Monday, February 6, 2012

Mentor Monday: Do I Have to Provide Pictures with my Manuscripts?

What is the writer’s requirement when it comes to providing illustrations for the books we write? Most of the time, we don’t have to give the publisher anything. If you’re doing an illustrated picture book, the publisher will find the illustrator. A new writer, for example, might be paired with a well-known illustrator. This sort of combination may make your book more saleable. Fans of the illustrator’s style will look for his/her new book. When my friend, Marybeth Lorbiecki, wrote one of her early picture books, Just One Flick of a Finger, she was paired with David Diaz who had recently won the Caldecott Medal.

Sometimes, publishers require the author to provide pictures with their manuscripts. Enslow Publishers, who produce many biographies for the middle-grade/YA readers was one such publishing house. Some houses provide a photo budget. Most houses don’t.

Even magazines may ask writers to include photos for their pieces. Write Sister Kathy’s husband once wrote an article that was accepted by a fishing magazine. It did not go to print because he had not taken photographs to accompany his first-person story.

There are other reasons for wanting to have photos on-hand. Pictures and art work can provide details we can use in our descriptions or even just give us inspiration. Karen Hesse tells the story about writing her Newbery-winning Out of the Dust. She found a picture of a Dust-Bowl-era girl that became, in her mind, her character Billie Jo. She put the picture in her office and looked at her “Billie Jo” each day as she worked on the book. When the book was ready for publication, her editor sent her a Library of Congress picture of a young girl from the Dust Bowl period. They wanted to use the picture on the cover of the book. You guessed it. It was the same picture. Karen had never told her editor that it was the picture she looked at every day.

How do you find pictures when you need them to help sell a manuscript or, even for your own research? Photos are works of art as much as your writing is. You would not want anyone using your words without acknowledging that the words were yours. You would hope to be paid for your work—even if someone else wanted to use it. Photographers and illustrators deserve the same consideration. So, how do you find the photos you need without taking out a second mortgage on your house? Some older pictures are in the public domain and can be used for free. Some photographers just want the world to see their work and allow anyone to use their pictures. How do you find legitimately free or low cost illustrations?

I interviewed Sheila Brown who has done photo research for several publishing companies. I’m including part of the interview in today’s blog and will post the rest of the interview tomorrow.

1. Sheila, can you please list, in order of preference, two or three places you would look for free photos to accompany a manuscript:

a. Library of Congress: The Library of Congress is a repository of other library collections or historical societies’ collections. While a vast number of images at the Library of Congress’s website are in the public domain, a photo researcher must still check the Rights & Reproduction information to verify if the image is in the public domain or not.
b. This is the National Archives and Administration’s website where you can search for digital images relating to politics, environmental images (example: (DOCUMERICA), and military events. The images are small in resolution so a researcher will have to pay a small fee (around $30) for a 300-dpi image.

c. This is a master website that provides links to multiple public domain or low-cost images from various government or military departments:

Here’s a sampling of what you might find there.
FEMA Photo Library:
NASA Multimedia :
USDA Agricultural Research Photo Library:
The USDA provides many photo galleries to search and use.
USGS Image Gallery:
Photo Subscription Websites: Websites, such as, and are microstock photo agencies that provide photos of common items for a set monthly or yearly price. A monthly or yearly subscription allows a certain number of images to be downloaded at higher resolutions. Print runs are usually set by these companies so a photo researcher will have to make sure the publisher is aware of these limits.


Diane Mayr said...

NASA has the most gorgeous photos! I receive an image a day in my inbox. This is the one for today:

Mur said...

Aren't they free or inexpensive? NASA is very generous with picture of the astronauts.

The Olympic Committee on the other hand, VERY expensive.