Working with an Illustrator on your Children's Book

Illustrations are arguably the most important part of your children's book - they bring the story to life. Honestly, I have no artistic ability, so this was the step that held me up the most in pushing myself to write and publish this book. I knew I needed someone to fill that massive gap, and I wasn't sure how to find them. 

I started by reaching out to illustrators whose work I loved that I found online. Most of them got back to me via their agents (probably my first sign I was batting out of my league) and let me know their prices. Most cost well over $10,000 + big royalties. I did get a very helpful piece of advice from an agent who told me that for my first book as a self-published author that I should probably look for a recent design graduate student. She wasn't being patronizing or rude, just simply trying to point me in a more reasonable direction. And she was absolutely correct. 

During the process, I also looked into the illustrators available in the Tellwell Self-Publishing Package. I elected not to go this route because of one thing I saw in the details - two rounds of edits per image, additional edits would cost more. I wanted the ability to be flexible to make changes without incurring extra costs. Working on contract with my own illustrator outside of the Tellwell environment enabled me to make tweaks and changes beyond two rounds per picture, and ensure the book was as perfect as possible. I highly recommend finding your own illustrator and establishing a contract on your own terms.

I posted the job on and within an hour I had over forty applicants from around the world. All willing to work within my proposed budget and timelines. I received so many applicants that I never ended up even looking at all of them. I was hoping to use a Canadian illustrator, so I put some filters on the applications and ended up reviewing a few Canadians that had submitted their work. Rebecca stood out to me from the start. First of all, she was the only Ontarian. She was also a recent college graduate and was focusing on illustrating children's books. She very quickly did up a potential sketch of my bears in our first conversation. This was my first look at her work. None of the other applicants showed me original artwork based on my own idea, and I loved that she took the initiative to show me exactly what I was asking for before I hired her. 

I officially picked her for the job, and as they say - the rest is history. She and I both learned a lot from the experience. Being that it was my first book, the whole thing was new to me. Overall we had a great working experience together, and I am so glad I got to know her through the process. Here are some of my key takeaways of working with an illustrator: 

1. Sign a Contract

It is so important to protect both yourself and your illustrator with a contract. My contract covered a variety of things, but the key areas were the ownership of the work, the agreed-upon price, deadlines, author and illustrator credits, and disclosure terms. Also, have an agreement in mind for changes. Our agreement did not put a limit on changes. This was key as we were changing things throughout the whole process to make the book better. Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer, this is just my experience. If you are looking for legal advice for an illustrator contract, please ask a lawyer. 

2. Prepare an Illustration Guide

Once you have signed an agreement with an illustrator, send them your illustration guide. An illustration guide goes through each page of your book that you'd like drawn and clearly states what you want it to look like. I cannot stress this enough - be as specific as possible. Illustrators aren't mind readers, and to make your vision come to life, they need details. Any time I was vague in my direction, the image wasn't exactly what I wanted, and we ended up spending more time going back and forth trying to get it to a good place. Put everything you see in your head into words. Rather than saying "Picture of two bears jumping off the dock with some animals and fish", say: "Two bears running and jumping off the dock wearing matching yellow striped bathing suits. Sun and mountain background. Include the butterfly, bumblebee, and have a frog and fish jumping out of the water." It is also important to include sample pictures or sketches of what you want. I cannot draw, at all. Like not even stick people. So I elected to search for stock photos of people doing what I wanted the bears to be doing. 

Example Images: 

two girls jumping in the water man jumping into the water

Our Final Image: 

two bears jumping in the water

3. Agree Upon a Schedule

My favourite part about using the Upwork platform was the scheduling and payment feature. After we agreed on the price, I was able to pay Rebecca in installments using Upwork. I would "fund a goal" of a certain number of images, Rebecca would work on them and present them to me for approval, and once she was finished and the work was approved by me, Upwork would release the funds to her. The next goal would then be funded. This was a great way to manage the project, split up the payments, and ensure work was completed on time and work was paid for on time. 

My illustrator is an incredible talent, and I was lucky to get to work with her on this project. I obviously couldn't have done this without her. A small way I was able to give adequate credit to her was having our names be the same size on the cover. If you enjoy working with your illustrator, I would suggest doing the same. It demonstrates a level of respect for their massive contribution to your finished product.

To end this blog, here is a cool progression of sketch to final illustration:

illustration sketch bears in treehouse

I hope this helped and I wish you nothing but the best of luck in the process of illustrating your book! 

Leave any questions in the comments or reach out to me on Instagram @bowandbearco or by email at! 

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