When is it safe (& when is it a risk) to share a book concept?

  • Hi everybody-
    I recently joined SCBWI, and my local chapter is hosting a virtual illustrator day tomorrow, with opportunities to have one-on-one critiques with an art director from a major publisher. (They are a big deal!) Initially we had to turn in a 10 image portfolio weeks ahead of the critique, but yesterday, we were told that the art director was surprised no one had submitted a book dummy. She now is open to reviewing book ideas after the fact, although in my research of the publisher, they normally don't allow any un-agented submissions.
    Do you think it is safe to share book ideas in this situation?
    I have several concepts that I have been working on for a year or more (written by my husband, who is a songwriter, and has also written a couple of middle grade fiction novels). Our ideas are conceptual, and I have not seen anything like them anywhere else in children's books.
    This could be an excellent opportunity to put our ideas in front of someone in the position to do something about it
    ...but on the other hand...
    I am afraid I don't know how these things work!
    You always hear the phrase "you can't copyright an idea."
    I hope it doesn't seem like I don't trust the person- I'm extremely excited about the critique. It's rather my lack of understanding of the normal process.
    What do you think?
    I would appreciate advice, thank you!!!

  • @Cory-Leick I've been a member of SCBWI for over twenty years (I'm primarily a writer and only joined SVS a few years ago). It is normal for participating editors and art directors at SCBWI conferences to extend opportunities like this. I've even heard a few success stories where illustrators have gotten book deals directly from a SCBWI conference. I have never heard of anyone who felt their concept or work was appropriated.

    It's safe to share your work and concepts with professionals at a SCBWI conference. If someone is an art director at a major house, they've worked their way up. Even when a story or angle seems new to us, they've seen it before. What they want is someone who can sustain the quality throughout, someone who communicates well and delivers on schedule (within reason).

    If you were asking about a non-SCBWI convention or a non-major publishing house I wouldn't be as sure...

  • @RachelArmington I appreciate your insight. It's good to hear that having been involved with SCBWI for 20 years, you feel there is a code of honor there. Thank you!

  • @Cory-Leick I forgot to say: Enjoy and good luck!

  • Thanks for posting. I'd heard of SCBWI before but wasn't sure when I should join. You prompted me to check it out and I discovered a work in progress contest. I had a story ready to go so I joined and entered it. The deadline is the 15th so just in time. Hope your critique entry went well. Cheers!

  • @Cory-Leick hello! I’m also an SCBWI member (since 2013). Editors/art directors who usually are closed for subs but accept unagented subs from attenders of SCBWI events is extremely common and a great opportunity!

    However, when an art director is looking for dummies from illustrator critiques, they are looking for something that is submission-ready, not just a book idea. Sending a book idea that isn’t done baking yet could give the wrong impression — it’s an amateur move. Whatever you’re showing to an art director or editor, make sure that it is presented professionally.

    While each agent/editor/art director has their own submission requirements, most are looking for dummies that contain at least 2 finished illustrations along with the sketches, so they can see your style and how you would approach the illustrations. They’re also looking for something they can acquire — that usually means that the illustrator is also the author.

    If you’re not the author but doing a joint submission, that has the potential to be problematic. Do you have the author’s permission to submit a dummy using their story? What if the AD likes the text but not the illustrations? Or likes the illustrations but the story isn’t strong enough? That’s not saying that joint submissions never work, but it is rare.

    SCBWI’s The Book (it’s a free PDF download for all members) has a really nice article about making a book dummy that you might want to check out.

    Hope this helps, and cheering for your success with the illustration crit and submission!

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