How to Find an Illustrator for a Children’s Book

illustrator working on a children's book

Estimated reading time: 9 minutes

Illustrations and children’s books go hand-in-hand. This is true for all kinds of children’s books, from board books to middle-grade novels. Unless you hope to follow the formula of a novelty hit like The Book with No Pictures, the importance of illustrations in your book is hard to overstate.

If you have written a children’s book but don’t have the ability to draw, how can you find a book illustrator who will bring your book to life, understand your vision, and do it at a price you can afford?

Visual storytelling in children’s books

Illustrations enhance the storytelling experience for young readers. They capture children’s imaginations and keep their attention, allowing parents to read the stories. They give children a reason to ask questions and engage with the story in a way that simply telling a tale without them doesn’t.

The best picture books aren’t just words with pictures. The pictures and the words work together to create something larger than the sum of their parts, as in this example from Ladybug Girl by David Soman and Jacky Davis. (As a fun exercise, imagine the page below without the words. It’s telling a totally different story. Same if you imagine it without that specific picture. It’s only when they come together do we get the full story.)

So how do you find an illustrator for your story who will enhance your words and create something magical?

Are you looking to traditionally publish your book?

Before you get all excited about hiring an illustrator, it’s worth asking yourself what your goal is for your book.

If you are trying to get a traditional publishing deal, then you do not want to hire an illustrator at all. You will try to get an agent and a publishing deal on the strength of your words and your ideas. Once you land a deal, the publisher will assign one of their illustrators to your book. In fact, hiring an illustrator ahead of time might backfire as the agent or acquiring editor may not like your illustrations and will pass on your book. So, to recap: If you are trying for a traditional publishing deal, do not get your book illustrated.

There are exceptions to this rule. When I wrote the first Mr. Pants story, I asked a talented friend to illustrate it because that story was very postmodern and required visuals for the story to work. This strategy worked in my favor as our editor loved R.H. Lazzell’s illustrations, but for the most part, you should not try to follow my example.

If, on the other hand, you are looking to self-publish your children’s book, then read on, as these tips will be for you.

Defining your vision

The first thing you need to do is picture your book in your head. That’s not to say you have to be rigid in how your book should look, but you should have a general sense. Are you after whimsy? Realism? Fantasy? Humor? Do you want a lot of detail or are you looking for simplicity? Are you looking for something that is open to interpretation or very specific?

If you’re not sure what style you’re after, go to the library, read as many children’s books as you can, and discover what you like and what you want to avoid.

It’s important that you know the illustration style you want before you go looking for someone to illustrate your children’s picture book so you can communicate your vision to your illustrator. That way you’re much more likely to be pleased with your results.

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Budget considerations

The expression “you get what you pay for” is true when it comes to hiring a potential illustrator. Iconic illustrators like Raúl Colón, Barbara Cooney, or Bryan Collier are probably going to be outside of your price range. But it is possible to find the perfect illustrator with a unique style for your book at a price you can afford.

As a children’s book writer, I constantly have illustrators reach out to me on LinkedIn, and I usually check out their work because I’m always on the lookout for someone to work with. Often, the illustrations I see are generic, but every once in a while, I find sparks of brilliance from these up-and-coming illustrators.

What is the best way to pay an illustrator?

Royalty-sharing is nearly impossible to carry out, thanks to the way royalties are paid out by companies like Amazon. (Unlike the royalty-sharing options available to authors and narrators through services like ACX.) So, the most common way to pay an illustrator is just a flat, upfront fee.

How much does it cost to hire an illustrator?

There are a lot of variables when it comes to hiring an illustrator, so it’s impossible to put a price in an article like this. Do you just need a cover? That could cost you anywhere from $25 to $500 (or more — and because of how important cover art is for book sales, that might be the best $500 you ever spend).

Do you need a few black-and-white illustrations for each chapter heading of your middle-grade book? Do you need a fully illustrated 32-page picture book? Again, the prices for these services could range from $200 to $2,000 or more. It depends on how experienced the illustrator is. Are they up-and-coming and eager for a chance to prove themselves or are they more established?

Where your illustrator lives is another factor. Someone in Europe may cost less than an American, and if they live in the Middle East or Asia, less still.

It is possible to get a talented artist to illustrate your picture book for $500 to $1,000. You just have to be patient and know where to look.

Where to find illustrators

Assuming you don’t have a contact in your local artist community, here are some great places to search for illustrators.

Freelance websites

The first place to check out is freelance platforms like Upwork, Freelancer, and Fiverr. You can find a talented illustrator on these sites, from all over the world, and often their services are very affordable. The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) is another resource worth exploring.

The Do's and Don'ts of Planning a Book LaunchWith Fiverr, you can simply type in the service you are looking for, browse through hundreds of artists’ work, and reach out to the person whose work you like best. You may find the perfect illustrator that way, though it may take a while. Conversely, you may also struggle to find an artist whose style matches what you are seeking.

With Freelance and Upwork, you post the service you’re looking for, the details, and your budget, and artists will contact you. This approach is nice, especially if you can explain exactly what it is you want in terms of the style of illustration and the breadth of the project.

Online illustration communities

Another kind of platform to explore is online communities where illustrators showcase their work. I find that the range of styles is greater on these sites than on freelance sites. Great sites to check out include Behance and DeviantArt.

Social media networks

I mentioned that artists have been reaching out to me on LinkedIn, and as cool as that is, it’s not from me actively asking for art. This means that although some of these artists are great, I’m not usually working on a title that can benefit from their specific services. However, you can search for illustrators on LinkedIn or Instagram, and maybe you’ll find exactly who you’re looking for.

Another great option is to check out Facebook groups like Children’s Book Illustrators.

Reddit is another great resource. Check out communities like r/selfpublish to reach out to other authors to see which artists or services they’ve used. Or go direct to illustrators at r/HungryArtists

Illustration services

Speaking of services, another option is to check out an illustration service like 1000 Story Books or GetYourBookIllustrations. The schtick with 1000 Story Books is your finished picture book will cost you $1,000, which may or may not be more affordable than hiring someone through Fiverr or Upwork. But it’s at least checking out every option.

Assessing and hiring an illustrator

After searching and searching, you will hopefully come across a picture or an illustrator that speaks to you. Before you hire them, be sure to check out any reviews by their customers and be sure to look at as many pieces in their portfolio as you can to make sure they are not only legit but also prolific. You don’t want to hire someone based on one drawing.

Negotiating and contracts

Once you’ve officially decided to hire someone, it’s a good idea to draw up and sign a contract, just so you are both on the same page. Here are some details you’ll want to iron out.

  • Define the payment terms (half upfront, the rest upon delivery, etc.)
  • Who owns the copyright to the artwork?
  • What is their deadline?
  • What is their revision policy?
  • What exactly is being delivered? (Is cover design included? Front, back, and spine? For paperback and hardcover? What kind of files will they be outputting?)
  • Will they receive credit for their work? Personally, I like crediting the artist, but that’s up to you.
  • What if they fail to deliver on time?
  • What if you are not satisfied?
  • Specify the terms of termination or cancellation.

Remember, communication throughout the entire process will be key to your satisfaction. Be as specific as possible so they know exactly what you want and what is expected from them. The more information you can give, the happier you’ll be.

Next steps

Once your book is illustrated and the final artwork is ready, it’s not ready for publishing. Unless your artist has taken care of these services, your book will still need cover design and interior formatting. Luckily for you, BookBaby’s Children’s Book Self-Publishing Packages offer everything you need to get your book published and to market.

Happy writing!

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