What Makes a Good Portfolio

By Sabina Hahn

The SCBWI Tuesday Night Professional Series wrapped up 2016 with Nicole de las Heras and Maria Mondugno speaking to an enthusiastic audience about what makes a good portfolio.

Nicole de las Heras loves pairing the right artist with the right manuscript and collaborating with artist and editor. She has lots of opportunities to do this as an Art Director at Random House Children’s Books, where she oversees board books, picture books, leveled readers, and early chapter books. Emily Winfield Martin, LeUyen Pham, Brigette Barrager, Josie Portillo, Ruth Sanderson, and Mike Boldt are among the artists she has worked with. Another thing she loves about her job is finding new talent.

As soon as she could write her name, Maria Modugno got her first library card. A lifelong reader, she worked at a number of publishers before joining Random House in 2012 to specialize in picture books. The books she has edited include The Napping House and stories about Toot and Puddle, Pinkalicious, and Splat the Cat. She avoids acquiring too-long picture books and tests potential acquisitions with an egg timer.

What makes a good portfolio? Some tips from Nicole:

1. 10-15 pieces
2. Sequential illustrations to show you can carry consistency
3. Variety
4. Change perspective
5. Strength (if you like animals, do animals!)
6. Strong characters with personalities
7. Good color
8. Show that you can design a page (include a text)
9. Don’t just do character studies

Some tips about book dummies from Maria:

Text is very important. When submitting a book dummy, make sure it is well written. Good writing needs to be there to begin with and the text needs to be complete before submitting. You need a spark!

Good story with a plot needs to have Beginning, Middle and the End.
(Good conclusions! Pay as much attention to the last sentence as you would the first one.)

Remember, characters are a stand-in for audience. And the subject matter should be of interest for your audience (children).

Acquiring a picture book is like falling in love. An editor needs to love the book because he/she needs to champion the book: working closely with the art department, marketing and publicity, etc.

3 lessons:

1. Read as many books as you can.
2. Look in bookstores (Note what they display? Why? Why some are face out, some spine out? What is the promotional hook? Is it award winning?)
3. Listen to kids. Read other books for kids and you will succeed in writing a good book.

Useful Portfolio snippets from portfolio reviews:

If it is published, show tear sheet.
Present 1 super strong style.
Don’t forget to change perspective.
Lead with strongest work.
Include some text to show your understanding how text works with images.
Spread all your work out and try to see the story in your portfolio.
Put similar things together (apples with apples, oranges with oranges).
Pink floors are a hit! (at this particular review anyway).
Decision making is personal, so what doesn’t work for one editor could work for another.
There is no one path to getting published – it is the beauty and the magic of it.

Keep going!

———————-
Sabina Hahn is a Brooklyn based illustrator, animator and sculptor who loves stories and tall tales. Sabina is a master of capturing subtle fleeting expressions and the most elusive of gestures. You can see more of her work at http://www.sabinahahn.com

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