As an aspiring or seasoned children's book author, illustrations are the moment we all eagerly await. It's actually seeing our words come to life right before our eyes. It's the vision that has kept us up at night. Personally, I recall seeing my very first illustrations and immediately feeling teary eyed. I was so excited that I could barely keep it together at work. To be honest, I wanted to log out, resign, and praise dance in the parking lot. Naively, I felt like I'm at the finish line and everyone who sees this book will organically fall in love with it and want to purchase. "I will surpass my hourly rate within no time," I thought. Yes, that was my first impression of seeing illustrations. It was a bit much. Okay, I was being completely extra, but I know I am not the only one. Thankfully, for me I have honest friends. After sharing round one of illustrations with my good friend, she quickly recognized that the illustration of my main character appeared too old for the tone and context of the story. My heart sank because she was correct and upon a closer examination I noticed inconsistencies with pages. I guess I wouldn't be quitting that day after all. Back to my illustrator I went for revisions.
Fast forward to now, I recognize those items with a sharper set of eyes and even encourage authors working with me to sleep on the illustrations for a night and let me know what revisions they need, if any. I share this to help new authors to logically look at illustrations the way readers and buyers will experience them.
Here are a few tips I have learned along my author and publisher journey.
Books are generally broken down as singles, spreads or spot illustrations. My first suggestion would be to decide, which you'd prefer.
Spreads span from left to right with one shared illustration with typesetting (text) overtop of the illustrations. Page counts will be broken down in this way: 1/2, 3/4, 5/6, etc.
Singles have text only on the left or right page and the illustration on the opposite page. Both the text and illustration stand alone.
A spot illustration is an object, animal or character that stands on its own, without a background scene. A spot illustration is used to highlight a scene from the text. Therefore, spot illustrations are shared with text.
Use an illustration storyboard with your illustrator. It will consist of manuscript text, illustration ideas and your book size. A few sizes I've used for children's books are 8.5x11 (rectangular), 8.5x8.5 (square) and 8x10 all are standard across print on demand platforms for self publishing. When adding illustration ideas for your single, spread or spot illustrations be sure to add details, emotions and features that are important to you, but I encourage you to leave room for creative freedom from the illustrator and allow items to be drawn in where possible. Example: Instead of saying, The little girl wore her blue hat to the park, I'd suggest allowing the illustrator to simply illustrate the character with a blue hat.
Illustrators can be found in many different places including social media. I would recommend asking for samples of their work, websites where others books they've done can be found and even a sample of your main character before agreeing to do a full book project. I personally recommend the following:
Always work with a contract when using an illustrator. Here are a few pointers for the contract.
Ensure you as the author retain commercial rights, so you can sell items with your character(s).
I do not recommend a royalty split. I prefer to pay a flat fee (not hourly) for illustrators. Royalties are the funds received from each book sold.
Have a firm deadline in place. I would suggest building in an additional two weeks from the date the illustrator gave just to allow for any delays or revisions.
Illustrator must keep the work confidential until the book is published. However; once it's published the illustrator may use it for their portfolio.
The illustrator must acknowledge the work is original and not taken from any other source.
The illustrator may not resale the artwork.
The illustrator should receive acknowledgement within the book for their work.
Have an agreed upon amount of revisions that are included.
If you'd like to do pre sales, have the illustrator draw your cover first that way you can put in on display while the other illustrations are being drawn.
Ensure your agreement states stock images must not be used within the book including backgrounds scenes. This can be a costly mistake.
If you're interested in a coloring book, when the illustrations are in stretch form ask if they offer bold line art.
Agree on a price and put down a deposit or retainer fee in escrow. Illustrations can vary from a few hundreds to tens of thousands of dollars depending on the level of experience, any accolades the illustrator might have such as awards and even if they live within or outside the US. I recommend paying them fairly since they are contributing to half of the book and it could be an ongoing relationship for a series. Personally, I would not exceed $3500 - 5000 for an illustrator within the US. Generally, artists outside the US are willing to negotiate this price much lower per their cost of living being lower in other countries.
Have the illustrator provide a calendar or schedule of when pages will be provided for your review. I suggest weekly or bi-weekly check ins.
You also want to make sure your DPI (dots per inch) is 300 or higher. Otherwise, your book will not properly upload.
Ensure a bleed space of 0.125 is added as well.
Depending on the illustrator the project timeline could vary, but I would say 6-12 weeks based on their current workload, work ethic and the author's ability to communicate quickly with any revisions. The window of time above includes a 2 week buffer for revisions and delays.
4. Review your book for any inconsistencies throughout with characters, facial features, backgrounds, and even text.
5. Ensure the illustrations and text matches. Ex. If you mentioned the character waved her right hand, double check to confirm that's what the illustration shows.
6. Be clear about the types of illustrations you want digital or hand sketched. I recommend providing samples other books you've found that you admire. You can also provide pictures of loved ones if they are featured characters.
7. Consider using a book designer for your cover. You would provide this person with illustrations from the interior of your book. Book designers ensure your book is the most appealing for making sales.
If you've made it this far, you might be understanding why some opt to hire a service like mine to self publish their book on their behalf because there are certainly a lot of details to consider. But, if you follow the advice above you'll be well on your way to great illustrations.
Audrey O. Hinds