Checking roughs – a vital picture book author skill Moira Butterfield

I was inspired to write this blog after reading an interview with actor and writer Brett Goldstein, co-creator of the marvellous Ted Lasso TV series. He emphasised how important attention to detail was in his work. He also told the story of visiting the set of Sesame Street and being really impressed by the attention to detail that was evident as part of the team’s passion to make the work the best it could be. He even saw Elmo giving script notes! 

Elmo likes things to be just right, and so do I. 


It struck a chord with me because picture book authoring requires great attention to detail – especially non-fiction picture book work. There are checking stages the author will be asked to do and they require concentration, care and even a measure of diplomacy. It’s a vital part of being an author of illustrated books – a vital part of making good work. 


I‘m asked to check illustrator pencil roughs and then the colour work. I’m checking to ensure the illustrator has correctly interpreted the factual details of my text. The artist has invariably done a wonderful job and I take care to tell the editor so, whilst pointing out any things that need correcting. 


I’m not making purely subjective comments on the art but I point out factual errors - perhaps a beak is the wrong shape on a bird I’ve named or a creature is missing its tail, for example. I’m also checking for mismatches between the pictures and what is said in the text. So if I’ve mentioned, say, a particular creature and it hasn’t appeared as it should on the page. 


Occasionally, if the art is now in colour and it doesn’t affect the book, I might make a small text change to accommodate a new picture and make the work correct. Here are some examples of things I spotted in the last few days, just to show you the kind of detail I might point out.

There was no crab to spot. 

The coral cup needs a line to separate it from the tentacles. 

I changed the text here because Herefords weren't illustrated. 

The grass wasn't drooping like a mini arch. 


The writer should not point out errors with a heavy hand. You don’t want your reaction to sound like this: “Ha ha! Good for me! I found something!”. It ought to sound like this: “The illustrator has done a great job. I really appreciate the efforts made. Here are my comments. I hope they help. Do come back to me to discuss them if you would like.” 

Be this! 


It takes significant work time to do a thorough check on an illustrated non-fiction book. In fact it’s a good idea to check everything twice – and then even look again the next day if you have the schedule time and the book has lots of detail. 


Recently I had a spread up onscreen when a friend arrived and I explained what I was doing. “Oh kids won’t know it’s wrong,” she remarked, but they very well might and I certainly would. It does matter because attention to detail is a part of a writer’s creative passion, as Brett Goldstein pointed out. It’s necessary to make the book the best it can be, and that’s what I want for every book I write. 

Moira Butterfield is the author of many non-fiction picture books, most recently Maya's Walk, illustrated by Kim Geyer (Oxford University Press) and Grandma's Story, illustrated by Salvatore Rubbino (Walker Books). 

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