Should I Illustrate a Self-Published Picture Book?

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In Getting Started in Children’s Book Illustration, I’m answering your questions about getting started in this field.  Submit your questions via email or check here to read answers to previous questions.

In this installment of Getting Started in Children’s Book Illustration, we’re tackling the question: Should I illustrate a self-published children’s book?

If you’re an illustrator putting work out into the world, chances are you’ll be contacted by an author looking for an illustrator for a book they will be self-publishing. Illustrating a book sounds exciting, but what now?

Some folks will say NEVER work with on a self-published project while others will encourage it. Guess what? Whether you proceed with a self-published author’s project or not is up to you. Here are some things to consider first:

How long does it take you to illustrate a picture book?

If you’re new to book illustration, you may not know yet, but you can find out.  Time yourself illustrating a double page spread sample, choosing something like a well-known tale or your own story to illustrate. Time everything from sketches to finished art.  Now assuming you’re working on a 32-page picture book, that will probably break down to between 12 and 15 double page spreads, depending on the layout, plus a cover.  To be safe, take your time and multiply it by 16(that’s 15 dps + a cover). That’s about how long it takes you to illustrate a picture book.

Can you afford to illustrate this self-published picture book?

Based on the amount of time you’d need to complete a book, is the author offering high enough compensation to make it worth your time? If not, you can counter their offer with a reasonable amount that compensates you well for your time.

Don’t undervalue your time and your talent here, even if you’re a brand new illustrator. 

Beware of royalties, unless the author has an established sales history in self-publishing and even then, know that there are no guarantees.  You’re better off getting a flat fee instead of royalties or a flat fee as an advance against royalties.  Never accept only royalties as payment.

Has this author worked with an illustrator before?

It’s important to understand up front whether the author has worked with an illustrator before and whether they have realistic expectations of the process.  You can educate the author about your process and about how long each stage will take.

Is there a contract? 

There should be. To protect both you and the author, you’ll need a contract detailing what the deliverables are, when the work will be finished, how many rounds of revisions there are, what the fee for extra revisions is, who owns the copyright to the art (it should be you unless the author is willing to pay substantially more for a total buyout), and when payments will be made.

My two cents:

Personally, I think illustrating a self-published book is a good way to understand to process of illustrating books, although working with a publishing house is a totally different experience.  At the end of this experience you’ll know whether you enjoy working on book projects or not and you’ll learn more about your creative process.

That doesn’t mean you should work for a low fee. That’s why it’s important to figure out how much time you’ll spend on a book so you can make sure the fee is in line with your time spent.

Before I signed with my agents, I illustrated a self-published book and it was a lovely experience for me. These days, I’m busy working on books with publishers so I no longer accept self-publishing projects. My schedule is tightly booked and if I have time to work on passion projects, they will be my own projects, not someone else’s.

In the end, you need to do what feels right for you based on where you’re at in your career. Just make sure you’re adequately compensated for it. 

Comment below if you’ve worked on a self-published book and share your experience with us.

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  1. I often work on self-published books, often for first-time authors. I offer them a bit of a reduction in my fee, on the understanding that I never compromise my commercial deadlines – if I have commercial work to do, I do that first. So my self-publisher books aren’t very quick turnaround, but I always give them just as much love.

    • Steph Fizer Coleman says:

      Oh that’s smart to allow yourself more time for self-publishing projects so they don’t conflict with your commercial projects! An illustration career is all about that balance, you know?

  2. Valenzia Cina says:

    Thank you so much for offering this advice! I just got offered my first job illustrating for a first-time author and this was very helpful!

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