Surprisingly, many authors new to the publishing industry who approach me about illustrating their book don't know the first thing about how the publishing process actually works. In attempts to demystify these things a bit, I've put together this quick 10-step list of how a story (essentially) becomes a published picture book.
1. Author writes a story.
2. Author probably gets a literary agent* (many publishers don't accept unsolicited or unagented manuscripts).
3. Author or author's agent submits manuscript to appropriate publishing companies (one at a time--publishers don't like it when they aren't looking at a manuscript exclusively).
4. Editor at publishing company reads the manuscript.
5. If both the editor and the editorial director like the manuscript, it goes into an acquisitions meeting where its sales and marketing potential is discussed. (If the publisher is interested enough, the editor might request revisions to the manuscript prior to the acquisitions meeting. If not, it gets rejected and returned to the author or agent to be sent to the next publisher.)
6. The publisher will then either turn down or approve the manuscript and offer the author a contract.
7. The manuscript will then be finalized by the author and editors, and move into the book development stage.
8. The editor and art director will select an appropriate illustrator.
9. The illustrator will have a pre-determined length of time to complete the book art. (Usually 4 months to a year for a 32-page picture book, less under unusual circumstances).
10. The art department finalizes the look and layout of the book, and it goes to print.
From start to finish, this process can take months if not years before seeing the finished book on the self at the bookstore.
*In the case that the author and illustrator are the same person, the illustrator does not always need to have a separate literary specific agent to submit their picture book. If an illustrator has previously been published, that publisher may automatically wish to see any of that illustrators future manuscripts. Publishers know and welcome the benefit of the same author/illustrator combination. Not only is it easier to work with one person than two, it also typically results in a very cohesive story and successful final product.
For more information including the author's role in children's publishing, visit my page: Courtney's Guide to Publishing.
For a list of informative children's publishing links, visit my Publishing Resources Page.