Society of
Children's Book Writers
and Illustrators

Picture Book Day with Art Director Saho Fujii

SCBWI Japan Event Write-Up

Post by Cam M. Sato, Tokyo, Japan

On Saturday, July 21, 2018, a good number of illustrators and a few writers braved the searing temperatures and made their way to The Book House Café in Jimbocho, Tokyo, to attend Picture Book Day with Saho Fujii — Art Director at Little, Brown Books for Young Readers. This event was well worth the trip despite the heat.


Saho Fujii in The Book House Café with Book House Café directors Yoshiko Imamoto and Yuki Chino

The day started with illustrator portfolio reviews. As a person endowed with only thumbs, I’m envious of anyone who can make lines and colors come to life on the page. And the day’s participants did not disappoint. There was a wide range of styles from delicate watercolors to bold ink strokes, highly detailed works to minimalists, and they all excited the imagination.

Saho Fujii reviewing a portfolio

As we all know, the idea behind the portfolio is to show editors and art directors what we are capable of doing, so Saho stressed the importance of showcasing variety. Include pieces with animals, nature, humans (diversity is important in the US market), cityscapes and vehicles; include color images as well as black and white, and make sure to have scenes that are detailed along with those that are more minimalist. She reminded illustrators that it’s also a good idea to show characters in a variety of situations and angles to show that you can handle consistency.


Saho also suggested having a different portfolio for different purposes. A picture book portfolio will look different from a portfolio for middle grade or YA markets. Since many publishers do not accept unsolicited submissions, she recommended finding an agent. SCBWI provides a great list of agents, but it’s important to do your research to find the perfect match.


After the portfolio reviews, participants listened to Saho’s presentation on the picture book process. Saho explained that generally, it takes from one year to one and a half years from manuscript to completed book. And sometimes even longer. She pointed out that publishers follow a detailed schedule to stay on track for timely publication, so if you discover that you will not meet your deadlines, you must let your editor know as soon as possible to help ensure that the book isn’t derailed. Derailing a book can hurt your chances of further work with that company, so be careful, Saho advised.


The final session of the day was on making book cover art. Saho explained that usually the cover concept will go through two to four rounds of revisions before it’s approved. The cover committee consists of the jacket committee, authors, book sellers, and librarians. I was surprised to learn that if a large book seller doesn’t like the cover, they may refuse to sell that book in their stores unless changes are made.

Saho Fujii discussing book covers and jackets

When creating a book cover, Saho advised that you should think about an image that conveys what the book is about right away. The main characters should be featured more prominently than minor characters. The characters should be active and show personality. Don’t put anything too important close to the trim line or it might get cut, and you should think about leaving space for the title and by lines, Saho advised.


There was so much to learn, but the material was presented in a fun clear way that, despite the heat, was no sweat at all. Thank you, Saho Fujii, for taking time to educate and inspire us while you were on vacation in Japan!


Cam M. Sato is a poet, author and editor. You can learn more about her at

Photos by Mariko Nagai