, it is,” I replied. “It’s found in Colorado Bend State Park!”

Now, wouldn’t you think that Colorado Bend State Park is in Colorado? I certainly did. But no. It’s actually in Texas.

1st spread

Thank goodness for Mirka’s attention to detail and for our ability to collaborate. We researched other birds and found the perfect substitute—the Southwestern Willow Flycatcher. Of course, we immediately let the editor know why we were making the change and he was totally fine with that. But how much better it was that we made the change before the publisher fact-checked and discovered my incorrect information.

Later in the process, Mirka sent me a sketch of one of the spreads and she questioned why I had peregrine falcon babies in a burrow. “Don’t they live on a high cliff ledge?” she asked. They certainly do, but the ‘bobbing beaks retreating to the borrowed burrow’ referred to the five burrowing owls from the previous spread, not to the six peregrine falcons who were circling overhead. 5 burrowing owls

If Mirka and I were not collaborating, she would have spent a lot of time refining her sketch and perhaps even crafting the block from which she would make the woodcut illustration. Or worse, if I didn’t get to see the book until it was almost ready to ship, expensive changes would have to be made. Hurray for collaboration!

Just a few weeks ago, I got to see the dummy for FROM HERE TO THERE: INVENTIONS THAT CHANGED THE WAY THE WORLD MOVES (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Fall 2020). Illustrator Gilbert Ford had a huge task…nine nonfiction picture book bios in one compilation book. The editor kindly asked me to comment on the PDF, but there was very little for me to say except how much I loved it! And although I haven’t seen any sketches yet for MAKING THEIR VOICES HEARD: THE INSPIRING FRIENDSHIP OF ELLA FITZGERALD AND MARILYN MONROE (Little Bee Books, Spring 2020), I’m thrilled with the portfolio of Allenanna Harris, the illustrator who will be bringing that story to life. I know she will do a fabulous job and I look forward to the collaborative effort that will create a wonderful picture book for children.

Although this writing journey can be frustrating at times and disappointing at others, I always feel blessed to be on it. And lucky to have all of you as my traveling companions. I truly believe that we can turn our dreams into reality if we keep moving forward, help one another, and never give up. Our destination is within reach.

Vivian is giving away ONE PICTURE BOOK CRITIQUE to a random person who leaves a comment on this post. All commenters names will be placed in a hat and one winner will be drawn and announced on this blog on Thursday February 7, 2019. If you share this post on Twitter or FB, or reblog it, let me know and I will add your name twice to the hat.


Vivian Kirkfield’s career path is paved with picture books. She shelved them at the library during her college years. She read them to her students when she taught kindergarten. And she writes them. She is the author of Pippa’s Passover Plate (Holiday House, February 2019); Four Otters Toboggan: An Animal Counting Book (PomegranateKids, March 2019); Sweet Dreams, Sarah (Creston Books, May 2019); Making Their Voices Heard: The Inspiring Friendship of Ella Fitzgerald and Marilyn Monroe (Little Bee Books, Spring 2020); and From Here to There: Inventions That Changed the Way the World Moves (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Fall 2020). Vivian lives in the quaint New England village of Amherst, New Hampshire where the old stone library is her favorite hangout and her young grandson is her favorite Monopoly partner. You can visit her website at Picture Books Help Kids Soar where she hosts the #50PreciousWords Writing Challenge or connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, and Linkedin.

166 thoughts on “Authors and Illustrators and Editors…Oh My:When Creating a Book is a Collaborative Effort + Free PB manuscript critique by PB Author Vivian Kirkfield.

  1. All of these stories look amazing to me. However, I like the idea of Four Otters Toboggan the best. NO surprise, right Darlene? LOL Congratulations, Vivian

  2. Such different stories for each book, Vivian! I love the fact that Mirka did so much research before actually putting brush to canvas. As one who is anxiously awaiting news on an illustrator, I’m heartened to know that these collaborations work out 🙂 Best of luck with all your releases!

  3. This is such a wonderful post. It is enlightening to see how you maneuvered through the process. Thank you for sharing this, Vivian!

    • Oh, Mia…I love how you put that. Manuevered through the process..that’s a great visual because that’s exactly what we need to do, I think. And hearing how others have done it can help the rest of us.

  4. Oh how wonderful to see my friend Vivian here and so happy for her success. She is the best! and has always, no matter how busy, been there for me…Congratulations dear Vivian…♥️Olivia

  5. Always fascinating to get the story behind the story and see how sssential collaboration is to get that story right. Thanks Vivian for sharing you experiences.

  6. It’s interesting to know what happens behind the scenes. It shows there’s more to it than just a story. So much heart from many people is poured into a book. Thanks for the insight. Amazing Vivian’s debut year and more already to follow. A great story!

    • It’s definitely been an amazing journey, Ashley…and I am enjoying every moment of it…well, perhaps not the frustrating moments. 🙂 But i know how fortunate I am to have had this luck and I always love sharing my experiences because I learned a lot when people shared theirs with me.

  7. So smart when perfect pairings of author and illustrator happen! With your wonderful track record Vivian, many doors will keep opening to you!

  8. Wonderful post on collaboration !!! I love Vivian Kirkfield she’s an inspiration !! I hope that when, and I’m not saying if, my picture books become contracts , I’ll have a wonderful collaboration with a fabulous illustrator too! I just got back from a writing retreat and all I can say is three cheers for collaboration !!! I am retweeting as we speak . 😀

  9. This is a terrific post with lots of great information. How wonderful that Vivien had the opportunity to collaborate with her illustrators. I tweeted about the post. Thanks for the post and the chance.

  10. Riding the toboggan with you dear Vivian though I still haven’t reached the spot for hot chocolate! Congratulations on your successes and for taking us on your journies.

    • Wish we could connect again in person, Mona…if you will be at the NESCBWI in Springfield, I will see you there. and we can catch up. And I am always ready to journey with you and share hot chocolate!

  11. Thank you, Vivian, for your generous offer and for sharing your fascinating stories behind the stories. I love learning about your process and appreciate how grateful you are. Reminds me how wonderful the kidlit community is. Congratulations on your success and I can’t wait to read your books!

    • Thank you so much, Robin…I love reading manuscripts and giving feedback…and sharing is how I learned because others shared with me. It’s my pleasure! And good wishes are always gladly accepted!

    • No, you are right. And I wanted to share because I think knowledge is empowering. We all need to know that the publishing process can go many different ways…but as authors, we need to find a way to politely protect the heart and authenticity of our story…while embracing the vision of the editor and the creativity of the illustrator.

  12. Vivian! I see this post today and right beside me on the couch is Mary Had a Little Glam. You and your work are inspiring. Thank you!

    • I appreciate your kind words, Lynn…I’m so glad you love the new OTTERS title…it was hard to give up Visitors to Deep Pool because I lived with it for several years. But I love the new title also!

    • It definitely does, Laurie. And what’s next are two amazing books so far in 2020…they are such favorites of mine…one about Ella Fitzgerald and Marilyn Monroe…and the other is actually about NINE visionaries who changed the way the world moves. And I’ve seen early sketches of both and LOVE them!

    • I’m trying to be a good mommy and make sure they take their first steps surrounded by loving family and friends, Cheryl…that’s why I am visiting lots of blogs over the next few months!

    • Thank you so much, Sydnie…you made my evening…or should I say wee hours of the morning…it’s 1:45am and I should get to sleep, but I wanted to come and respond to all of these amazing comments…and the day just gets away from me.

  13. I like that there is a range of interaction possibilities among authors and illustrators. This really opened my eyes. Thank you!

    • Yup…definitely a range…I guess as many different possibilities as there are different author/illustrator/editor/manuscript combinations. 🙂 But I think what is important is to know that it will be different and also that even though you may not have control over who the illustrator is, you are still responsible to see that the heart of your story is preserved, while embracing the vision that the illustrator brings to the table.

    • Thank you so much, my friend. I’m excited about the debut also. And, like you, I didn’t realize how much work the illustrator is supposed to do…unfortunately, if an illustrator gets hired for a project that is not in his or her wheelhouse, there can be delays…or worse. Fortunately, most of the time, editors are spot on with their illustrator choices.

    • You are so welcome, Stephanie. It hurt my heart to close my critique service because of all the posts and presentations I had to prepare before leaving on my trip…so I was happy to offer this one for a prize on Darlene’s blog…she is such a wonderful supporter of kid lit AND a fab author. Her WHEELS OF CHANGE is one of my favorite MG books.

  14. Learning about your journey has been inspiring. Thank you for sharing your story with us and THANK YOU for your contributions to the Kidlit community Vivian! SO many fun books! Can’t wait!

    • So glad you enjoyed the post, Tara. This is such a difficult business…fraught with rejection…and for such a seemingly small reward. Inspiration is a daily requirement…just like chocolate!

  15. I used to do image acquisition in my old job and would find similar errors in text as described in the Colorado Bend State Park segment. Glad the illustrator had such a keen eye. I can’t wait to read that book Vivian! It sounds great!

    • Exactly, Megan. That’s why I encourage collaboration because when you have a team working together, you can accomplish so much more…and joyfully! I hope you get a copy – Mirka’s woodcuts are glowing. And the #STEM back matter is something kids and teachers will enjoy, I think!

  16. Thank you for sharing how your experiences in collaborating with your illustrators has been so rewarding. I’ve always wondered what those collaborations may look like. Thank you!

    • I was really fortunate, Jenny, to work with 3 different publishers/editors on three different types of manuscripts illustrated by three different artists. It really gave me a great education in the publishing process…and my education continues as the book launch…and my two other 2020 pbs move forward in their publishing process.

    • Truly…you are right, Tracy. I think they couldn’t be more different in topic, format…and all illustrated in different styles. It’s been quite an experience…and I’ve loved every minute…well, perhaps not the frustrating minutes. 😉

  17. Wow. Thank you for this inspiring post and the critique offer. I’m excited about these gorgeous books and inspired by your journey!

  18. Oh my GOSH I can’t wait to read FOUR OTTERS TOBOGGAN! I have always loved Mirka’s artwork, and it definitely seems like a perfect match for your words. This part of the PB process- the magic of seeing words come to life- is that part that I dream of most of all. Great post, Vivian!

    • Right on, Ryan. I was so fortunate that our agent, Essie White, has such a wonderful eye for what works together AND for what editors are looking for. It was she who paired my text with samples of Mirka’s art…beautiful wildlife sketches, I believe. And the editor agreed!

  19. Oh Vivian what I would give to have an in-person critique partner who was an illustrator or even one with whom I could collaborate! In Storystorm the recommendation was made to collaborate and I really feel that being able to bounce ideas off of another creative and having them being able to bounce ideas off of you would be a GIFT!!!

    Congratulations to you for all the books you have coming out! I can imagine how proud you are.

    • Colleen…I 100% agree with you…for me, critique partners have been my support and rock…I’m so fortunate to have several vibrant critique groups…several online…and also in person. When you have a positive vibrant group…even if it is a group of 2 or 3…magic can and does happen. I think there are places you can search for critique buddies….Kidlit411? 12×12 if you are a member? And several of the FB groups as well…Sub Six…Sub It Club…there are lots of places where like-minded people are hanging out. 😉
      And thank you so much for your kind words!

    • DENVER! My husband and I lived in Colorado Springs for 18 years…we moved back to the east coast in 2013. But I totally miss those sugar-like snowfalls, 331 sunny days, no humidity in the summer. And, oh yes…NO MOSQUITOES!!!!
      Thank you, Susan..glad you enjoyed the fun of the Colorado Bend State Park story! I think I will have to use that for the NESCBWI presentation! Maybe I will get a couple of laughs.

  20. I recently learned about the Marilyn Monroe/Ella Fitzgerald story – that is such a great idea for a picture book! I love it because it adds so much more depth to Marilyn as a person and shows what an absolute talent Ella was. I can’t wait to check it out!

    • It’s coming in Spring 2020 from Little Bee Books, Carrie. I wrote that manuscript in 2014 and brought it to a conference in editor loved it. I revised it for her. But she couldn’t get her team to buy it. This happened twice more for the next two years until finally, in 2018, an editor loved it and I revised it and she was able to acquire it! YAY…and the art is going to be EXQUISITE…Alleanna Harris is the illustrator and she rocks! I’ve already seen early sketches…and they are fabulous!

  21. Hello I loved reading about your journey and find similar focus from my journey. I love that you started late in life to get published and have so many positive ideas and comments about it.

    • There are advantages to being older, Sheri…I find that i am more patient…but also more confident and able to speak up when maybe even 10 years ago I wouldn’t have been able to. Of course, jumping out of that perfectly good airplane definitely helped in that regard. Good for you that you are on a similar journey (maybe not the jumping out of the airplane part)…all good wishes on your writing!

  22. I come from an advertising background where writers are paired with art directors to create commercials–collaboration can be magical (provided nobody’s ego gets in the way;)! Wish more publishers realized that. Congrats on all your hard work and success, Vivian!

  23. I particularly appreciate these stories of collaboration, which does not get enough respect.All of my books (in my day job) were collaborative efforts and better for that co-authorship. Thank you for shining this light on why collaboration matters.

    • I agree Stephanie. When collaboration is given room to flourish, the results can be amazing. I was thrilled to collaborate on art images that appear at the beginnings of chapters in my MG historical, thanks to the fabulous illustrator/author/editor/publisher at Creston Books, Marissa Moss.

  24. Thank you for sharing the process of collaboration (or lack of it!) that occurs between author and illustrator. Can’t wait to read “Making Their Voices Heard”!

    • I think it is important not to sugar coat the publishing process. It is what it is…and hopefully, if enough people show how beneficial collaboration is, more editors will embrace that philosophy. And you are going to LOVE Making Their Voices Heard, Anna.

    • I think it is always helpful to be informed and know that there are many different paths the process of publication can take, Sara. And I was really so fortunate to get to experience many different ones. 🙂

  25. Thanks, Vivian, for a fascinating post about the process of publication and collaboration. I love hearing the story behind your stories! I can’t wait to read them! Your journey is inspiring, thank you for sharing. Sharing this on facebook!

    • It would seem that way, Carolyn…I totally agree. But I also see the other side of the coin…some authors are so set on what they wrote…they might find it difficult to alllow the illustrator to exercise her creative vision. But my experience has shown me that it can and does work.

  26. Thanks. This post is exactly the kind of encouragement and role modeling that I need. I have a tendency to try to do it all on my own and am realizing that going solo has often held me back from going further with my writing and illustration and enjoying the process of working with and learning from others. Thanks for sharing!

  27. A great post about your different collaborative experiences. I especially take inspiration from your following line: I truly believe that we can turn our dreams into reality if we keep moving forward, help one another, and never give up. Here’s to keeping the faith!!

    • I agree Joan. Writing is such a solitary pursuit and if we don’t find joy in it , and pass on that joy through helping others along the way, whether it’s by writing a kind review for a book, collaborating on a project, or giving guidance to those not yet published, what’s the point of it?

  28. Vivian, this is fascinating! I heard a similar story with regards to zero collaboration allowed. Unfortunately, in that case, the publisher did not correct the illustrative errors. Congratulations on your exciting lineup of 2019 releases! I couldn’t help but share on Twitter, and I am so glad a fellow 12×12 member shared this link.

    • Hi Amanda…so glad you popped in. And yes, sometimes the editor/publisher digs in and refuses to budge…and that is so sad. Because, in the end, this hurts the publisher as well…if it’s not the book it could have/should have been.

  29. Vivian – I’m so happy for you and your back to back and back again releases of your books this spring and later. Will tweet this blog and share on Facebook also.

  30. Vivian- such an enlightening interview! I really appreciate hearing about your varied experiences across a host of different publishers. My takeaway is that a successful author – illustrator relationship rests on both parties being equally thoughtful and thorough in their process. Your anecdote about Four Otters Toboggan and Mirka really shines a light on how invested both you and Mirka were in getting all the details exactly right.

    • Yes…I agree, Abi. And that’s why I think a post like this is important…because perhaps authors…especially debut ones like me, don’t know what they can and can’t do in this publishing process…it helps to hear what others have done so we can be more confident in trying it ourselves.

  31. Thanks Darlene and Vivian for the great post. The process behind each book is so interesting. In a similar way critique partners can be great collaborators too. I love it when they confirm or question research, setting, etc.
    Congratulations on all your new and upcoming books!

  32. Fabulous post! So many challenges in having 2 different talents coming together. The delightful illustrations in PIPPA are endearing and adorable. And the amazing wood cut artwork from Mirka is perfect for the nature based Otters book. I love the research she did that helped maintain the integrity of the Colorado setting.
    Safe travels, Vivian!

  33. So happy to follow your success, Vivian! And very much looking forward to reading, “Pippa’s Passover Plate”

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