I've written a children's book. I love your work and would like to have you illustrate it. Would you have interest in reading it and illustrating it?
This is a question that I am most frequently asked. My advice to anyone
interested in writing a children's book and getting it publish: Please,
do your homework before you start. Generally the writer will submit
their story to a publisher. The publisher will then select an illustrator
that they feel is right for the story.
If you are new to writing and illustrating children's books, but want to
learn - I recommend that you go to your local book store or Library
and look up pick up a copy of:
Children's Writer's & Illustrators Market published annually by
Writer's Digest Books. There are also many other books and
resources availableon the subject. I also suggest that you look
into becoming a member of the Society of Children's Book
Writer's & Illustrators www.scbwi.org
How did you do things when you were starting?
Well, first I attended an arts college and earned a BFA
(Bachelor of Fine Arts). I don't think a BFA is needed if you have
talent and are capable of producing professional quality work - a
lot of that comes from experience.
There are many books available to help the beginner. But then again, having
a well rounded foundation in the arts can be of immeasurable value
in fostering technique and professional production skills.
Even with my Arts education backing me up - I made numerous
mistakes and blunders when I first started out. So the real answer
to your question - "How did I do things when I started out?"
Badly, I did things quite badly.
What kind of job opportunities are there for someone just starting out? What kind of jobs did you do?
It really depends on which markets your style appeals to. You may find
that you fall right into trade books or perhaps mass market, or you may
find that doing work for kids magazines is where you seem to fall in the
beginning. A lot of the jobs you might be offered are very low paying and
have very bad contracts - I strongly advise that you do your best to avoid
a "Work for Hire" or "All Rights Transferred" type ofcontract.
I suggest that you always try to negotiate around a WFH contract. Either
work to get better terms, perhaps an all school rights or some other type
of exclusive yet limited rights deal, or a payment that justifies a complete
buy out. A WFH or All Rights contract means that you give up any and
all rights to the work, including the right of authorship.
To find outmore about copyright issues and what to watch out for,
contact the Graphic Artist Guild
It took me 8 years after graduating from college to become a full time freelance
children's book illustrator. Until that time I worked for any,even remotely,
arts related job I could find. One of the best jobs was working for a freelance
photographer - he showed me a lot of the do's and don'ts about freelancing
which is how this businessworks. While working these (usually part-time)
jobs, I was tryingto develop a children's book portfolio that showed: children,
animals, reoccurring characters, scenes that told a story, different environments
and ethnicity's, plus a few adults.
I am very interested in becoming a children's book illustrator. How did you break into children's illustration?
I researched and created a mailing/prospect list of publishers and
got the names of art directors, editors and designers. I only
selected those publishers who produced the type of work I wanted to
do or would be willing to do if the price was right. I did this by
requesting publishers catalogs and going to the book store and made
note of publishers who's books I liked. I became a member of the
Society of Children's Book Writer's and Illustrator's www.scbwi.org,
which is very helpful for those just starting out.
I then made color copies of 3 samples and a cover letter and sent
them out. I got some call backs requesting more samples or to see
my portfolio. I keep anal retentive records on who, what, and
where I send samples to, the reactions I get, etc. I no longer use
color copies, but scan my work and create "promo pages" that I
print out as needed on my color printer. Much easier than zipping
off to Kinko's all the time. Be sure to have at least your name
and phone number on everything you send out.
My advice to you is do your homework! Learn as much as you can
about how to submit work and how the business works before you
start contacting art directors. In the mean time, put together a
good set of samples showing what you can and like to do. Research
a mailing list The Children's Writer's & Illustrator's Market published
by Writer's Digest is an excellent source of information.
One of the most important things in this business is promotion. I try
to send out a postcard mailing every 3months. Search the web for a
good printer you can find links to a couple of the better, more affordable
printers on my links page, but new ones are cropping up all the time.
The more an art director sees your name crossing their
desk themore likely they are to remember it and think to call you for a
job. I also take out an ad in Picturebook Directory every year
It is expensive but gives great exposureand gives you copies of your
page to mail out. I also do 1-2"special" mailings a year - things like,
the page from thedirectory or a full page mailer of some kind. It really
is the key- promotion, promotion, promotion.
Would you be able to tell me of a reputable agent or agency who specializes in the children's book
I am really the wrong person to ask.
I do not feel that an agent is necessary, especially when they take 25% of a fee that
generally is not that high to begin with! With some promotional effort on your
part you can accomplish amazing things.
It has also been my experience that most reputable reps in the kids market
only take on clients with some children's book experience under their belt.
This may no longer hold true.
If you truly wish to find a rep, check annuals like PictureBook
and the annual reference book Children's Writer's & Illustrator's Market
for agent listings. And by all means if you have any friendly
connections with people in the publishing industry - ask them!
I am a new illustrator and have just been asked to illustrate a self-published children's book. Is there any advice you can give me about doing this kind of book?
Be very careful doing a self-published book!!! I can not stress
this enough! I generally don't recommend this kind of assignment.
But I also understand the desire to get a printed piece. If you do
decide to do a self-published book, be sure to
get an up front fee! And please be sure
to protect your rights with a tight contract. Even if this person
is a friend or family member - get a contract. You can find sample
contracts in Pricing and Ethical Guidelines published semi annually by
the Graphic Artists Guild - It's worth every penny!. Only release
the rights they need for a one time publication of the book with
clauses for renegotiation for additional press runs and a
renegotiation clause should the book be picked up by a distributor.
Make sure that you retain all other rights to your work. I strongly advise
you not to sign a "work-for-hire" or release of all rights contract. You can
often negotiate around this type of contract, but not always. If you
want to learn more about any of this contact the Graphic Artist
By their nature self-published books do not pay well on a royalty
basis because they have limited distribution. A picture book is a
tremendous amount of work. It takes me an average of 10 months
to complete a project from beginning to end. Picture books are
generally 32 pages long - this can mean anywhere from 15-18 images
- sometimes more! Be sure to take this into consideration when
negotiating a fee. Other things to consider are: time you spend
sketching, researching, materials cost, shipping, usage rights and
I have a friend who recently gave me her manuscript for a children's book to illustrate. Should she have a publisher who is ready to publish the book first? Or should we send it in together as one piece?
Generally your friend would present her manuscript to publishers, who would
then, if accepted, assign an illustrator. If you wish to present yourselves
as a 'package', you need to create a 'Dummy' of the book. There are books
available in the reference section of most book stores that can guide you,
in detail, through the process.
I am an accomplished artist but am uncertain of the process involved in creating a picture book. I am just looking for more information before putting hours of work into a book to find out there was a better way to complete the process. Any advice you can give, especially regarding media and size, would be greatly appreciated.
Some things to keep in mind:
- almost all picture books are 32 pages long, this includes 'front matter' (i.e.. title page, copyright page, and dedication page)
- the average book size is 8"x10" vertical or 10"x8" horizontal (this is not a rule)
- most publishers prefer flat art on a flexible surface so that it can be wrapped around a drum scanner
- art work is usually done to size, but this not a rule
Do publishers like to have the book illustrated before publishing?
No - If you are a writer you should submit your manuscript to the
publisher without illustration. If you are an author illustrator
you should consider making up a book dummy.
A dummy is generally made up of sketches and 1-2 color copies
of full color finished art pasted in place
Do you have any suggestions on how to break into the children's book market as an illustrator?
First put together a portfolio of about 15 to 20 pieces. Then do some research
and put together a prospective client mailing list. Next do some cold calls
to try to get your portfolio into Art Directors - Most places have 'Drop Off'
days where you can bring/send your book in the morning and pick it up in the
afternoon or the next day. When I started out, I was living in New York City
and that made doing drop off's a little easier - but for California and Boston houses
I shipped my portfolio back and forth via fedex (anyone can get an account that is
direct billed to a credit card). It can get expensive but the good thing is
that you really only need to do this maybe once every couple of years if you keep
your prospective client list updated with mailings. I actually get more
calls for samples than to view my portfolio.
For those 'special' publishers - the ones you really want to work with,
consider putting together a personal letter and a few color copy samples.
Tell them about yourself, what you want to do, and why you admire/want to
work with them as a publishing house. Try not to get to stuffy or cliché.
Really try to convey a sense of who you are and your desire to illustrate.
Now here's the real trick, try to do all of that in as few paragraphs as
possible. These are busy people and they don't want to take the time to
read even a 2 page dissertation. Try to quickly engage your reader and not
wear them out by the time you get to the point. And the main point here is:
"Hi, this is me. I'm out here and at your service."
I send out postcard mailings every 2-3 months The main trick is to let
Art Directors, Editors and Publishers know your out there. I can also recommend
taking out ads in the Picturebook Directory. Although it is expensive, it can give you
great exposure, and It also provides you with1000 tear sheets that you can mail out
to your list. (tip: be sure to have several sets of color copies/samples at the ready
after a mailing, so thatyou are able to fill requests in a timely fashion.) I have also
found my website quite useful - When a prospective client calls I can direct them to
the site to view more samples until hard copy arrives.
As an illustrator trying to get work, the most important tool you have is an
up to date mailing list. As part of my management system I track
information such as: what I have sent and when, If there has ever been a
personal meeting, If I have ever worked for them and how much the job paid,
when and how I need/ought to contact them again, I also rank prospects using
a a scale of hot, warm, tepid, cold. I keep notes on conversations,
reactions to submissions, and where they heard about me if I get an
unsolicited call. I also keep track of when and from where I first found
the contact. I would have to say that managing my data base and other
office work takes about 1/3 of my time - advertising (mailings etc.) another
1/3, and finally actually painting the final 1/3.
It can take a while to break in - it took me 8 years to get to the point
where I didn't have to hold down a part time job. The real key is to let the publishers
know your out there, and to keep letting them know your out there. Name and
style recognition is the key.
What software can you recommend to help with record keeping?
I use FileMaker Pro for all of my record keeping. It's a very diverse program
that allows you to usepreformatted templates or you can adjust them to suit
your needs or(as in my case) create your own set ups from the ground up.
I use FileMaker to track clients, my very anal retentive mailing list,
also invoices and statements plus some other big picture financial
information. I have also just started using it to track andcatalog image/job files.
Then for general expense tracking I use Quicken - I kind of double
up on income tracking - but it allows me to very accurately
determine my estimated tax payments and certainly makes actual tax
time much easier to deal with.
The following is from a questionnaire presented to me by a student
interested in becoming a children's book illustrator:
What are your duties and/or responsibilities? Describe what you actually do at your job.
Self promotion, data base management, basic accounting, contract
I solicit work through advertisement (i.e.. industry resource publications, direct mail etc.)
Manage my studio/office, track expenses, billings and income. Review manuscripts presented
to me by publishers and accept those assignments I wish to work on. Negotiate the terms and fees that I am willing to work with, and last but not least - Illustrate.
How many hours per week do you work and how demanding is that work in terms of time commitment and stress?
I generally put in a 6-8 hour day. Although there are days that I do no
work, there are times that I put in 16+ hour days and work through weekends.
You must be committed to this line of work - you are your own boss and
therefore responsible for your success. It can be very stressful
when there is a tight deadline to meet, but in general it is
a very laid back career where your time is your own.
How did you arrive at this position/ career/job?
Hard work and perseverance. A lot of time spent showing my portfolio to
prospective clients until my name got around - this is the kind of job where
you have to have talent and be willing to take the time to build a
reputation so that you get noticed.
Are there good job opportunities in this field/career? What should I expect in terms of salary and fringe benefit? What is my earning potential in this field?
It can take a very long time to break into this field (it took me 8 years)
to where it is self sustaining. Once you are in you can make a decent
living - the more books you do the better your earning potential. Royalties
can be a very nice source of support - but they are not guaranteed.
Only a rare few become well off in this field - you do it because you
love it, not because it's going to make you rich.
Income varies and is inconsistent - You should expect to hold down a
part time job while you get your name out there.
You get no benefits like health, retirement etc. you must provide for
What educational requirements are necessary for this career? Course work? Degrees?
I have a BFA in illustration form the School of Visual Arts in New York
City. I highly recommend a formal arts education as a foundation for this
sort of career. I also recommend taking small business courses and/or basic
accounting. These will help you to run a successful freelance business
What are the positive aspects or advantages of this career?
You can go to work in your pajamas, take the day off when you want (and you
don't have an assignment due), you are your own boss, you are on equal terms with
your clients. Checks may not come monthly but they can be substantial.
What are the negative aspects or disadvantages of this career?
You work alone. You have no health insurance. You may wait 2 months or
more between pay checks.
What skills should I develop to be successful in this career?
Artistic talent is key - also presentation skills and basic office skills
are quite useful.
What personal qualities does a person in this career need?
Self starter, driven, committed, independent
What advice or suggestions do you have for someone interested in pursuing this career option?
Be sure that it is what you want - Learn as much as you can about the
reality of being a freelance illustrator - it is hard work and takes time and dedication - but also know that it is very rewarding.