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Hi, I’m Looking for an Illustrator for my Children’s Book…..10 Questions to ask before you say , “Yes!”

Artwork copyright © Wilson Williams, Jr.

 With the growth in popularity of the e-book many authors are seeing a glimmer of hope and realizing that they can get their work out there without having to break into the velvet roped publishing house exclusive party. This means that you will begin to get even more solicitations from those authors looking for artists to bring visuals to their words.

If you have a website or have done any degree of online advertising of your artwork, you have probably gotten an e-mail with a similar message as the title. If not, you will at some point. It’s best to be prepared now. For those who have gotten it, nine times out of ten you aren’t sure how to respond to it, what should you ask, how do you respond?

I was tired of retyping essentially the same letter over and over again.  I finally saved a template of the letter I use in this situation and I’d like to share it with you. This letter is set up to not only gauge the potential project but to also get a measure of the knowledge of the person I would be working with.  For a person who has no knowledge of  what it takes to produce a book, this letter is quite intimidating. That’s the point. You only want serious prospects when it comes to these types of projects, otherwise the jobs end up being more of a burden than a benefit.

Please take the letter and alter it to fit your needs. Within it you should find all the integral questions you should be asking anyone approaching you with a job of this nature. The more you know the better a position you’ll be in to decide whether or not the project is worth your consideration.

You can download the file in word here.
PDF format here.

So why these 10 questions you ask? See below!

1. Is this your first Children’s Book?
If it is then you may have to not only be the Illustrator but the teacher as well. In most instances very few have taken the proper steps to educate themselves about the process and kind of work that goes into making a children’s book.

Many pick up a children’s book, read it and say to themselves that they could do this and seek out an Illustrator skipping all the information gathering that they need to do. It’s also very likely that they won’t know how to answer the majority of the rest of the questions.

If the  answer is no, then you can ask for titles and do some online research to see what their other products look like and how successful they have been.

2. I would like to see the script for your story. You can send a NDA (Non-disclosure agreement) pre-emptively if you feel compelled to do so.

You need to read the book before you decide to draw it.  For one, you may not like it. I’ve gotten some pretty out there inappropriate stories from authors.

You also need to see how complicated the images may be to determine how much you should be charging.

3. How many pages will your book be? (Please include the cover, back cover, copyright page, and title page  in that number.)

This is integral to coming up with a price since it will let you know about how many illustrations you may be doing.

4. What age range is your book intended for?

If the writer tells you the book is for 4-7 year olds and then sends you a 5000 word script, you know there is a problem. The age range should give you an idea of how simple, complex and bright your images should be considering the age range. The younger the audience the simpler and brighter the images should probably be.

5. Do you have a budget in mind for this artwork?

I rarely  get the answer to this question. But it never hurts to ask. If they do answer truthfully you may save yourself the trouble of reading the script if what they are budgeting is too low. I recently  got a letter asking for 35 illustrations for $5 each. In the trash.

6. Do you have an estimated date that you would want the artwork completed by?

This is necessary to determine if their scheduling  is realistic and will fit within your schedule.

7. How do you plan on publishing and marketing the book?

Do they have a publisher already?

If so, is it a vanity press or a smaller publisher or a larger one.  Be sure to research them online to see who you may be dealing with.  Larger publishers don’t generally have the writer select an illustrator.

If not, are they just trying to put something together to shop their story to a publisher? This is a no no as well. Publishers don’t want book submissions from authors and illustrators who are not the same person. They want the ability to select the artist for particular stories themselves.  If submitting a script all they need is to prepare it to the submission guidelines of that  particular publisher and submit it. Illustrations aren’t necessary.

8. What outlets will you be using to sell the book?

Where do they intend to sell the books; Bookstores, Online, Amazon, Barnes and Nobles?  Again this is to help you gauge their research and planning. What steps are they considering to make sure the book will be a success.

9. What rights are you interested in purchasing from me?

The rights sold by most publishers are usually limited to what they specifically need to reproduce the book alone, first time publishing rights. This may include e-book rights but not always. For example, if the publisher decided to create plush toys, a video game or a cartoon based on your creations they would need to renegotiate your contract and your financial compensation since they are creating something beyond the specific published book you created.

The artist generally retains the copyright of the artwork they create in these situations. Don’t be surprised if the person soliciting you asks to buy all rights, which means they own the artwork copyright and everything and can essentially do whatever they like with or without your permission. If you sell those rights at the very least make sure that you are financially compensated for it.

10. Will you be hiring a designer as well, or will it be necessary for me to perform those duties?

Illustrators don’t typically do the layout, type or book design. If you are expected to do it then you should charge more.
If you are new to this you will learn quickly that there is a lot to learn about what we do. You need to keep up on all the business side of things that may seem cumbersome to learn but are essential to your survival as a professional. We’ll do our best to provide knowledge and tools based on our experiences here at OnceUponASketch.  Take advantage and let us know if you see anything that can be added or improved.

60 Comments

  1. Adam Hartlaub

    These are great. I should really give more thorough responses like this. I mean, I give pretty thorough discussions with some of my commercial clients. But I can’t even count the number of “illustrate my book” jobs I’ve seen, or had offered. Most of which were amateurs that had no clue what they were doing. I typically asked up front if they had a publisher they were working with, or if they had the means to self publish. But as I see this, I feel that it is even more concise and thorough. I should totally consider this. Thanks!

    Reply
  2. Robert Trujillo

    Well written! ive had to write something very similar to folks who have asked me to illustrate something for them. Its very frustrating when folks do not want to pay what the artwork, licensing, and marketing knowledge is worth. Both as an artist and from a biz standpoint! Ive had folks offer what I make for “one” freelance illustration to do their entire book!

    Reply
  3. WilsonWJr

    That lets me know we were on the right track with this Tanja!! Thanks so much!

    Reply
  4. Claude

    I’m always surprised to see how many author never really go beyond the thought of “finding an illustrator”, these question list will certainly give them some insight of the other side of the coin. Every illustrator should have a copy of your list. Thanks!

    Reply
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    Reply
  6. Pat

    Wilson, thank you for this excellent advice. I too receive requests and have a form letter that I reply with, but after seeing this I realize I’m explaining too much in my letter. I like that you ask these questions and put the responsibility back on the authors to research and reply. And you are right that very few would-be authors have prepared past the initial step of locating an illustrator.

    Reply
    • WilsonWJr

      Thanks so much Pat! Considering that you give seminars on this, I am highly complimented! I hope it forces them to research and get some answers. It was suggested and now I’m considering making a permanent page on my web site that deals with these kind of questions. I’m sure many Illustrators have done the same, so I need to research and find some good examples to follow! Take what you can and make it work for you! Great work on your page by the way!!! Thanks again!!

      Reply
  7. vanessa newton

    Wilson you have really hit a nerve for a lot of us. It’s a blessing when you can be both author and illustrator of your own projects. I often get the same request for artwork like it’s free or something LOL!! That somehow I am in need of “EXPOSURE”!! I get it all the time. I am surprised at how many self publishers that don’t do their homework. I understand that some really just have a heart for kids and want to put together something special, but they don’t do the study or investigation into how to go about it all and it become a forest and a failure. I understand as well that some don’t know how to start in order to self publish. I often get, ” I would like you to illustrate my children’s book. I would like to own the copyrights to the illustrations. I’m on a budget so how much would that cost?” I was at times taking some of these jobs that turned into nightmares. They don’t know how to approach an illustrator for possible hire, they don’t know how much they should offer, they don’t understand copyrights and licensing, what a font is or ISBN is or who their audience is. It’s very frustrating and sometimes I don’t even want to answer them back. I just don’t want to have to school anyone, because I have a heart for people and I want to see folks succeed, I will take time and do it. One self publisher asked me to do artwork for her book. She was super demanding and had not a clue about what she was doing. I sent her sketches and she would say it was not what she wanted and I would then go back to the drawing board and redo them. This would happen many times before I finally asked her for payment and she didn’t have the money. She said she would pay when I got it right. I told her that she needed a professional art director and she said that,” I will do the art direction myself.” Needless to say that job never happened. I find so many of my illustrator peers that have gone through the same. I am thankful for this article and I hope that you will write more on this subject. Thanks so much for sharing.

    Reply
    • WilsonWJr

      Vanessa!!! How have you been beautiful? How in the heck can anyone give you guff over your illustrations!!!!! They need prayer!! LOL!

      I understand exactly what you are saying, which is what prompted this. I used to be able to excuse the ignorance too, but if they are on a computer and can find us to ask us to draw their book, it’s not that much more difficult to google and find out what they need to do. As someone else pointed out there are a LOT of sites and whatnot that put all the info in one place. I hear what you are saying though and I don’t want to crush anybody’s dream. So I try to set them on the right path even if it doesn’t end up pointing back to me.

      I’ve had the same problems you’ve mentioned too about authors not liking the stuff you draw or not being able to pay. I learned very quickly what kill fees were and non refundable half pay upfront before we do anything. (Will definitely need to post about THAT at some point) I also no longer do, “This book is based on my daughter, cousin, granddaughter, uncle, etc. here’s some pictures can you make them look like them?” That’s a recipe for disaster!! We all perceive people differently and what I think your husband looks like, will definitely not be what he looks like to you! Emotion can make the ugliest person beautiful and the prettiest person UGLY. So I stay away!

      It’s a lot to take in, but I am happy for the experience and getting the opportunity to learn so that I can pass those things on to others. Hopefully they learn from my mistakes!

      …….I’m sorry, I’m still having such a hard time believing that she had a hard time with YOUR drawings!! Crazy!!!! Cray cray!!!!

      Thanks so much for dropping in!! You are amazing and an inspiration!!!

      Reply
      • Sonal Panse

        Wilson – It might also help to specify the number of free revisions and paid revisions that you are willing to do – otherwise you might spend days without an end ‘getting it right’.

        Reply
        • WilsonWJr

          Sonal-Most of that type of discussion comes after you decide to take on the assignment. This initial letter to them is to get info from them. Your reply letter will pass on your specifics to them. Most likely included in a sample of your contract for them to look over.

          But yes you are DEFINITELY right, be sure to include limited revisions and kill fees in your contract if you get to that part. Another problem sometimes dealing with new authors is that they don’t always know what they want and will keep you in revision hell. If you have a limit to how much they can do that before you start charging more helps them to make up their minds quicker(believe me!). People will ride free forever but get off the ride quick when a bill shows up for extra rides around the carousel. 😉

          We’ll probably go over contracts in a separate post! Thanks Sonal!

          Reply
          • Sonal Panse

            Thanks for responding, Wilson. I should have been clearer – I did mean in the contract, not in the initial letter. I was reacting to Vanessa’s remark about redoing her sketches again and again.

            Look forward to the contracts post. If you haven’t already, look up Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s blog. She has a good deal of information on contracts – from a writer’s perspective, but it’s useful for illustrators too.

            Thanks again for your blog.

          • WilsonWJr

            No problem Sonal!! Your points were well made! And thanks so much for letting us know about Kristine! Great resource!!! Thank you so much!!!

      • Tami Traylor

        Hey Vanessa,

        I’m with Wilson, the client that turned their nose up at your work needs prayer! I know we all get art direction, but you made a strong case of the dangers of getting art direction from someone with no experience in the business. I ran into this sort of thing for the many years I was doing freelance design. In my early years, I took on a lot of small business owners and they would put me through those crazy paces changing designs because fluorescent pink was their wife’s fav color (not that it meant anything to their brand or target audience!) I learned the hard way to sort those clients out or price the work so stratospherically high that it would either scare them off or compensate me for their antics.

        Your work is phenomenally beautiful. It always makes me happy when I see it and I can spot one of your books a mile away. Keep the faith, girl!

        And thank you so much to Wilson for sharing this great post and the form letter, too! It’s well written, professional advice that anyone in the business of illustration can benefit from. I get at least one of these email inquiries a week, minimum. Ironically enough, I got one the day I read this post. I don’t want to be a meanie and shut someone’s dreams of being a writer for children down, but I don’t want to trap myself in a non-productive, frustrating business relationship.

        I’ve been subscribed to this blog for a while, now but haven’t taken the time to thank its contributors for the great content. It’s become one of my faves. Keep on keeping on, y’all!

        Reply
  8. Leahg cartoonist

    Excellent article and thank you so much for allowing use of the questions , very helpful. LeahG

    Reply
  9. Chris Jones

    Wilson, this is awesome! Thanks for sharing!

    Reply
  10. Jolle

    Hey Wilson, nice work on this! Of course, it would be easy to add some of this information on the contact page of your website, or a notice that you only work with publishers and agents. That’s a first barrier and may save you some time right there. Then people who are serious about things can still get in touch, knowing what is expected of them.

    As for schooling people who clearly have not taken the time to learn about the industry and what creating, publishing, marketing and distributing a children’s book involves, I think if they’re not willing to do a bit of research they’re not worth spending lots of time on educating them. Still, a friendly pointer is always handy for those folks, so a couple of links to books on the subject (there’s plenty of ’em out there) should help them on their way :) You may even provide those links on your website and get a small commission fee from Amazon. It’s important to take any visitor and potential client seriously, but they should certainly do the same.

    Reply
    • WilsonWJr

      Jolle!!!!! How have you been man? I hear what you are saying about sending them to an info page. I’m working on adding that to my web page and truthfully we all should probably do something similar. This letter really helps you to know where you stand and make a decision if it’s worth you investing the time in. You’ll know the knowledge and preparation level of the person approaching you.

      With the shift going towards e-books and the lack of big publishers to block the way of new writers I imagine we’ll be getting a LOT of these kind of requests. So I want to make sure my tools are in place! LOL!

      You’re also right about the links to books! We are already building a library of reference books on here for sale through Amazon!

      http://onceuponasketch.com/library/

      Great minds huh? 😉

      Reply
  11. Alan Stacy

    Golden! So succinctly laid out. I have been down this path so many times myself that I wish I had come up a standard response like you have. One absolutely huge problem that you mention under number 1 is being the educator to the process. I have coached so many first time illustrators through this minefield with self-publishing authors (some even associated with fledgling publishing houses) that I need to start charging a fee for consulting work. I recently went to a book festival where myself and another author-illustrator were the ONLY ones out of about 50 vendors who had non self-published books. To say the least, so many scenarios I have witnessed and been asked to participate in, the unpolished quality of the project is truly wretched. Yet, people are so anxious to get their baby out there that they are willing to sacrifice common sense and good taste (artists and writers). When a potential client starts to whine about money it’s a signal for me to hit the road. Recently, in humoring a potential independent client, I did an impromptu conceptual sketch of a character for her story at her insistence. She instantly started whining about the design and started redrawing it with much revisionist commentary. You’d think I would have learned long ago. Thanks again for your insight and wisdom!

    Reply
    • WilsonWJr

      You’re welcome Alan. It’s anew day and age and I think we as artists have to reset the bar a bit. Before we would have the art director acting as a kind of referee. But with things changing like they are the ball is in our court more and more. So we have to be mindful of that before we walk into situations. Bad experiences are a good thing if they are put to practical use and wisdom. Thank again!

      Reply
  12. Dayne Sislen

    Thank you so much for this great way of handling requests for quotes. I think it will help me a lot. I always went about it the opposite way, telling the author what I would do for them and tip-toeing around the actual quote until I could get a feeling for the scope of the job and the person I would be working with.

    This puts the burden on the author’s shoulders and keeps me in control. How many times have artists underestimated a job that spirals out of control time-wise with a hard to please customer.

    Character development doesn’t start until I receive at least 1/3 up front on that stage of the process. I always keep character development separate from the total quote. This will be the time I find out how easy the author is to work with and time to work out the kinks.

    Reply
    • WilsonWJr

      Thanks Dayne! I agree big time with what you are saying. I do either half up front or a third like you. Non refundable. Keep your interests a priority and you’ll be successful.

      Reply
  13. thartofpuro

    Wow!It’s fantastic!Very helpful:)

    Reply
  14. kat mcd

    Wow! So generous of you. Love this info and will use it for sure. Thanks.

    Reply
  15. Brian ALlen

    Bravo! Thanks for this.

    Reply
  16. Catherine

    That is a fantastic article. So many details can vary the price point of taking on a picture book. I’ll have to make use of that sample letter.

    I hope this somehow gets around to the world’s prospective authors as well, so it will prepare them for the long process that is illustrating a book. It’s never just a cut-and-dry “this is what I charge to illustrate books” kind of situation.

    Reply
  17. Richard Deverell

    So much time I’ve wasted on these requests. Thanks for this, I will definitely adapt and use this.

    Reply
  18. Kristy

    Great post! Very helpful to an illustrator just starting out. I have been approached by authors before and many times I find that that haven’t taken these things into consideration. Most of all on the issue of payment: “hi, can you illustrate my book? I can’t pay you up front, but you’ll be sure to make a ton of money from the royalties when it sells!”

    Reply
  19. Diana

    Great post. This template ready response is great. And you def have to do a follow-up post on getting PAID by the author. I always ask for a downpayment before any sketches etc. are begun and fig out an installment plan for each project w all payments being un-refundable and no further work done until previous step is paid.

    Reply
    • WilsonWJr

      You are a pro Diana! You’re exactly right. Never go on faith. get your money upfront before you do anything and don’t deliver any usable high res images until final payments are made. Include kill fees and what rights are being sold explicitly laid out in the contract that must be signed and returned before you do anything! We’ll get to work on that follow up post!

      Thanks Diana!!

      Reply
  20. Van Canaberal

    Thank you for posting this article. I live in an expat community in China and have encountered some expat self-publishers of their books. My current client more or less also agrees with this post and we are lucky to have a good agreement that answers the 10 questions perfectly. We hope this post could be shared to others in our community to guide them as authors to do more homework/research and also to be able to realize their aspirations to get published, etc better.

    Reply
    • WilsonWJr

      Thanks so much! I’m glad you find this post useful! Please feel free to share a link back to the original article or let us know how we can better share this post with the larger community!

      Reply
  21. Heike

    Im going to share your article if you don’t mind.
    Best Heike (Berlin, Germany)

    Reply
  22. Kirsty

    Thanks – this will be very useful.
    I once got an email from a Self-publisher (not the author, but the publisher herself), looking for an illustrator for an alphabet book – 26 illustrations. They were aiming to publish in 6 weeks’ time…

    Reply
  23. Reem Ossama

    Hi I’m new to the group and I find a lot of good and useful articles like yours so thanks a lot on that article it was really enlightening for me as it’s quite different in my country “Egypt”, and since you seem to have a good experience can you tell if it’s possible to draw illustrations for a publisher overseas ? as I would like to widen my experience, and if it’s possible how can I sign a contract or deliver my illustrations and all these details.
    So if you can help me with your advice and experience I would really appreciate it, and also anyone who had a similar experience are welcome to comment. Thanks
    Reem

    Reply
  24. Brenda A. Harris

    I’m feeling empowered! The information in the post and comments have been helpful. Thank you Wilson for wanting to educate, and thanks to everyone else who has commented. :)

    Reply
  25. janicefried

    Excellent article! I too have thought of doing a form letter like this. Well done and well said as well as well explained!

    Reply
    • WilsonWJr

      Thanks Janice! I’ll try to keep coming up with things like this. Things that we all could use but never take the time to create. Hopefully I’ll make more things that prove useful! Thanks again!!

      Reply
  26. Marilyn Martinez

    Thank you for these questions. A good guideline as I start to develop my first Children’s book.

    Reply
  27. mary uhles

    hey I just saw this from a Linked In convo.. I think i’m going to add a link to it from my “form letter” on my site. Its great info (only downside I may be sending more self pubbers to you guys… sorry ’bout that;)

    Reply
    • WilsonWJr

      LOL! Glad it can be useful Mary. I can handle self publishing if the story is interesting, I limit the revisions, and they can pay professional rates. 😉

      Reply
  28. Jennifer Tzivia MacLeod

    I’ve read this a few times now and – as a self-publishing children’s-book writer – found it very helpful.  Linked to you from my guest post today about writing children’s books on the Book Designer blog.  Thanks!

    Reply
  29. Richard Olson

    Some writers send me manuscripts without a non-disclosure agreement and others want a signed non-disclosure agreement before I read the manuscript. It is best to protect intellectual property rights before showing it to strangers. Most illustrators should have a blank non-disclosure form that they can email prospective clients.

    Rich Olson
    Children’s book illustrator,
    http://braintofu1.blogspot.com

    Reply

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