Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Dear Self-Publishing Author

For over a decade now, I've sat on both sides of the fence. I'm both an author and an illustrator. It's been extremely uncomfortable!

As a paid critiquing author, I'm constantly asked for advice on how to find and deal with elusive illustrators.

As a professional illustrator, I'm asked for advice on how to deal with new and often demanding, self-publishing authors.

Today, a new author I'd recently critiqued, sweetly and naively asked; 

"Since you are an illustrator, I'd like to know if you'd be willing to make specific illustration suggestions for each page?" 

In all fairness to her, I must tell you that she offered to pay for this service, but the illustrator side of me couldn't even imagine it. The hair stood up on the back of my neck, as I thought...

"Oh no! Another newbie who want's to micro manage her illustrator!"

Now, you may be wondering why she isn't asking ME to illustrate her book. For about a nano-second, I wondered that too. Then I realized it was simple, I'm so good, she assumes she can't afford me. Yes, that was my ego talking. It's called a 'defense mechanism' people! So shoot me!

The truth is, I don't know why, but I suppose my illustration style isn't what she's looking for.

After swallowing my pride, I thought about her question again. I thought it would be good to post my answer for all self-publishing authors who are thinking about taking up art directing.

Dear Self-Publishing Author,
You never want to insult a professional illustrator, by telling him/her WHAT or HOW to draw on each page. Each of us has our own different style, creative process, imagination, art education and talent. 

You may be saying, "That's all well and good, but I want to have some control over what I'll be PAYING for!" Believe me, there isn't a comment you could make that I haven't heard before, from other, well-meaning authors. So, here's what I'm going to suggest you do. 

First, decide exactly how much your budget can handle. Illustrations are (even for BIG publishers) where the bulk of your money goes. Remember, your illustrations will determine your final sales. If they are mediocre, most likely, your sales will be too. It's just that simple. You get what you pay for. 

Expect to pay no less than $75 each for simple, cartoon-like illustrations. If an illustrator offers them for less, it's unlikely that he/she is a professional. Illustrators who undervalue their own work have very little self-worth, and are not confident in what they have to offer you. 

Make sure you find out how much help they can give you throughout production, and that they have dealt with printing companies for previous picture book projects. Not all printers are the same, and your illustrator must be able to create the type of digital image files that can be processed by your printer of choice. 

The only OTHER way to get an illustrator for less, is to use an illustrator co-op - where illustrations will be assigned to several different illustrators, who work on the various stages of production. The result is usually very generic, comic book-style illustrations.

Second, peruse the internet. Go to www.scbwi.org. and look under "illustrator portfolio's". The SCBWI hosts only professional and semi-pro, working illustrators. Google the words "Children's Book Illustrators" and search through sites, looking for the style that you would prefer for your book. When you find it, contact the illustrator personally and tell them that you are self-publishing a 24 page picture book. Let them know that you like their style (the one you've already seen), and ask for a quote. Don't insult them by asking for a free sample! Successful, working illustrator's don't have time or the need to work for free. They post samples on their websites and blogs for you to look at, and decide if their style is what you want. 

When you have checked with several illustrators and found a quote you can live with, ask and expect them to send you a legally binding contract. If they don't have one, RUN! Contracts are for your protection as well as the illustrators. You don't want to be half way through a project, and have your illustrator bolt. 

Third. Once you have found the perfect illustrator, respect their talent and vision. I have never (not even once!) had an author tell me that their own vision was greater than the illustrations I produced for them. We illustrators have wonderful imaginations! Most often, we envision much more for your book than you ever dreamed possible. If you like an illustrators style well enough to hire them, be prepared to turn them loose, and let them be their creative best. 

Be advised: professional illustrators will submit each sketch to you along the way, ask for your approval, and give you the opportunity to request minor changes before the illustration is completed. This is repeated for each illustration, until the book is done. 

Like most under-paid grade-school teachers, we illustrators are a passionate bunch. The average pay for a 24 page picture book is about $2000. That's only $125 a week. Out of that, comes taxes and health care. Few of us can afford insurance. So, why do we do it?? Because it's who we are, and we can't imagine what our lives would be like, if we didn't. It's pure love, just that simple. :o)

1 comment:

sam said...

Pure love for sure! Wonderful points well made. Here's hoping that with such help, authors wont be timid about approaching an illustrator. It's what we do! come on, ask us! Your a blessing sis!