How to hire an illustrator

How to hire an illustrator

Before I begin, I have to say that hiring an illustrator was one of the most difficult things that I had to organise once I had decided to self-publish.  I found it difficult because:

  • It is hard to find illustrators with a style you like and that will fit with a particular story and who will actually get back to you when you contact them and are interested in working with you.
  • Illustrations can be very, very expensive and the prices are so variable from illustrator to illustrator. I didn’t really have a big budget to play with, so finding the right illustrator for the right price was extremely important..

But I needed to use a professional illustrator because I wanted my book to look as much like a real book as possible and real middle grade fiction books don’t usually have illustrations by the author (who has no skill, experience or qualifications in the area). In the same way I wouldn’t cut my own hair, I wouldn’t do my own illustrations – whilst I can cut and I can draw, I can do neither to a professional standard!

Now, it should be noted that if I could have published my book without illustrations and still had it really make sense,  I definitely would have, but that was not an option in the case of Diary of a Penguin-napper. The illustrations added to the story in a way I couldn’t replace with words and the finished product does look amazing.  That said, the next book I am planning will be free of illustrations.

So, what do you need to do if you want illustrations for your self-published book?  Just follow these ten easy* steps:

1. Decide exactly how many illustrations your book will need and where they will fall in the text. (For Diary of a Penguin-napper my original estimate was 30 and I ended up with 33 altogether.)

2. Decide how much you can afford to spend on each illustration or for all of them together. (For me, this was not much, as I wanted to keep my costs down so as not to make them too difficult to recoup them through book sales.)

3.  Search for an illustrator.  This is the hardest part, as I mentioned earlier, because if you’re anything like me, you have a clear picture in your head of what you want your illustrations to look like.  It is tricky to find someone who fits with the picture in your head and who is available or interested in your project.  I had the most success using where I posted a free advert outlining my project and received about six replies within 24 hours.

4. Get more information. I then emailed those six replies asking to see some further examples of their work, giving them further information about the project and answering any questions that they had.  I also reiterated the price I was looking to pay. Of the six replies, only three replied to my reply in a timely fashion (if that makes sense) and so that helped me to narrow it down further. Reply/turnaround time is important when you are working to a deadline.

One of the additional pieces of information that I gave them was this ‘mock-up’ as an example of the kind of thing I was looking for:

Obviously it isn’t perfect (otherwise why would I hire an illustrator – I could just do it myself!) but it gave the illustrators a clear picture of what I was after.

5. Choose an illustrator to work with.  I ended up working with Ainsley Knott and he caught my eye because he replied (to one of my replies!) with his own version of my image above.

It looked like this and because he’d taken that extra bit of effort to impress me, I decided to hire him to do my illustrations.

6. Sign the paperwork.  After we agreed to work together, Ainsley send me an ‘Acceptance of Commission’ form which confirmed our agreement formally in writing and I had to sign it.  Make sure you double check all of the fine print, including the pricing, copyright and what you are allowed to use the images for. I actually hired Ainsley on a ‘work for hire’ basis, rather than on a commission, as I didn’t want to have to be regularly calculating and paying him a commission from sales.

7. Provide a detailed design brief. The next thing I did was to send Ainsley a copy of my manuscript for him to read and get a feel for the style.  Whilst he was reading it, I gave him a detailed list of the illustrations I needed and where they would need to fit on the page.  I also gave him ideas of the ‘doodles’ to add around the writing to make it look more like the diary of an 11 year old boy.

8. Give plenty of feedback and promptly! Once Ainsley had completed some of the illustrations, he would email them to me and I would take a look and provide him with feedback.  Some of the illustrations were pretty much perfect from the beginning, whereas others took some perfecting.Here’s an example of how one of the pictures evolved over the course of a few emails:

Version 1:
Version 2:
Version 3:
Final Version:

Another great thing about working with Ainsley was that he was absolutely tireless when it came to making improvements to the illustrations.  As he is based in the UK and I am based in Australia, things took a little longer to organise because when he’d be working, I’d be asleep and vice versa.  The best collaborations happened when we both replied quickly to one another.

9. Receive the finished files. Once we were both happy with all of the files, Ainsley sent me through all of the final files and I inserted them into my manuscript (which I had formatted in InDesign). Easy!  Then he sent me an invoice for his work.

10. Pay promptly.  When I paid Ainsley, the day after he’d finished the work, he was pretty surprised. Normally it takes people a lot longer to come up with the money and they sometimes need reminders.  If you do use a freelance illustrator (or cover designer), I’d suggest that you pay them promptly.  They’ll be happy to work with you again (and they’ll be more willing to work with the rest of us too).*Right, so when I said ‘ten easy steps’ I was being a bit sarcastic.  Hiring an illustrator is darn hard work and really adds to your workload as a self-published author, not to mention the significant dint it puts in your budget. Having said that, I’ll say it again, the finished product with the illustrations does look pretty awesome.Pop back on Friday to meet my wonderful illustrator – Ainsley Knott – and find out how he can be your wonderful illustrator too!

9 thoughts on “How to hire an illustrator

  1. Hi Sally, What a fantastic glimpse into your world. I often wondered how someone went about hiring an illustrator – it must be a bit of a leap of faith. Thanks so much for linking into the Kid Lit Blog Hop and we hope you join us again!😀

  2. Thanks for your comment, Linda. I definitely think the easy route is to write a book that doesn't need any illustrations. However, if you do need illustrations, I think hiring an illustrator is a great option! There are so many self-pubbed books out there with not so great illustrations (done by the authors, their children or their pets) which kind of bring down the standard of self-pubbed books (in my opinion!)

  3. While I could deduce the meaning of the word "chuffed", I still enjoyed googling it. lol It's been interesting reading books emerging from different countries where the use of English differs slightly. We've read books written from authors in England, South Africa, India, Australia, the U.S., and Canada and it's been interesting to see these differences. As adults, it is easy to move through sentences with unfamiliar words, but with the kids, I'm often interrupted while reading, with questions about what a particular word means. Words that are unfamiliar to THEM.

  4. So true, Renee! It was something that I really had to think about when writing and publishing my book. I really wanted a neutral setting for my story, but having re-read my story after some time overseas, it was apparent to me how very Australian it is in many respects! And, I think in a way, it adds to the charm and character of the whole project.As a teacher librarian, I spend a LOT of time reading to children and so I'm really aware of the kinds of words that they may not know at different ages. I think it is important to have a certain number of 'new' words in a text because it is a great way for children to experience new words in a context where they might be able to guess what they mean. Of course, it really helps to have an adult reading with them to help with the definitions too though:)

  5. Nice recap! And cute illustrations! A bit surprised to see if was one of the toughest things to hire an illustrator/designer.. As someone on the opposite side I thought since there is a lot of choice on all price ranges it's not that hard or scary.. :)Thanx for share!

  6. Thanks Adrijus:) I think what I found tricky was finding an illustrator whose style I liked (and which would fit with the style of my book) who was also within my price range. Before I settled on working with Ainsley, I'd been in touch with several illustrators whose style I liked but who were either waaaay out of my affordable range or who never got back to me with a quote. With hindsight, the process is less scary than before I undertook it:) How do you find it from your side?

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