Advice for New Illustrators

Lisa J. Michaels, copyright 2011Today I’d like to have a serious talk with those of you who are new children’s lit illustrators. Authors need to listen up too, as this post will undoubtedly give you some insight regarding the illustrators that you may someday collaborate with.

I think it’s important to discuss something that you will most likely come up against as you begin your search for illustration projects…

Beware of the self-publishing author who offers to pay you “royalties-only” in exchange for the privilege of illustrating his/her wonderful children’s book. They will tell you that this will help you in getting your work “out there” in front of the public eye, where you can be “discovered”.

These offers are a dime-a-dozen and that’s about all they’re worth!

Through the ages this tactic has been used to lure desperate-for-publication, wanna-be illustrators into working for free. These ego-driven authors truly believe (or have been made to believe, by unscrupulous predators) that their work is so incredible that any illustrator would be honored by the opportunity to work with them. In fact, many think that their book is so FANTASTICALLY CLEVER, that the illustrators entire career will be launched into orbit just by association.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

I’m here to tell you that seldom has any illustrator’s career been launched by a single book. It usually takes a string of little successes to build a career as a professional, sought-after illustrator.

It amazes me how many wonderful illustrators are willing to work for royalties only, with no other type of compensation. There’s only a promise of possible income, based on a single author’s possible ability to sell his/her own book. It’s one big “IF”!

  • IF the publisher is willing to help with promotions (and most usually don’t), the book might sell.
  • IF the author knows how to promote the book (and most usually don’t), he/she might sell enough copies to compensate for his/her own investment.
  • IF the book does well, (which they usually don’t) you, the illustrator, might get paid back for your extraordinary efforts…but will you make any money? SELDOM do “royalty only” projects produce enough profits to pay the illustrator for his/her time, let alone talent. It’s just a fact. 

Value the work that you do, and expect to get paid for it. Royalties are NOT a guarantee of payment for months of work.

You should look for jobs that compensate you AND offer a small percentage (10-12%) of royalties.

It’s a fair price for bringing someone else’s book to life and making their dreams come true!

As an illustrator, you can help your author and yourself to make money through book promotions. Your incentive will be the royalties that you bring in AFTER you’ve been paid for all your hard work!  It’s a win-win for the author, because along with you, he/she makes money on every book YOU sell – without lifting a finger!

Don’t be afraid to ask for what your time and talent is worth, and refuse substandard offers. This is a business and you have bills to pay.  Books take months to produce, so don’t gamble on “ifs”. The promise of a POSSIBLE return is not enough and NO illustrator should take the bait with regards to “exposure for your work”. If you’re going to work for free, work on creating great images for your own portfolio. Re-illustrate your favorite old Picture Book from childhood, and use THOSE images to build your portfolio. You’ll have a great time doing it, you won’t be getting ripped off, and you wont be contributing to the currently ongoing degradation of children’s book illustrators everywhere!