Things to Know When Working With an Illustrator


Things to know when working with an illustratior Featured Image

The goal for any author/illustrator collaboration is to melt the illustrations and text into one magical final product, like Roald Dahl and Quentin Blake do.

What would The BFG be without the charming and humorous pictures? How about Alice in Wonderland? Without Sir John Tenniel’s masterful illustrations this book likely would not have taken center stage like it did.

Masterfully illustrated books equal more than the sum of their parts and when the right combination of writer/illustrator is present the final product will be enriching for anyone reading. So how did these successful duos do it?

One of Quentin Blake’s illustrations from the famed book.

A positive collaboration  between artists can have a significant effect in the result of the book. The relationship is a fundamental one, and neither one of the individuals ought to underestimate the others’ part in making the book a win.

It is important to note that If you intend to use a traditional publisher for your book you will likely have no say in who your illustrator is or what your pictures will look like. However, if you are independently publishing you are responsible for finding an illustrator, initiating contact, and enlisting the best candidate. And generally speaking, most authors have some kind of vision of what the final product will look like but need to find the right illustrator to fulfill those needs.

Finding and Engaging your Illustrator

As a self-publishing author, it is important you take your time and shop around for a children’s book illustrator who best suits the type of illustration you are seeking.

One place to look at is the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. This is the international professional organization for writers and illustrators of children’s literature and an excellent resource.

You can also take a look at Children’s Writer’s & Illustrator’s Market 2017, which is a very trusted and comprehensive resource.

You can also simply Google key phrases such as “hire a children’s book illustrator”, and you will get dozens of professional illustrators listed as results. You can also join an e-group and get referrals through that and other social media groups.

Know What You Want

As you shop, make sure you are prepared and know exactly what you need.

What is the approximate number of illustrations you will be needing for you book and how you would like them laid out? For example, you might be envisioning a large picture every other page, or perhaps three small pictures on each page, and so on.

You also want to have an overall “style” of illustration in mind. By this, I mean are you looking for realistic drawings? Or are you looking for something more cartoonish or comic book like? Most illustrators have a specific “type” of illustration they specialize in doing.


You will find that many freelance illustrators will base their quote around what the writer can afford. So, make sure to have a budget in mind and pay attention to the experience level of the illustrator you are approaching. Be prepared to put down a deposit and milestone payments as the illustrator progresses with the work.

Many illustrators ask for a 50% deposit as they begin to work on their concepts. Don’t try to shop around for the “cheapest” illustrator, as your project will likely reflect the same in quality.

As you are considering different options, make sure the prices they have listed correspond with your budget and that all your expectations will be met. Also, make sure your budget contains enough for samples or mock ups if you will be wanting them. NEVER ask for free work as you will likely not hear back from the illustrator again.

Rights, Royalties and Contracts

Drawing up a contract is not just a smart idea, it is vital and the only thing that will protect each of you individually should things go south.

Make sure to include the scope of the work, ownership and rights, royalties, deadlines for work and deliverable’s, and what happens if someone fails to carry out their part of the project. Many times, illustrators will already have a standard contract they use and can adjust for your project.

Good Working Relationship

After hiring an illustrator, developing and fostering a good working relationship will not only make your work more enjoyable, it will likely lead to a better outcome with your project.

The single most important component to a good working relationship between a writer and the illustrator is positive communication. The more effectively you communicate with one another, the better your relationship will be. Being able to give and receive respectful and constructive feedback regarding each other’s work will lead to positive results. Having mutual respect is another vital point and you will discover when you respect the person you are working with and value their input and ideas, they will value yours right back.

A writer should not ever treat an illustrator as a “hired hand”, but rather as his or her artistic equal. Combining your aggregate knowledge, creativity, and insight can help the two of you solve problems more effectively without negative feelings affecting things.

Certain relationships deserve extra attention as you build them and this is one of them. You will reap the rewards through the development of this partnership and eventually it will have a stake in the success or failure of your final product. Exchange ideas with each other and be willing to potentially change the way you do a task. Only provide constructive opinions and make sure to request feedback on your own work as well.

You don’t have to be best friends with each other to be successful, but you do have to have open communication and a mutual respect. Look at C.S. Lewis and Pauline Baynes, for example.  They didn’t have a particularly affectionate relationship—certainly nothing like the one she had with Tolkien—but they did respect each other and from that respect grew seven books of Narnia that have triumphed over the years.


The relationship between a writer and an illustrator doesn’t have to be complicated.

As a writer, you must approach and contract an artist as you would any other professional—fully prepared and with realistic expectations.

A writer needs to provide the illustrator with as much information as possible, which will make both jobs much easier while creating a better working relationship. Give the artist a chance to peruse the manuscript and offer a sensible and reasonable due date. Take time and cultivate a professional relationship. After all, maybe someday you will end up with wildly successful products such as J.R.R. Tolkien and Pauline Baynes’ Farmer Giles of Ham and The Lord of the Rings—another unstoppable and fabulous author/illustrator duo.

Thank you so much for reading today’s blog!  I wanted to mention that as a children’s book illustrator, I have several packages available tailored specifically for self-publishing authors. If none of the packages on my website fit your exact needs, just contact me and we will come up with a custom made plan just for you!

Feedback is Appreciated

Please post any comments you have about this blog topic or any comment in general! 

If you haven’t had the chance to check out my website, please have a look around at my  illustration packages  and other art services such as digital portraitscharacter designspet portraits, and custom illustrations. Thank you! 🙂



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8 thoughts on “Things to Know When Working With an Illustrator

  1. Keep in mind that the illustrator owns the physical art, which should be returned to him/her in a timely manner, and that the publisher is only licensing specific rights. They can’t use the art for anything other than what the contract defines. The illustrator owns all other rights, and can do whatever they want with them (like make posters, cards, etc) unless there is a buy-out of all rights, in which case the artist gets much more for relinquishing all rights.

    1. Of course. Thank you for the comment Roxie. It’s very helpful. Also I must say, fantastic works! 🙂

  2. I’ve had clients who blanched at the ball park price for a 32 page book. I try (very hard) to be congenial and pragmatic, but those first meetings are often an education for self publishers. My first meetings are always free, and I have a list of first meeting topics where I try and break it to them gently. Expectations vs reality can be a hard knot to swallow.

  3. I self published a book titled The Restless Rock, SCBWI is a good resource but I found several others on the web too. I looked at close to a hundred portfolios online of illustrators who had styles that I liked, a bit time consuming but your book is worth it. Then narrowed that down to the ten best, contacted those artists and let them know what I wanted and they let me know what it cost. I had three that were within my budget and chose the one I liked best.

    For the writer it is important to have a vision of what you want. It is also important to know when to compromise. Do your best to communicate your vision to the Illustrator but realize the what is in your head and what they draw will not match exactly. You can get pretty darn close though. It was a learning experience for me from beginning to end.

    I was very lucky to have an illustrator who was willing to educate me on the business side of illustrators. I am very happy with the final product.

  4. excellent article Shelia. As an illustration rep agency we work with a lot of self-publishers. I always tell them that self-publishing is not for the faint of heart. The sticker shock of the cost of illustration is always an eye opener. You bring up some very helpful pointers. I will refer people to your blog.

    1. Thank you so much Wendy, it means a lot! 🙂

  5. I’m overwhelmed by the information and learning lessons I received tonight reading your Blog. I have several stories to tell, and hope to find an illustrator that I can form that magic relationship.
    I’m glad I found your site. I will continue reading your posts and tips. Thank you.

    1. I really appreciate this Patrick! We are inspired to keep on working on this blog to share useful information. I am so glad you found it. 🙂

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