We don’t always agree.
In our last meeting, two very different opinions were expressed about when an author should include illustrations notes in a picture book manuscript, and how much should be noted. I take this as a good sign because it means we are not becoming a hive mind of convergent thinking, which is sometimes named as a peril of writing groups. Our disagreement meant that both sides of this issue were thoroughly brought to light. The disadvantage was that it’s now up to the author to decide what the answer is. But that is always the case, even when there is no disagreement, so it’s not a true disadvantage.
To summarize the debate, including illustration notes in a picture book may be necessary to make sure that the editor knows what’s going on in the story. In a picture book, the words alone can’t tell the entire story. Some of the storytelling should be left to the illustrator. But picture book authors, unless they are author/illustrators, must send in a manuscript with no illustrations, which might leave gaps in the story.
The idea of illustration notes are to help the editor understand the part that is meant to be shown in the illustrations. The trouble is that too many illustration notes are a red flag for editors. It might mean that you are a controlling kind of author who wants everything done your way. Or it can signal that you are an inexperienced author who doesn’t understand that the illustrator must have some say in the matter. It’s hard to know how many illustration notes are too many, because each editor is different. For these reasons, many authors will simply leave them out and trust the editor (presumably a seasoned picture book professional) to fill in most of the blanks. But there is a risk that the editor won’t get it, especially if the concept of the picture book relies heavily on illustrations.
In the end, we decided that there is a range of acceptability when it comes to illustration notes, and each author has to find the right point within that range for that particular manuscript. Some authors are naturally going to lean toward the sparse side while others will lean toward the more note-y side.
I personally love it when we disagree in our group. I think it’s a healthy thing for a group. As long as we’re all civil about it, let the sparks fly! I want to hear both sides and weigh the answer for myself.