How to hire an illustrator


Before I begin, I have to say that hiring an illustrator was one of the most difficult things that I had to organise once I had decided to self-publish.  I found it difficult because:

  • It is hard to find illustrators with a style you like and that will fit with a particular story and who will actually get back to you when you contact them and are interested in working with you.
  • Illustrations can be very, very expensive and the prices are so variable from illustrator to illustrator. I didn’t really have a big budget to play with, so finding the right illustrator for the right price was extremely important..

But I needed to use a professional illustrator because I wanted my book to look as much like a real book as possible and real middle grade fiction books don’t usually have illustrations by the author (who has no skill, experience or qualifications in the area). In the same way I wouldn’t cut my own hair, I wouldn’t do my own illustrations – whilst I can cut and I can draw, I can do neither to a professional standard!

Now, it should be noted that if I could have published my book without illustrations and still had it really make sense,  I definitely would have, but that was not an option in the case of Diary of a Penguin-napper. The illustrations added to the story in a way I couldn’t replace with words and the finished product does look amazing.  That said, the next book I am planning will be free of illustrations.

So, what do you need to do if you want illustrations for your self-published book?  Just follow these ten easy* steps:

1. Decide exactly how many illustrations your book will need and where they will fall in the text. (For Diary of a Penguin-napper my original estimate was 30 and I ended up with 33 altogether.)

2. Decide how much you can afford to spend on each illustration or for all of them together. (For me, this was not much, as I wanted to keep my costs down so as not to make them too difficult to recoup them through book sales.)

3.  Search for an illustrator.  This is the hardest part, as I mentioned earlier, because if you’re anything like me, you have a clear picture in your head of what you want your illustrations to look like.  It is tricky to find someone who fits with the picture in your head and who is available or interested in your project.  I had the most success using where I posted a free advert outlining my project and received about six replies within 24 hours.

4. Get more information. I then emailed those six replies asking to see some further examples of their work, giving them further information about the project and answering any questions that they had.  I also reiterated the price I was looking to pay. Of the six replies, only three replied to my reply in a timely fashion (if that makes sense) and so that helped me to narrow it down further. Reply/turnaround time is important when you are working to a deadline.

One of the additional pieces of information that I gave them was this ‘mock-up’ as an example of the kind of thing I was looking for:

Obviously it isn’t perfect (otherwise why would I hire an illustrator – I could just do it myself!) but it gave the illustrators a clear picture of what I was after.

5. Choose an illustrator to work with.  I ended up working with Ainsley Knott and he caught my eye because he replied (to one of my replies!) with his own version of my image above.

It looked like this and because he’d taken that extra bit of effort to impress me, I decided to hire him to do my illustrations.

6. Sign the paperwork.  After we agreed to work together, Ainsley send me an ‘Acceptance of Commission’ form which confirmed our agreement formally in writing and I had to sign it.  Make sure you double check all of the fine print, including the pricing, copyright and what you are allowed to use the images for. I actually hired Ainsley on a ‘work for hire’ basis, rather than on a commission, as I didn’t want to have to be regularly calculating and paying him a commission from sales.

7. Provide a detailed design brief. The next thing I did was to send Ainsley a copy of my manuscript for him to read and get a feel for the style.  Whilst he was reading it, I gave him a detailed list of the illustrations I needed and where they would need to fit on the page.  I also gave him ideas of the ‘doodles’ to add around the writing to make it look more like the diary of an 11 year old boy.

8. Give plenty of feedback and promptly! Once Ainsley had completed some of the illustrations, he would email them to me and I would take a look and provide him with feedback.  Some of the illustrations were pretty much perfect from the beginning, whereas others took some perfecting.Here’s an example of how one of the pictures evolved over the course of a few emails:

Version 1:
Version 2:
Version 3:
Final Version:

Another great thing about working with Ainsley was that he was absolutely tireless when it came to making improvements to the illustrations.  As he is based in the UK and I am based in Australia, things took a little longer to organise because when he’d be working, I’d be asleep and vice versa.  The best collaborations happened when we both replied quickly to one another.

9. Receive the finished files. Once we were both happy with all of the files, Ainsley sent me through all of the final files and I inserted them into my manuscript (which I had formatted in InDesign). Easy!  Then he sent me an invoice for his work.

10. Pay promptly.  When I paid Ainsley, the day after he’d finished the work, he was pretty surprised. Normally it takes people a lot longer to come up with the money and they sometimes need reminders.  If you do use a freelance illustrator (or cover designer), I’d suggest that you pay them promptly.  They’ll be happy to work with you again (and they’ll be more willing to work with the rest of us too).*Right, so when I said ‘ten easy steps’ I was being a bit sarcastic.  Hiring an illustrator is darn hard work and really adds to your workload as a self-published author, not to mention the significant dint it puts in your budget. Having said that, I’ll say it again, the finished product with the illustrations does look pretty awesome.Pop back on Friday to meet my wonderful illustrator – Ainsley Knott – and find out how he can be your wonderful illustrator too!