Most of you who contact me about illustrating a children’s book are self publishing authors, and for many of you it’s your first time publishing a book. This page is mostly for you.
(If you’ve hired an illustrator for a book project before, you probably know most of this already)
There’s a lot that goes into having a children’s book illustrated, and a lot to figure out even before the actual drawing starts. I’ll do my best to break down everything I know about it, and I hope that this will give you a good idea of what goes into the whole process.
I’ll be going through:
- Before contacting me
- What I need from you
- The contract
- The process
- And then what?
- The pricing
No two illustrators have the exact same process, and while my way of doing things is pretty standard, I can only speak for myself, which is why I am writing “me/I” instead of “the/an illustrator”.
Before contacting me
Don’t send me your script directly after you finish writing it. You will want to have it critiqued first, and most importantly: Edited.
This is technically optional – but it IS necessary. Not only to ensure that your story is the best that it can be, and avoid typos, but also so that you won’t suddenly realize that you need to make a change in the middle of the illustration process. Make sure your script is completely finished before doing anything else with it.
You probably want to research printers too. Not all printers will be able to do the exact size or page number that you have in mind. So before you stand there with 30 illustrations that you can’t use because the format is wrong, make sure to sort that out in the beginning.
You will also want to make a plan for just how much time and money you are willing to spend on this project. Without the same budget as a big publishing company, be aware that you might have to make compromises between your vision and your budget. You’ll also need to invest a lot of time, not only on getting the script ready, publishing the book and marketing it, but in the illustration process too. There will be very frequent emailing back and forth, at least during the developing stage. Make sure you have the time to review sketches and send feedback several times a week for at least a month.
What I need from you
When you first contact me about illustrating your book, the first thing that I have to do (except for decide whether or not I want to work on it) is to try to figure out just how big the project is, so that I can find out when I can book you in, how long it’s going to take, and how much I’ll have to charge for it.
Here’s a little list of things that are good for me to know straight away:
- How many pages does your book have, and in what size?
- What age group is it for?
- Do you have a plan for the illustrations (like your own sketches or descriptions of each image) or is it up to me?
- How many characters are in the book?
- Is there a particular illustration of mine that made you want to work with me? (this is for figuring out the right style)
- Where and when does the story take place?
I will also need to read the script.
Some authors are uncomfortable with sharing their story with a complete stranger. But no worries, there’s no reason for me to steal your story. Because 1. I get new scripts sent to me all the time, the chance that I would choose yours to steal is very small. 2. Why steal something and work on it for months in my free time, when I could get paid to do it in my work hours? 3. I have plenty of projects of my own that I work on in my free time. I wouldn’t have time for another one.
If you’re still worried about sending me that script, let me know and we’ll sign an NDA first :)
None of us should have to hire a lawyer in order to understand what we’re agreeing to, and I don’t want to make this more complicated than it needs to be. But for both of our protection, it is very important that we do have a contract.
Below are all the things that I usually include in my contract. They can all be good to think a bit about, in case there’s something you find important to discuss, are uncomfortable with or want to add.
What the work consists of (how many illustrations + developing) and when I have to finish it.
GRANT OF RIGHTS
Who owns what of the illustrations.
PRICE AND DELIVERY
The total cost of the project and when it has to be paid.
FAILURE TO DELIVER
What happens if I don’t deliver the art on time, or deliver unsatisfactory work, And what happens if the author don’t give me the information I need to deliver the art on time.
What royalties I get.
How many copies of the book I get. + If I get any copies of eventual foreign translations of the book.
When and where we have to give each other credit when displaying the artwork.
Where we get to use the artwork for advertising for ourselves or the book.
The art is completely original and made by me only, for this book only.
I am not allowed to publish anything that’s based on this book.
We both agree to all this stuff and it can only be changed if we both make another written agreement.
And that’s it.
So far, I’ve never had a reason to add more to it, or refer to it in a dispute, so as long as we’re both reasonable people, we’ll only have to go over this document once.
Finally! The fun part is starting!
This is how I make a children’s book, from first contact to final delivery.
Step 1. Contact me
Well, we’ve kind of been through this already. Write me to find out about how long it might take and how much it would cost. But we’ll also do a lot of talking to get me really familiar with this story.
I want to know about your plans for the book. What it’s about, who the characters are, how it’s going to look. I’m just as interested in your thoughts about it as I am in the actual script. It’s important that we’re on the same page before any work starts, so that I’ll have a good idea of what you’re after, and in which direction to take the illustrations.
Step 2. Developing the illustrations
Since every book is unique, the illustrations should be, too. Text and picture has to cooperate, and the mood of the story should influence the illustration.
I’ll spend quite some time nailing that down.
The developing sometimes take longer than the actual illustrations, and it all happens with your feedback, so we will be in very frequent contact for (usually) at least a month.
In the developing stage we will go through:
- Character design – First, I’ll make a lot of tryouts to find the right look for the character/s. Once I find them, I’ll draw them over and over, dozens of times, to make sure they stay consistent throughout the whole book.
- Environments and style tests – I’ll spend a lot of time figuring out how the background looks (I might have to draw some maps), what colours to use, and what medium best suits the story. I always use watercolour for my illustrations, but additional mediums like ink or coloured pencils can make a huge difference. So this part is basically a whole lot of experimenting until we find the right thing.
- Storyboard – Lastly, I’ll make a sheet with tiny versions of each page of the book. This starts out as very rough sketches, where I try out several different images for each page to find the perfect one, until we eventually end up with a plan for the whole book.
Step 3. Illustration
By now, I will have spent several weeks on sketching, and now that I have every aspect of this book pinned down, it is finally time for me to get my fancy papers out and get started on the final artwork.
I’ll start by making the final sketches, and revising them if needed with your feedback. It’s important that you are happy with every detail in these sketches, because after I’ve started painting, there’s little room for changes.
After you’ve approved the sketches, there’s not much more for you to do, but to lean back and wait for me to finish painting. Depending on the book, it could take one month, or it could take five. I’ll do my best to update you on the progress when I can.
Then we’re all done!
And Then What?
Now that I’ve delivered the illustrations, there’s not much more I can help you with. But I figured this was an important point to make: You will have to get the text and illustration put together.
Many authors expect the illustrator to do this, and some illustrators are also designers and can do that type of work, but a lot of us can’t.
I will always recommend that you hire a designer (one that knows children’s books) to get the book ready for printing.
I could technically just pop the text in there via Photoshop, or you could learn how to do it yourself. But if I make my own book, I will have someone else do it. It is much harder than it looks to create a really good design and an experienced designer will definitely do a much better job of it than I ever could.
Just because a book is self published, it doesn’t necessarily have to look that way.
First of all, I want to warn you that this might be shocking.
Most people don’t realize that illustrating a children’s book takes several months of full time work, which means that you will have to pay your illustrator several months of full time salary. Which is quite a lot when you have to pay it all at once.
Ok, so just how much does it cost then?
It’s the most common question I get (usually along with “how long does it take?”) And there’s no way to really answer it.
I wish I could, but the best I can give you is an explanation to why I can’t, and a very rough estimation.
Every book project is priced individually, as each one is unique. Prices and time frames depend on various factors, like how much developing is needed, how many pages in what size, how many spots, half pages, and full pages there are, how many characters, etc.
Since there are so many factors to consider, there’s no way of telling how long a project is going to take before we have discussed every single detail of it. I can only say as much as book projects usually stay within a time frame of 2 to 6 months, and within a price range of $2,000 to $10,000 (USD).
To get an idea of what your book might cost, imagine the shortest simplest book you know as the cheapest one, and then imagine the longest most detailed book you know as the most expensive one. Now imagine what you want your book to look like, and see where it lands on the scale between the other two books. (hope that made sense)
I know that this was probably a very unsatisfactory answer to your question. And I’m sorry, this is the best I can do.
When working with self publishing authors, I only accept flat fees. I might be up for working for royalties if you have a really good business plan, but it’s very unusual.
The standard means of payment is 50% up front, and 50% upon completion. But if we’re looking at a six month project, I know that it can be really hard to pay someone three months salary at once. So if it’s needed, we can split the payments up in several smaller parts. As long as I have something to survive on while working on the project, it’s all good.
That’s all I have. I hope it was helpful.
Did I forget something? Check out the FAQ to see if you can find more answers there, or just contact me directly if you have any questions.