Become a Cartoonist

The information on this page is an excerpt from the FabJob Guide to Become a Cartoonist. It is only a small sample of the valuable information contained in the 117 page complete guide.

How to Get Hired to Create Cartoon Books

The market for cartoon books has never been better than it is right now.

The market for children’s cartoon books is especially strong, because most children learn to read from picture books. The adult cartoon-book market has also been taking root in the last ten years.

Cartoon books come from three different sources. One source is recycled comic books. The line between comic-book "graphic novels" and cartoon books is blurring, if not fading. Another source of inspiration is recycled comic strips. The third is original material, designed for the cartoon-book format.

The Job: Opportunities and Working Conditions

Cartooning for cartoon books is either a solitary operation or a partnership. Most partnerships are writer-illustrator. In the case of a writer-illustrator partnership, the writer is usually expected to handle the business of getting a cartoon book published, although both writer and illustrator may be obliged to help sell the book.

The illustrator of cartoon books spends as much time alone in the studio as any cartoonist, so make sure your studio is ready to spend time with you. Make sure it’s well lit and well ventilated. Pay attention to the ergonomics of your work. Is your art board allowing you to sit up straight? When you’re writing the book, are your hands the proper distance over the keyboard?

As for starting pay, Robin Koontz puts it this way:

"Writing for the children’s book market is seldom as lucrative as writing for the adult market. For a thirty-two page picture book, you can expect to split 50/50 a $3,000-$8,000 advance with the illustrator, then each of you will get 3.5 to 5 percent royalties against your advance. Remember though, that your advance must be earned back before you receive any royalties. Most picture books sell from 5,000-10,000 copies in hardcover and go out of print within fourteen months. Few go into paperback."

Things will go differently once you’ve established a reputation, which is much easier to keep in the children’s book market than the adult market. Cartoon books take a number of shapes, sizes and prices so you can expect a wider range of pay offers.

The Employers: Prime Contacts

For children’s books, the best place to look for markets is the Children’s Writers and Illustrators Market, by Writer’s Digest. This book doesn’t end with book publishers; it also lists magazines and other children’s cartoon markets. It’s easier for some people to start as a children’s cartoonist in a children’s magazine, then use that experience and reputation to slingshot into books.

Here are some solid children’s publishing houses for you to consider submitting to:

Barefoot Books

Chronicle Books

DK Publishing, Inc.

Golden Books
[email protected]

Lee and Low Books: Multicultural Literature for Children

Lerner Publishing Group

Orca Book Publishers

Parenting Press

You can find more children’s publishers listed at the Writer’s Digest website. (Use the search box at the bottom that says "Choose a Category:" to look for "BOOK PUBLISHERS" then "Children’s".)

Writer’s Digest Guidelines

Be picky. Read the publishers’ submissions guidelines and their previous works. Not all of them are interested in publishing something like your book. For example, don’t send a pre-school cartoon book to a publisher that deals mainly with comic-strip collections. After your research turns up the right publishers for you, you’ll be able to concentrate your efforts on them.

Once you have established yourself in the children’s book market, other publishers than the ones listed here will be open to your submissions, so eventually you’ll target them too.

What to Send

Read those submissions guidelines and ask for them when they’re not easily found. In certain cases, you’ll have to ask your agent what’s best to send.

Some publishers want only a query letter, while others prefer the entire manuscript immediately. Send each publisher what they ask for – no less and no more. You might think a cartoon book is a quick read, but some publishers have dozens, even hundreds, of proposals to wade through in a week. You’ll get on their good side by sending them exactly what they want.

Whatever you send, be sure it is neat and easy to read. As in magazine illustration, even the roughs should not be too rough. And even if you have a proposal for an unusual format, keep your proposal itself on 8.5"x11" paper. Use a plain font and double-space, and be sure to find out beforehand what department or editor you should send your submission to. This information is listed in most submission guidelines.

For another method of submission, Aaron Shepard, author of The Legend of Slappy Hooper, takes the unusual approach of a ‘checklist query’ that describes a small number of stories in short, 2 to 4 line pitches. The approach seems to work for him; he currently has six contracts pending. Shepard describes his submission technique at the link below.

The Picture Book Query

Breaking the Rules

The nice thing about cartoon books is: you never know when you have one. Take this story for example.

At 26, Lynn found herself pregnant for the first time. While being examined by her obstetrician, she dryly remarked that she needed something to look at on his ceiling.

He challenged her to fill it up. Lynn made 80 one-panel cartoons for the ceiling. Needless to say, people in the hospital, including the patients, were quite impressed.

In the few years afterward, Lynn, now a single mother, found freelance employment as a cartoonist for a library, a local paper and advertising agencies. Eventually, though, she turned to full-time employment as a packaging firm’s layout artist.

Murray Enkin, the obstetrician who had challenged her earlier, gave her a call one day. He invited her to his house, where he had gathered her 80 cartoons, and announced, "Kid, you’ve got a book!" Enkin and some mutual friends helped Lynn find a publisher. She added 21 cartoons to the 80 originals, and in 1974 published David, We’re Pregnant!

Cartoonist Lynn Johnston has published two cartoon books since, in addition to her For Better or For Worse collections.

The above is only a small sample of the valuable information in the FabJob Guide to Become a Cartoonist. The complete guide includes more information about publishing cartoon books, plus how to get hired to create comic strips, magazine cartoons, comic books, cartoon books, animation and much more.

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Recommended Reading:

FabJob Guide to Become a Cartoonist

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