Finding the right illustrator for your self-published children’s book.

There's a Mouse on My Head

Picture book I illustrated for Donna Warwick. POD by IngramSpark

 If you are planning on self-publishing a picture book using Print On Demand (POD) like CreateSpace or IngramSpark or an independent printer (that you pay to print your book) you WILL need professional children’s book illustrations. You will want to make sure your book will be able to compete with other books in the Kid Lit marketplace.

 

Finding an illustrator is easier than it used to be before the Internet opened up the whole world as a vast viewing and shopping site. But now there are so many choices it is hard to know where to turn. Many “Full Service” publishers who offer the total publishing package (including illustrations that you pay for) are actually predatory con-artists, just waiting to trick you out of your hard-earned money. Some illustrators ask for money upfront and never deliver the illustrations. I suggest using http://www.pred-ed.com to check publishers, printers and agents before you send money. Pred-Ed is an unattractive generic website, but it has a lot of good information on dishonest and predatory folks in the publishing business.

SCBWi Dayne Sislen Gallery Page

SCBWI’s illustrator Gallery

For children’s book illustrators, I suggest: The Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators organization’s website SCBWI.org. You can search for the style and media you prefer as well as illustrators living in a certain area. I would strongly suggest you join the SCBWI. It offers valuable resources to anyone in the children’s publishing fields.

Another good resource: Childrensillustrators.com. Over 700 professional illustrators are listed.

Children's Illustrators

Children’s Illustrators Website

Fiverr

Fiverr website

A budget sources: You always hear about Fiverr for cheap illustrations.  https://www.fiverr.com. Illustrations can be  purchased for as little as $5 each. Now, don’t get too excited, you won’t get much for $5, but you might find someone to work with you on a tight budget. Be very careful you and your illustrator understand exactly what you require. I would suggest using someone who speaks your preferred language. Automated translations can mess up precise communications. I would also suggest having the illustrator sign a non-disclosure when they read your manuscript. The NDA may not be binding in a third world country, but you will have some reassurance they will at least know you are watching carefully if they are thinking about stealing your book manuscript or passing it to someone else. Another source is http://upwork.com, they have illustrators and book designers available for slightly more money.

Before contacting an illustrator:

Have your manuscript professional edited and formatted. Most illustrator will want to read your story. They will be looking to see if you have put in the time and effort to have your manuscript in the correct format and edited to work as a picture book.  Illustrators want to work with authors who are dedicated to making their book a success.

When I receive a manuscript I read it several times. If I feel your story will fit my style of illustration and I can create suitable illustrations that will develop your story for you, I will agree to talk to you about your plans for the book. Picture books are traditionally 32 pages because of economical printing practices. That means I will be illustrating at least 14-16 full spread illustrations or 28 to 30 single pieces of artwork. That’s a lot of work, it usually takes me 4-8 months. This is how I make my living, it is my full-time job. Please set aside a reasonable budget so your book can be illustrated to show off your wonderful story to its best advantage.

An illustrator may ask about your plans for printing and marketing. This isn’t just to be nosy, it’s so we know if you know what you are getting into. Are you going to be willing to market your book? A beautifully written and illustrated book will never be found by customers if you aren’t willing to spend time marketing and promoting your book. Amazon does not do this for you. As illustrators we want lots of people to read the books we illustrate.

I usually start with preliminary pencil sketches to develop your idea and characters for your approval then move into more finished drawings for final approval before committing to color. One-third of the total fee is due before each step of the process. The last 1/3 payment is due when I have completed everything to your approval and it is ready to send to your printer or publisher. I work in watercolor, pastel, gouache, oils and with digital brushes that replicate this media. We can discuss which media will work best for your needs. The illustrations for a whole book are usually worked on together, which actually saves time and money. Once I get rolling with the characters, the storyline and matching colors everything moves much faster and smoother. So doing one illustration at a time, isolated from the whole story will take more time and give a much inferior result.

Publishing package: Putting all the finished illustrations and text together for printing or ebook setup is the last, big step. With my background in graphic design, I can help you here. I am able to deliver art in a publishable format, with the text and illustrations placed properly on the page, all ready for printing. I can create custom lettering and design the text to fit around the illustrations. I also work directly with your printer as a liaison to make sure the final book looks as good as it can when it rolls off the presses.

Book covers are very important!
Never ever let the image that sells you book look amateurish or lackluster. In many cases the cover is all a customer sees before deciding to purchase your book. Below is a list  of the main points for a cover:

  • Be eye-catching
  • Look professional
  • Communicate the message of the book correctly
  • Work well at a small size for Internet sales, catalogs and e-books
  • Fit-in, or standout in a positive way in the marketplace for the specific genre

The perfect book cover design should hit the mark on all these points. Do people really judge a book by its cover? You bet they do.

An important word about picture book length:
Current picture book manuscripts being printed are about 300-800 words. Sometimes even fewer words are preferred. Manuscripts with 800-1000 words don’t sell as well, so write tight to improve your odds of being published. Remember that illustrations will tell half your tale, so you don’t need to be overly descriptive in your text.

If you are worried about showing your manuscript to a stranger. I am very comfortable signing non-disclosure agreements (NDA) prior to seeing your manuscript. So there is no reason to worry about your story. This protects your ownership of your story and maintains confidentiality. I can even provide standard forms, that may be amended to include any additional concerns you may have.

Once we agree on my fee and delivery date, I will send you a plain language contract that spells out the schedule, payment timing, and assignment of publishing copyright for self-published works.

The final step: After I receive your final approval and the final one-third payment, I will place all the finished illustration files for your book in a DropBox* folder and email you a link where you can pick them up. If you have decided I should also be the one to put together your book, package it with all text in place and provide digital files to your printer (Publishing package), I’ll email you an electronic proof of your finished book for your approval. Once approval has been received from you on the electronic proof then your book goes to print using your choice of book publishing services. Your book will then be available for sale on Amazon.com, Barnes and Nobel and other booksellers (should you choose).

Almost finished the line work for the “Round” Book

I mentioned earlier I was working on a picture book called “Round” by Shervonne Taylor. At first it was going to be a picture book app, but now it’s a picture book. It’s about Olivia, a round little girl who wants to be a ballerina butterfly in the school play. I now have all the rough pencils finalized and I am working on the finished line work. I usually do this in charcoal pencil on paper. Even though I color digitally, I like to do my line work in charcoal pencil and scan it in. I feel I can get a more expressive line working this way. For this book I’m trying something different, I am working with a digital charcoal pencil on my new Wacom Cintiq. page1WPpage11WPpage5WP It always tickles me when people say, “Oh you work digitally, so it isn’t real art work.”  I do my line work, just like anyone who is getting ready to do traditional watercolor. The difference is, when the time come to color it in, I use a computer. This way I can make changes, which clients always want to make after the color work is finished. When I used traditional watercolor or pastel, I would have to start all over again. Now I can move figures around and change background colors without destroying entire piece of art. It takes the same skills as traditional watercolor or pastel, it is just more flexible. Computer painting programs like Photoshop and Corel Painter are only tools, in the right hands there should be no difference in the final product. It takes me just as long to do a digital painting as it does a traditional media painting. This book has taken 7 months so far, I probably have another 3 to 4 more weeks work. Illustrating a 27 illustration children’s book takes time. I work closely with the author to illustrate a book they will be proud of.