The secret to finding and working with a children’s book illustrator.

Pig wrapped in snake. Illustration by Dayne Sislen

As a professional illustrator, I get emails from self-publishing authors all the time. They love my illustrations and want me to illustrate their book. They want me to quote a price by return email, but they fail to tell me anything about their book. Is it a picture book, chapter book or middle grade? How many illustrated pages they need or how many characters? Occasionally an author will say I don’t need a big fancy book or they only want a small book. Don’t spend much time on it, they say, I don’t have much money. How much will that be?  These questions put me in an awkward position. I don’t have enough information to give them a price or even decide if I want to illustrate their book.

Some authors want me to just “sketch-up” something fast. “Don’t spend any time.” But they want the main character to look like their niece at four years old wearing the dress they gave her for her birthday. The little boy character to look like the boy on that program on TV (they can’t remember the name of) only change his hair to blond. The house in the background should look just like their Aunt Ethel’s house, they don’t have a picture, but it has shutters. AND of course, the dog should look like their deceased dog Rover (they do have many pictures).  –Yes, people have asked me to do all of these things. None of this is fast or easy for me at all.

I can already tell some authors will take a lot of my time and will not value my experience or expertise. Do I give them a ballpark figure that covers all kinds of books and situations, or do I probe for more details? Probing takes my time away from other illustration jobs.

Some hints about how to find and work with an illustrator:


• Do your research, search Google, Yahoo or other search engine for  “children’s book illustrators.” Read their websites and blogs. Go to organization websites for illustrators such as the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators www. SCBWI.org or ChildrensIllustrators.com.


• Be wary of inexperienced children’s book illustrators
. While they cost much less, you may be very disappointed with the final results. It requires more than a good artist to illustrate a picture book. Inexperienced illustrators may find they are in over their head and don’t know how to turn their illustrations into a printable book.

• When contacting an illustrator to get pricing, give all the details they will need to decide how long your book will take to illustrate. What kind of book for children is it? What age child is the book for. Give them an idea of the length of the book,  how many characters, how detailed do you want the backgrounds, do you want spreads or single pages, cover and back cover. Will the illustrator also be designing and digitally assembling the book for printing? This is a separate skill and not all illustrators will be able to design and digitally assemble your book. You may also need to hire a book designer.price


• When you find the illustrator you want to work with be nice. Nice goes a long way. Then be sure to give them enough information for them to decide if they want to illustrate your book. Be prepared to send them your manuscript before they will give you more than a very ball park estimate of their fees. There is really no such thing as a typical price per page. Think about it, would a builder give you a flat price for building “a house”, or a price per room?

• When working with your chosen illustrator let them know about any limitations or special requests BEFORE they begin. Don’t wait until the characters are designed and all the line work is finished before you tell them the main character (who is shown on 22 pages should look like your niece.

Respond to your illustrator’s questions in a timely manner. Don’t wait a few days to answer their email, text or phone call. They probably need a quick answer to a question so they can proceed with their work. Holding them up really breaks up the creative flow and slows down the process.

Remember, in the marketplace (bookstore or online), your book will first be judged by its cover.  Do you want your book judged solely by amateurish illustrations and awkward cover design?


Why am I willing to work with self-publishing authors?

Occasionally I find an author who values my time, talent and expertise. When I read their manuscript I can tell it has been carefully edited for content and as well as grammar. They belong to an experienced SCBWI critique group or they have used a professional children’s book editor. They have taken the time to learn about writing for children and their manuscript clearly shows it. The language and word count are perfect for the age group and type of book which they are writing.


I think children’s book authors are some of the most talented and clever people on earth. I enjoy getting to know them during the months we work together on their book. Contact me below if you want to talk to me about your children’s book.


I illustrated the picture book spread shown above this blog for the book “Don’t Be a Pig in a Panic!” written by Leila Leidke. The second spread was for The Cow Cocoon by Rachel Nolen and Maria Price.

Visit my website daynesislen.com to see if I’m the right illustrator to bring your picture book or chapter book to life.

6 comments on “The secret to finding and working with a children’s book illustrator.

  1. Your illustrations are amazing!
    I made a career switch this year to become a children’s book illustrator, so I am only just starting out.
    But to be honest, I have struggled with finding authors. I did a couple of books for free, just to built a portfolio and CV.
    But I would like to take it a step further. 😊
    Do you have any advice on how to find clients?

    Like

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