One lovely September day toward the end of #ReVISIONweek 2019, Heather Brockman Lee and I were chatting at Lily William’s book launch party for IF ELEPHANTS DISAPPEARED. As an aside, if you haven’t read Lily Williams’ unbelievable books, stop what you’re doing and order them from the library or purchase them right now! Anyway, one thing led to another and Heather and I were excited about the prospect of a #ReVISIONweek Tune-Up post focused on revising with the illustrator in mind. 

So… here we go! The below tips are from a few of the members of the incredibly talented, Colorado-based group, The Cuddlefish Gang. I hope you find their thoughts as helpful as I did! 

Kaz Windness
Follow on Twitter- @KWindness
Instagram- @kazwindnessart

nessy-windness-social-media (1)

  1. Don’t edit out flowery visual language in your first drafts, but in editing, leave room for the illustrations to do their job. There may be reasons to use descriptions and adjectives, but those are typically easy word count cuts, given that the illustrator is going to describe the characters and environments visually. A picture book is ideally around 500 words, but no more than 1000.
  2. Split up the text into approximately 28 pages. (Picture books are typically 32 pages, but you’ll need room for front matter.) Is there a page that has way more or way less text than the others? Unless you’re using this difference in text weight as a gag or for emphasis, even out your text.
  3. Make a dummy even if you aren’t an illustrator. Stick figures are fine. No one else needs to see this. Are the page turns compelling? Are there spots where the text is just mirroring what the illustrations would already be communicating? Edit!
  4. Don’t crush your illustrator with illustration notes. If your visual cannot be inferred from the text, include that note. Everything else will stifle your illustrator’s creativity (and most editors will delete those notes anyway). Trust the artist to bring something brilliant to the story that you hadn’t even considered. 

Heather Brockman Lee
Follow on Twitter- @Heathertbl

When I am revising to leave more room for illustrations, I think about writing only about half of what that spread needs to communicate. I generally think about what the image could be, and what that image will communicate. Then I figure out where the text needs to compliment or fill in, and where it doesn’t. And of course, I try to remove as many unnecessary descriptive words as possible. 

Even if a writer is not also an illustrator, they could still visualize what each scene or spread would be and decide only what the text needs to fill in. Even without art notes, that space would allow the illustrator to enrich the story, even if it’s different from the author’s original vision. 

Stan Yan
Follow on Twitter- @stan_yan
Instagram- @zombicatures 


I actually probably write TOO loosely on purpose to a fault to allow me a bit of wiggle room for my drawings in production. This isn’t really ideal when I’m working with other illustrators, but it allows me to only include what is most pertinent for me. My graphic novel scripts are very loose, which allows me to revise as I draw and redraw. 

I feel like getting too detailed with the illustration notes in the scripting process stifles me creatively. It also takes me longer in the illustration process when I try to fit my story to the strict illustration notes instead of letting it visually evolve as I draw it. 

Illustration notes should be used only where necessary: the illustration needs to be something not clearly stated in the text (irony, etc), or a visual refrain of some sort that is important to the story pops up. 

Lily Williams
Follow on Twitter- @lwbean
Instagram- @lwbean 

Trust your illustrator, they have been trained to know what they are doing and they are also being art directed. 


Thank you Cuddlefish Gang! 

I just know these terrific tips will help everyone as they revise! Here are a few additional tips from me to ponder:

1. Since picture books are a 50/50 project (unless you are the author/illustrator on that project), think about using text that conjures clear visuals for the illustrator.

For example, in Rosie and Charlie, I wrote: “I didn’t plan to adopt a dragon, but Rosie found me irresistible. I think she liked my skunk hat. And now we’re best friends. We do everything together.”

Then, the uber-talented Nate Wragg filled in the “everything” with his own ideas. It turned out even better than I’d imagined it would!Wragg_06_07_c (5)
2. Let your text breathe! Choose only the most important words to get your point across.

3. In addition to TRUSTING your illustrator, TRUST the process. If you write visually, hone in on the heart, and write the most outstanding manuscript possible, your book will be beautiful!

In the words of Charlie, “You’ve got this!”

Feel. Write. Risk.
– Lauren, Joana, Katie, Lynne, Michal, and Shannon

PS: Let’s thank The Cuddlefish Gang for their fabulous tips, by following them on social media, checking out their books (upcoming and already released) and visiting them on their individual websites or at https://www.cuddlefishgang.com/


  1. I just stumbled upon you via Story Storm last week and I’m so excited I did! Looking forward to actually making the dummy I always procrastinate… AND I’m a Colorado girl living in So Cal so there’s that :). Thanks for the encouragement and practical advice!

    • I’m thrilled you stumbled upon us! That is wonderful. WELCOME to the revising fun! I hope your dummy making goes well. It always helps me so much! I love that you’re a Colorado girl living in So Cal. I’m a Jersey girl living in CO! 🙂 You’re welcome! Write on!

  2. Thanks for the helpful tips. I especially like the idea of using text that “conjure clear visuals.” A good reminder of the power of writing. 😎

    • Yes, they are tempting to use, and yet, not always needed. I hope your illustration note perusal leads to lovely visual language / illustrator bait in place of the less essential notes. Revise on!

  3. Pingback: #ReVISIONweek Tune-Up Day Wrap Up and Prizes | Insight and Inspiration

  4. Thank you for this post! You all gave me lots of inspiration as I revise and as I think about new stories…especially the part about thinking of the illustrations and letting them tell their half of the story.

  5. Yes! Such great responses. I don’t know why I get so worried about making a dummy of my book but that is a MAJOR roadblock for me (like, a huge wall with a ton of crushed glass coating it and scary dragons breathing fire right at me kind of roadblock.) Working on this!

    • It is really hard. Sometimes, when the dragon fire is just too hot to handle, I print my story and spread it out around my table (there is a post on my blog about this). I do this instead of making a dummy. That way, I don’t have to re-write the words, I cut out scenes and spread them out so I can see how it will flow. I hope that helps you brfeak down the roadblock.

  6. I need help with revision and these tips are great. I’m used to writing for children’s magazines which is totally different from picture books where the illustrations tell half the story. These tips are helpful. Thanks to all!

  7. Great insight into how illustrators need authors to leave them space, and how to do that! Thank you all for the tips!

  8. Thanks for this great post filled with important advice.

    I am a very visual person. I am not an illustrator. It is a dream to illustrate my own work, but I also LOVE so many illustrators art and would be so honored to have an artist imagine my story into reality.

    I have found that I can let go of a lot of description when I make a dummy of my story. I see where parts can be illustrated more beautifully than any words I can write. I notice where having the words and the illustrations as a repetition of each other provides more strength and importance to a phrase or scene. I can also see where something specific needs to be in the illustrations to make the story clear.

    So now, it’s time to make a dummy of a story so I can edit out the extra and make the story stronger.

    • Thank you, Sarah, for your thoughtful comment. That is such a great point. Making a dummy enhances visual thinking, and helps us, as writers, think about where the art will do the story more justice than the words.

  9. Thank you for these fantastic tips I am going to use them to revise my current story (you know which one Lauren) and I think it will work perfectly :-). Imagining the scenes in my head right now :-).

  10. Thanks for the advice! I need to try creating a stick figure dummy. I think it would help find those page turns. Also, you said 28 pages? So I should have 14 spreads? Most of my critique group is based out of the UK and they do 12 page spreads, so I started doing that too. Is that a UK thing? Not sure why it would be different.

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