Finding A Children's Book Illustrator For Self-Publishers

So you’ve written a children’s book.
You can see the pictures in your head when you read it.
But pictures in your head are no good ... you need pictures on paper!
With type! A cover! Full color art! Yikes!
This is going to get complicated fast!
Take a deep breath, and we’ll take it step-by-step ...

Before You Start

To state the obvious, the illustrations in a picture book will either make it or kill it.
A science fiction story with space ships and black holes would look silly with soft bunnies and rainbow colors.
A read-aloud bedtime book for three year olds doesn’t need overly complex and detailed drawings.
What kind of story do you have? What kind of art style will fit best with your story?
A trip to the local library or a bookstore can be invaluable for seeing what’s possible. You will probably see styles you hadn’t considered that would work great with your story. Take note of artists’ names and book titles to contact or research later on the internet. You might even find your illustrator!

“Artist” is a very broad term. Just because someone can draw well, doesn’t mean they can design a book. Someone who is a great designer may not understand the printing process. Especially with computers, it is possible to design beautiful art that is unprintable because the designer doesn’t understand the difference between cmyk and rgb colors, or what a bleed or a gutter is. There are subtle differences in the electronic files submitted to an offset printer and a printer who prints digitally. You may even need a couple of artists! Or an artist to draw the pictures and then a printer or graphic artist who can lay the art out with type and make it printable.

You need a person (or persons) who:

  • can draw well in an appropriate style that will fit your story.
  • can interpret the text accurately and make certain that the art reflects what is written.
  • can break the story up into pages so that the story flows well and makes the reader want to turn the page.
  • marries the text with the art through appropriate selection of fonts, sizes and arrangement.
  • understands and can supply what your printer will need to produce the book.

Go Get ‘Em!

Sometimes just googling “children’s book illustrators” will turn up some possibilities.

If you are publishing through a self-publishing company, like Xulon Press or Westbow Press, they will have a list of illustrators they have worked with and can recommend. This can be good, because you’ll likely be getting someone with some experience under their belt.

Try going to - the Society of Children’s Books Writers and Illustrators. They have an illustrator’s gallery on their site. It’s a bit overwhelming . . . there are scads of illustrators! You can narrow your search by style, medium or even the region where the illustrator lives and works. It’s an international organization, with local chapters and a great way to network with other writers, artists, and publishers. The yearly membership fee is affordable, and if you sign up you will have access to a wealth of information, blogs and discussion boards.

Another possibility are the sites that promote freelancers. You go to the sites and propose your project and interested freelancers will bid on your project. I’ve never used one of these sites, but the idea is interesting. If you consider someone through these sites, be sure they meet the criteria above. And ask for references and ask to see samples of their work. Try to see actual for-hire work they have done, and not soley portfolio work from schools or classes they have attended. You want to know they can do it, because they have done it!

If cost is a big consideration, try going to local colleges or art instruction schools. Many students are very talented, and even though they might not be very experienced, they will have the advantage of having an instructor available to guide them. Sometimes you can even find one of these gems hiding in a high school! Plus you will have the advantage of hiring someone local. If you go this route, it might be wise to fnd a printer or a graphic artist who can layout and typeset the book, and then tell your hired artist what to draw for each page.
But please be very careful with this . . . you want to save money, but you also want a professional book. It’s no good to save a bit and end up with a product no one will purchase!

Speaking of costs . . . producing a picture book can get very expensive, very quickly. When looking at different illustrators, consider and compare what each one is charging and what you will get for what you are paying. Illustrators that have worked for traditional publishers are likely going to charge higher rates than illustrators who work for self publishers. You can see my pricing on the Pricing Page on this site. My prices are probably low to average of what other illustrators charge, but it will give you a starting point to compare with what others will charge. Your illustrator will probably need several months to illustrate your book, and they need to eat and support themselves while doing your work. So if they really are out of your price range, the best thing might be to just keep looking.

A few final notes:

  • Don’t ask an illustrator to draw in someone else’s style or medium. Even if they are willing try for you, they will not be comfortable doing it and the art won’t be their best. Find the artist that does the type of art you want.
  • Be willing to listen to their ideas. They have likely done more books than you and have more expertise. And even though it is your story, their name is on the cover, too!
  • That said, don’t hire someone who absolutely ignores your input! An “I-know-better-than-you” illustrator is an unprofessional illustrator . . . run, run, run! Do not hire them!
  • Review other books they have done:
    • Do the illustrations match what is stated in the text?
    • Do the illustrations actually tell more than what is stated in the text?
    • If they are doing the layout and typesetting:
      • Does the story flow well, inviting the reader to turn the page?
      • Does the text break naturally from page to page.
      • Is the overall look of the book interesting and energetic, or flat and boring?
      • Does the style of the art match the tone and mood of the narrative?
  • Find out up front who will own the rights to the images in your book. Some artists sell the rights to the author. Others retain the rights, maybe giving you permission to use the images in your marketing, or maybe not. If you don’t have the rights, don’t get into trouble by putting images from your book on t-shirts or coffee mugs, or a big marketing campaign online. If you need to own the rights to the art, find someone who will do that.
  • Find out before hiring someone how and how often they expect payment. Most will want a deposit to begin work and the balance when finished. Some will want to divide it up into 3-4 payments at different stages of progression of the work. Some will require a signed contract. Some may even want royalties off the sale of your book. Find all this out up front.

Finding the right illustrator is a daunting task. Even more so if you are publishing for the first time.
Poke around the internet and seek the thoughts and experience of other artists, writers and publishers.
You still need to learn about printing and producing your book, marketing, etc.
But all that will come to naught if the illustrations aren’t right . . . so go find your perfect illustrator!