Self Publishers: What To Know About Hiring A Children’s Book Illustrator

Art, Media & Software Services

Self Publishers: What To Know About Hiring A Children’s Book Illustrator

Creative Prism Studio - Children's Book Illustration

When it comes to hiring a children’s book illustrator, there are many possible paths an author may take. Some authors submit their work to publishers. Some authors are self-published. Currently, many author’s works are printed while some author’s works are published digitally. This article is not discrediting any of these methods, or suggesting one better than another ,but since most professional publishers will hire their own illustrators for the stories that they publish, this article is geared towards self-publishers or those who are at the very least, curious about self-publishing.

Hiring a children’s book illustrator can be a bit more involved than many may expect, but once you know more, you may find yourself much better equipped to properly navigate the terrain of hiring an artist, for the results that you truly desire. I’ve taken the time to write you this article with what suggestions that I think may generally help most people along the way. Enjoy.

The Most Common Way To A Professional Job May Be A Professional Budget

As the old saying goes, “You get what you pay for.” and in general there may be little exception to this when hiring professional illustrators. When seeking out professional illustration, myself (and many others) highly recommend coming already prepared to pay an appropriate and professional price. While pricing standards may vary (usually being somewhat more consistent at a professional level), but you may find that a high quality, full page illustration may range roughly between $150 USD (on the very low end) upwards to about $800 USD per illustration. The pricing difference may typically come down to such things as skill and experience, complexity and style; typically variables that take up time and energy. As an example, a single shaded character alone on a white page with little to no background will probably cost much less than an illustration with several different characters, fully shaded in a complex and detailed environment. 

But as some of you may be thinking, “There are many people out there advertising for professional illustration at a much lower cost”. In an age where many people are trying to compete for clients, and underprice or out-speed their peers, this is absolutely true, but that often comes with many costs that authors are unaware of at first. Professional illustration at a high level can take lots of time, planning and communication between the illustrator and the author. When there isn’t a professional budget, it can become unreasonable for the artist to include many steps that have long been included in a professional project because there simply isn’t enough time for such things. Some of these neglected items can include:

  • Research. Creating a strongly believable illustrated world can take time, effort and in many cases some research. When the budget isn’t available, the small details that bring an environment to life in a way that enriches your story may be some of the first details to disappear. 
  • Proof of concept. This typically being thumbnails and sketches. Thumbnails and sketches can provide valuable mile stones in the project for the author to give the illustrator any important feedback and for the illustrator to make any important changes before creating a finished piece.
  • An author’s input. As mentioned before, there may be many less milestones where the author may get time to give input. If an illustrator is working on a tight budget, they may not be able to afford to spend an hour on a video call with you. They’re probably busy working on your project and possibly several others simultaneously.
  • Quality. A lot of love and care can go into a beautifully crafted piece of artwork. When time is urgent and the budget is low, the aim of the job can become making something just “Good enough.” rather than “Very good!”. 
  • Original art. One way artists will cut corners in order to keep costs down is using stock images. Stock images are already completed pieces of artwork, such as background art, which an artist can purchase, typically at a fairly affordable price and then use for their own artwork (sometimes an author’s book). This can often result in a ‘canned’ look for your art, sometimes with similar stock images showing up in a variety of different creative works. 

How To Deter Con-Artists

We live in an incredible time where there are many opportunities to connect with others in ways that just didn’t exist for past generations. With a large variety of social platforms, online classifieds and remote job postings, there is a huge amount of online business being performed day to day. If you chose to self publish, you can now access thousands upon thousands of artists online to approach about illustrating your story. The days of sitting down in person with an illustrator while looking through their hand crafted, traditional portfolio may be nothing but days of the past for some. Many, if not almost all artists now keep online portfolios. As for delivering artwork, most artwork can be created digitally, or at the very least scanned or photographed at a high quality, with personally owned equipment and then sent across the world in minutes or even seconds. However, with this new convenience, many other challenges begin to rise. One of these prominent challenges being con-artists. Go through any large community of self-publishers and you might find it easy to meet someone who had hired someone online, to find out their illustrator couldn’t deliver on the quality promised, speed promised or had completely stolen their final illustrations from another artist. These con-artists can be damaging to your time, money and brand. Fortunately, there are some ways to help avoid being conned in your next online purchase of original children’s book illustration:

  • Budget. As mentioned above, having an appropriate budget can be vital to securing quality work. While an appropriate budget attract professional, quality illustrators, an artist asking for an unreasonably low budget may also be more common among cons. Many con-artists are often trying to appeal to people’s ignorance, negligence or self-interests. A con-artist may promise speed and quality at an unreasonably low price, appealing to people’s self interest and perhaps misinformation about pricing.
  • Proof of concept with changes. Making sure and agreeing with your illustrator to have thumbnails and input in very early stages may help repel any pesky con-artists. Although there can be something to be said about giving your illustrators their own artistic liberties, asking for a change early on in production, especially a substantial change in a background and character can be a great way to assure you are receiving original work by a legitimate artist. You will also be able to compare different stages of production to each other to ensure that all of the artwork matches up (thumbnails with the sketches, sketches with the final product, etc.).
  • Video calls. Video calls are free and very accessible to anyone with a decent internet connection. Spending time, face to face, even with someone across the world can allow you to make sure someone is who they claim to be. This can be a great time to ask questions about their process, to both inform yourself and make sure they are an experienced artist.
  • Perform a reverse image search. When using browsers such as Chrome and Firefox, you can perform a reverse image search to see if there’s anything suspicious about an artist’s portfolio. The method for doing a reverse search may vary if you are using a mobile device or PC. Here are a couple of links that may be of help: How To Reverse Image Search. , How To Use Google Lens.

How To Be Respectful Of Your Illustrator

If you are a self-publisher or soon to be self-publisher reading this article, kudos to you. One of the biggest reasons for illustrators not being treated fairly may be simply due to lack of knowledge. Most people probably have little to no idea how much work goes into professional illustration. Here are some suggestions and nuggets of information about illustrators that may help you convey your respect for both them and their craft:

  • Their time, effort AND EXPERTISE should all come into play when making sure you are giving them a fair exchange for their services. Professional illustration is a skilled craft that can take many years of study, experimentation and practice to consistently produce at a high level. One may see an expert cartoonist quickly draw a character in minutes, bringing the drawing to life with only a few strokes. To the uninformed, one might think, “Wow, I didn’t know illustration was so easy. A drawing like that shouldn’t be worth much.” But to someone highly informed, they might think, “Wow, I wonder how many years of work and creativity that artist has invested to be able to create such an incredible piece with so few strokes. Many artists would struggle to achieve such a feat.” You wouldn’t expect a high quality piece of equipment to be worth less for working more efficiently, would you? It is respectful to your illustrator to show fair treatment and pay for their level of expertise. 
  • Allow your illustrators to use their work in their portfolios! Typically, artists will improve as they progress through their careers. As artists often depend on their portfolios, having their latest and greatest works can be a humongous asset towards receiving new clients and appropriate pay for their current level of skill. Refusing to give an artist the right to use their artwork in their own portfolio is much like telling them you only care about them giving you what you want, otherwise you don’t care about their well being at all. It comes off as both selfish and unnecessary. If you absolutely must hide artwork before a book is released (which may often be unnecessary), please consider signing an agreement that the illustrator may use the works in their portfolios after the release date, and be sure to agree on the latest date of release (illustrators may not have time to sit around forever for a book that is delayed multiple years or is never released.).
  • Include the illustrators name on the book. Give credit where credit is due. A good children’s book illustrator is just as much of a story teller as an author is. Every expression, every color, every object drawn in the background may all serve a purpose in conveying the story. Including the illustrators name on the book shows proper credit and respect for a fellow story teller.

What To Have Ready When You Come To The Table

Being a self-publisher often requires a bit more work and care to make sure everything is properly taken care of. If you are looking for an illustrator, perhaps you are wondering everything you should have ready before you contact that artist who makes you light up with excitement. Here are some things that I suggest:

  • A graphic designer / layout artist, or at the very least, the understanding that you need one. As long as you have any writing in your book, you are going to need a layout artist and graphic designer to take care of things such as font choices and text positioning. Some illustrators are willing to provide this service and some illustrators are not. The titles on the cover pages may be left as the duty of the graphic designer or the original illustrator (if they aren’t the same person). Typically, it may be best to have the illustrator to create the title font if you want the font to look much like a part of the world that they illustrated. If you are using a standard font, leaving that duty up to the graphic designer can be appropriate. 
  • The dimensions of your book. Having some time between your printer, you, your layout artist and perhaps a marketing consultant (if you have one) can be important in determining which dimensions you will will ultimately print your book at. Once you know the dimensions of the book, you can then inform your illustrator (if they aren’t also the layout artist) so they can then begin their work. Beginning illustrations without the proper dimensions can cause major design and composition issues later on.
  • A proper budget. Yes, this point has been mentioned multiple times throughout this article and that is because it is truly important. Coming to the table with a professional budget shows that you have done your research and you are serious about wanting the illustrator of your choice. Many illustrators may not want to take a chance on a stranger’s venture on the promise of returns down the road. There are no guarantees and if you haven’t proven yourself successful in the past, why should the illustrator risk all their time and energy? If you have been successful in the past, why are you approaching them without an appropriate budget? Also, it’s highly recommended that you determine how any artistic revisions will be handled. Will your illustrator provide X number of revisions at no additional cost? How much will each revision cost (possibly at an hourly wage) if you’ve already made all of your allotted revisions? Be sure to have this determined and in contract before proceeding, to protect both yourself and your illustrator, as well as to avoid any possible conflict later on in the process.
  • A completed and edited manuscript for the illustrator to read. A professional illustrator needs to read your manuscript for multiple reasons. First of all, they need to decide if they want to work on your project. A story can convey many different themes and values. It’s very important to some artists to make sure that they are taking on a project that they feel good about being a part of. Beyond seeing if it’s a story that they like, it can be very important to the illustrator to make sure the book they end up illustrating is the same one they first saw before being hired.
  • Notes. If there is anything you absolutely need conveyed visually in your book that isn’t conveyed in writing, be sure to have notes about it to provide to your illustrator. It’s important that you provide clear communication so your artist knows what is expected of them!

That’s everything that I can think of for the time being. Perhaps you are now a bit more informed on the illustration process and what may be involved in hiring a professional children’s book illustrator. 

Creative Prism Studio offers professional children’s book illustration, capable of providing work in a diverse variety of styles. If you would like to receive a price or more information about working with Creative Prism Studio for your children’s book story, please use the contact form here.

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