There is no better feeling than seeing your stories on the page and bringing a smile to a child’s face. But whether you are a seasoned writer or just starting out, the magic of storytelling for young readers doesn’t come as a linear, straight approach to creation. You will need more than just words to make the stories alive. This is why illustrations play a big part in the creative process. But as an indie author, how to find the right illustrator when self-publishing picture books?
Illustrators and artists for the youth come in many forms, backgrounds, and packages. If you have spent time perusing the pages of a children’s book, you most likely have delighted in all kinds of techniques. Now, with the advance of the digital world, you can enjoy styles ranging from the traditional to modern spectrum, including watercolor, pen and ink, acrylic, pencil, charcoal, digital, and vector illustrations, to name a few.
The beauty of being an indie author is that you have total control over the publishing process, and with that, the job of finding the right illustrator for your project. Like many of you, when I first started self-publishing children’s books, I had to learn my way through it. And if you follow my journey, you already know that I made a lot of mistakes. Though some of those mistakes were costly, they taught me what not to do and shed new light on how to properly approach the self-publishing route.
Choosing an illustrator for your children’s book should not be a cumbersome task. But there are some steps you should follow to save you time and heartaches down the road. Here are some tips to find the right illustrator when self-publishing picture books:
Table of Contents
How to Find the Right Illustrator
You may also like: How to Self-Publish Children’s Books Without Crushing Your Spirits
Search different venues
One of the biggest highlights in the process of self-publishing picture books is the work of an illustrator. You want your ideas to come alive the best way possible. But how can you do that? Start by searching different places where you can possibly find the right illustrator for your project.
To start, it will be useful to spend some time checking different profiles and to outreach the artist. The same way illustrations come in diverse styles, they also fall in different budget sizes depending on how experienced and skilled the artist is.
If you go to freelance websites such as Fiverr, Upwork, and Guru, you will find illustrators from all backgrounds and levels of experience. Given the nature of those websites—marketplace for freelancers and finding freelance work— and because those artists come from all parts of the world, you can collaborate with illustrators on inexpensive projects starting at as little as $5 (Fiverr).
You can find illustrators on online art communities and portfolio websites, which act similar to an illustrator directory. Places such as ChildrensIllustrators.com, DeviantArt, and Hire an Illustrator allow you to research artists, peruse illustrators’ portfolios, and outreach them through the contact info they provide. The benefit of these venues is that they provide you with a large pool of candidates to search from in a single corner, as some samples from our past illustrator’s program show.
Another valuable option to find illustrators for your picture books is researching at a professional association. One of the most well-known is the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI), which is a non-profit international association with regional chapters worldwide. You can also find artists at the Picture Book Artists Association.
Finally, what would become of us without social media nowadays? If you haven’t thought about searching your social media yet, you may be missing big opportunities. Whether you look on Facebook groups or other channels such as LinkedIn and Instagram, you are sure to find talented artists.
As a matter of fact, those last options are my favorite. Illustrators and artists tend to engage frequently on platforms such as Instagram for that being a highly visual medium—that was where the illustrator for my title Giggly Bear’s Fun Trip in the Yellow Bus outreached me for collaboration. On the other hand, the same artists who are serious about their work and understand that networking is important also have an updated profile on LinkedIn. So you can’t go wrong with those options.
Review the illustrator’s portfolio or website
In order to find the right illustrator for your picture books, you should spend some time reviewing the illustrator’s portfolio. This is an important step because you will encounter artists with a variety of skill levels. Many of them have some type of background in fine arts, illustration, graphic design, painting, drawing, etc. Others are self-taught artists, whose work quality puts them in a position to create for and delight a wider audience.
But what it is important to keep in mind here is the quality of the work. First, search for the illustrator(s) whose artwork style aligns with your vision. Dig into the illustrator’s portfolio and look for credentials; possibly testimonials. Once you find one or several options you like, be prepared for the next step: outreaching and asking questions (more about this later).
Look for the right budget
Be prepared to plan a budget that is comfortable for you and take it from there.
How much you pay for an illustrator or a project depends on several factors, including the complexity of the project, the medium the illustrator uses, level of experience and skill set, and sometimes the rights of use. For instance, you will usually pay more for a two-page spread than for a single-page illustration. Also, you cannot expect to pay the same price for an illustrator who has numerous credentials, such as a Ph.D. in Visual Arts or experience as a former Disney Pixar’s storyboard creator, as you will for someone who just finished college or is a junior illustrator.
Plus, illustrators have different ways of charging for the project. Some work by the hour. Many prefer a flat fee—this is usually more economical. Others also offer commissioned work (this is very common for creation of art prints and drawings for galleries, exposition, murals, etc.).
Nowadays, given the plethora of options, illustrators are more open to discuss a deal or create a package that works for both of you. You just need to do thorough research on multiple venues, like the ones mentioned above, and go from there.
Keep the communication channel open
Being able to communicate openly with the illustrator is very important, from the moment of the first outreach.
Inquire about the price, and speed of delivery if they work with a contract—I strongly recommend you have one. In the world of independent publishing, the most common contract is the “work-for-hire,” where you pay for the creative service and the illustrator gives you all rights to use the artwork.
This type of agreement between you and the artist is beneficial for two reasons. First, it protects you from any type of lawsuits or liability since you own the rights to the creation. Second, you never know, you may find a traditional publisher who loves your book and wants to republish it. They are most likely to work with you if you won the rights to the entire project.
Once you decide the person you want to work with, provide clear specifications (there is the reason for the initial questions). Make sure the illustrator is responsive. This is a very important point—and one of the mistakes I made when self-publishing my children’s book that led to serious delay in production.
Set a timeline with the illustrator, keep in touch, and follow up on a regular basis. Don’t let weeks go without following up or without knowing in which stage he or she is at in the cycle.
Don’t confuse illustrator with book designer
As mentioned in our comprehensive guide on self-publishing children’s books, the role of an illustrator should not be confused with that of a book designer. Some illustrators may be designers or have graphic design skills, but for the most part, this is not the case.
The illustrator is the professional who will create your artwork and focus on the artistic production of illustrations. In some instances, they may lay out the text on the pages, if that is part of the package or project agreement—this was the case when I worked with the illustrator of Giggly Bear.
On the other hand, the book designer is the person who will format your book, according to the publisher’s or distributor’s specifications. The designer will take care of the interior of your book, from margins to proper layout of images and text on the pages, ensuring that your final product looks the best possible.
Their work is intertwined for the fact that both professionals need to be aware of the specifications of your artwork. But one focuses on the creation in itself and the other focuses on book formatting and layout.
Despite the variety of illustration styles, finding the right illustrator for your picture books should not be complicated. And once you connect with the right artist, the path of creation can be a rewarding one.
Seeing your stories come alive through the illustrations brings an indescribable feeling. It is a moment that can’t be put into words by those who have experienced it, and it’s amplified by witnessing the satisfaction in the young reader’s face.
If you are still in doubt about which way to start, let your fears melt away and follow the steps above. Go with the flow and enjoy every moment. In the end, if you still need help, this is why we are here: to support you and cheer you on every step of the way. Good Luck!