How to Find an Illustrator: Children’s Book Guide


You have a great idea for a children’s book. It begs you to write it. So, you do. You know with some work, and an editor, you can get it to a place you love. But then what?

This is exactly where a lot of children’s authors get stuck. They have the words they need for their picture book… but lack the pictures.

I get asked all the time, “How do I find a good quality, affordable artist for my book?” 

This is one of my favorite questions because… 

  1. I’m excellent at finding incredible illustrators within my budget and 
  2. I love living vicariously through authors I work with when they begin to see their words come to life through an illustrator’s skill. There’s nothing like it. 

But this is also a piece of the publishing journey where a lot of authors make mistakes. They either settle to fit their budget, don’t have an adequate contract (or any contract at all), or don’t know what to communicate to the illustrator, leading to publishing challenges and more expenses later. 

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Here’s how to find an illustrator for a children’s book:

  1. The importance of a good illustrator
  2. How much does an illustrator cost?
  3. What to look for in an illustrator
  4. Where to find an illustrator
  5. How to hire an illustrator
  6. Mitigating problems with illustrators

This article will keep you from making those common mistakes. Below, we’re going to cover the potential costs of hiring an illustrator, what to look for in a children’s book illustrator, where to find high-quality, affordable illustrators, how to hire that artist, and what to do if the relationship isn’t working out. 

Do you need a good book illustrator?

The beauty of a picture book is the symbiosis between the text and the art.

Neither the words nor the art should tell the story alone. They should rely on the other to tell the whole story. Therefore, hiring an illustrator is a little like a marriage.

This person will be the other half of your story forever. Most of the time, you will be the one standing behind your book, not the illustrator, and you don’t want to stand behind something you’re embarrassed about.

When looking for the right illustrator, don’t settle. You’ll be so grateful you didn’t. 

How Much Does A Children’s Book Illustrator Cost?

You can expect to spend up to $500 for a book illustrator if you know where to look and how to find a good illustrator.

I’ve never spent more than $500 for an entire picture book of art. Sometimes that $500 has included the formatting and cover design as well. This often surprises people, and it should.

It’s low and fair price, and I’ll explain how it works and other ways I compensate the illustrator below. 

Illustrating a book is a lot of work. The artist is bringing their years of experience and skill and their creativity to a story they didn’t write, hoping to both please the author and express their unique “voice” in the storytelling. 

Illustrators in the Traditional Publishing Industry

In the traditional publishing industry, illustrators are usually acquired by a publisher and contracted assignments when the book acquisition team determines they’re the best fit for the current book in production.

Once an illustrator is chosen, the publisher may offer them an advance, a form of payment that will be paid off once the book begins to sell. Once the advance is paid off, the illustrator will split the royalty with the author. 

Illustrators in the Self-Publishing Industry

In the self-publishing industry, illustrators are a work-for-hire contractor for the author. Once an illustrator is chosen, illustrators are typically paid a flat rate.

Most of the time, royalties are not part of the agreement, though it does happen sometimes.

Currently, Print on Demand publishing options like KDP or IngramSpark do not allow for split-royalties within their platforms, meaning that for an author to offer royalties to an illustrator, they need to keep careful financial records and honor their commitment to the illustrator. For this reason, most authors and illustrators just agree to a flat rate.

You’ll find quite a variety of pricing among illustrators. The more seasoned, experienced, and published an illustrator is, the higher they will charge for their work. For example, I’ve seen illustrators in this caliber charge anywhere from $3000-$12,000.

Likewise, if an illustrator is just getting started or has zero to a couple of books published, they will likely be less expensive. Another factor in pricing can be geography: if an illustrator lives in Easter Europe versus North America, and you’re paying in the US dollar, your payment will go a lot further for that person.

So, how have I only paid $500 for the work of an illustrator?

My personal favorite process is to use a platform like Upwork.com and post a job. I include every important detail in my posting, including the number of pages, timeframe, synopsis of the book, and what I’m looking for in an illustrator. I also set my budget.

Interested illustrators apply for my job and I sift through their offers. Illustrators can bid higher or lower than the listed budget price, based on the specifications of the project in my ad. I find an illustrator whose style I love, within my budget, and I hire them. It’s that simple. 

Now, having been in the industry for a long time, and having many illustrator friends, I know that $500 is not a lot of money. I also know how much hustle it takes to sell a children’s book, and how long it will take me to “pay off” the cost of my illustrator in book sales.

Because of this, I find other ways to “surprise and delight” my illustrator by supplementing their payoff. 

Here’s my compensation plan for supplementing my illustrator’s fee:

  • I offer my illustrator the option of buying books at a wholesale cost. This means that I’m willing to send them books directly from KDP or IngramSpark at my author cost, for them to sell for profit. We work out the details of the money exchange, and they can host or attend their own live events and showcase our book. This is money for them, and more marketing for our book. 
  • I send my illustrators a hardback and paperback copy of our book once it’s done. I don’t tell them I’m going to do this, it’s a surprise. They can use this in their portfolio or just put it on their shelf like the accomplishment it is! 
  • I allow them to use images or pages from our book in their art portfolio.
  • I promote them all throughout the book. I include them on the cover, on the title page, in the copyright information, on the dedication page, and an About the Illustrator page at the back of the book.
  • I talk about them everywhere I go. When I do an author visit in a school, library, or bookstore, I brag about them as if they’re my best friend (and after a book project together, I often feel like they are!) This brings awareness and new fans to my illustrator. 
  • I recommend them to every author I think would be a good fit, bringing them more work and recognition.

This has been such a successful approach, that I can no longer afford most of my illustrators! My first illustrator lived in Romania. My book, According to Corban, was her first published book. She did amazing, as you can see. I promoted the heck out of her using the bullet points above.

When I was ready for the sequel a few years later, she had illustrated so many of my clients’ books, that her fee had increased from $500/project to $3500/project and she had moved to London! I am so proud of her! And I also learned an important lesson. If I think I might do a sequel, lock my illustrators in for my $500 price in the contract! 

Even greater than my lesson-learned is knowing that I got to be part of developing someone’s skill and career to an actual livable wage, while also getting high-quality, affordable art for my book.

Action Step: Determine your budget and compensation plan

What To Look For In A Children’s Book Illustrator

Like I said above, hiring an illustrator is a little like a marriage commitment—it’s for the life of your book. Here are some steps to follow when looking for an illustrator.

#1 – Know Your Book Details

When hiring your illustrator, make sure you know the specifics of your book first. This will guide you in what you need. For example, you want to know

  • The size of your print book: 8.5×8.5? 8×10? 6×9?
  • The number of pages or illustrations you’ll need. Do you want artwork on the title page or dedication page or elsewhere? Include that in the count.
  • Where you want to publish: KDP, IngramSpark, LuLu, a Novelty Press, etc.
  • The formats you want to publish: Hardback, Paperback, ebook, etc.
  • The timeframe within which you want the book completed, as this will impact your publishing date
  • Your budget: what’s the maximum amount you’re willing or able to pay?

#2 – Know Your Style Preference

Do research! Find art styles you love in other books or portfolios. Keep a list of the illustrators who stand out to you. Ask yourself what you love about those styles so you can be clear in what you’re looking for in your own illustrator.

Is it a color palette you’re drawn to? How realistic versus cartoony the artwork?

A live medium (like watercolor or pen and ink) versus digital art? Individual style?

#3 – Know Their Offer

By offer, I don’t just mean the financial compensation they’re willing to work for. I mean, what do they bring to the table?

Here are some questions to ask and find the answers to when trying to find an illustrator:

  • Have they illustrated a published book before?
  • What tools do they use?
  • Can they format the book for publishing?
  • Can they design and create a formatted cover? 
  • Are they responsive to your communication in a timely and clear manner?
  • Are they teachable? 
  • Do they work well within deadlines?
  • Has their overall artwork been appropriate for children? 
  • Are they an artist or an illustrator? These are not the same. Make sure they understand children’s book illustration (and the dynamics and differences from normal “art.”)

You can learn this about your potential illustrator by reading any available reviews, perusing their social media accounts and portfolios, searching their name on Amazon (or Google), and asking them follow-up questions to their application. 

I sneak a code word into the bottom of my job posting, asking interested applicants to start their application with the code word. This right away tells me if a prospective illustrator read the full application or not before applying.

When an artist with potential doesn’t use the code word, I kindly bring it up and ask if this is what I should expect if we work together, just to set a clear boundary from the start. 

Action Step: Make a list of your book details and style preferences.

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Where To Find Children’s Book illustrators

There are many great places to find illustrators. I’ve already mentioned my favorite, Upwork.com, but there are a variety of other places. Below is just a sampling to get you started.

One perk of being a Children’s Book School student with Self Publishing School is that we include a list of recommended partners for every author! With special deals and access, plus tried, tested, and loved illustrators, our authors have a head start on finding the best fit illustrator.

We also have all of the templates needed for posting a job, following up, and hiring an illustrator.

Action Step: Using the links above, make a list of illustrators (and where you found them/how to contact them) to being your reach out.

How To Hire An Illustrator

Whatever platform you choose for hiring an illustrator, make sure you have a good contract with the agreed-upon terms and conditions.

We have a template for this in Children’s Book School.

The contract for your illustrator should define: 

  1. Roles of everyone involved
  2. Compensation
  3. The nature of the Independent Contractor Relationship
  4. The ownership and rights of the artwork
  5. Deadlines
  6. Revision policy
  7. Deliverables
  8. Communication policy
  9. Credit of the work
  10. Governing law
  11. Severability
  12. Failure to Deliver clause
  13. Termination or cancellation 
  14. Non Disclosure

Action Step: Choose your illustrator and send them a good contract to sign before money is exchanged or work is begun.

What If Your Illustrator is Not Working Out?

Most of the time, this relationship is like magic. Both the author and illustrator are highly fulfilled, satisfied, and proud of their teamwork. 

But every now and then, no matter how well you planned and prepared, the relationship isn’t a good fit. I’ve coached a handful of writers through deciding how to respond to a poor-fit illustrator relationship. 

Two things are always my priority in these situations. 

  1. The author is proud of (and not embarrassed by) the finished product
  2. The illustrator as a person and professional and their career and skill development opportunity

If it’s determined that an illustrator just isn’t providing the agreed-upon quality of work, you have to kindly let them go. One of my students really struggled with this.

She felt bad because her artist was really trying to provide good illustrations but just didn’t have the skill she’d promised. My student was torn between settling on less-than art for her book to not disappoint or hurt the artist, or let her go.

By the end of our conversation, this student (who had an entire series of books planned) decided to let her illustrator go. She did it lovingly and they parted ways on good terms and fairly (falling on the details of their contract for guidance).

My student immediately found another artist who was absolutely the best fit. He did the entire series in record speed with the level of quality my student wanted. She was so glad later that she didn’t settle on the artwork, even though it meant an uncomfortable conversation and possible delay in the timeframe. 

Here’s the thing—it might feel good to settle on disappointing art in order to avoid hurting someone’s feelings or letting them go. But the reality is, this isn’t loving at all.

As we partner with people in career and personal development, we need to be lovingly honest. If that artist is going to grow in their career, they have to know the scope of their skill. They have to be willing to learn and grow and invest themselves. But if no one will be honest with them, how will they know? When we withhold our feedback out of fear, we actually cause more harm and potentially delay their career growth. Now notice, I’m saying “kindly” and “lovingly” in our honesty. Build them up and encourage them, even as you acknowledge that they aren’t the best fit for your project like you’d both hoped. 

And remember, just because they’re struggling, doesn’t mean you have to let them go. Are they coachable? Willing to learn? Quick to apply your suggestions? Then this also is an opportunity for them to gain skills and experience with your book, as long as you are proud of the art in the end.

Action Step: If the partnership is struggling, determine whether you need to let them go as your illustrator, or if there’s coachability and potential to love your book at the completion of your partnership.

Are You Ready to Find Your Illustrator? Get Started Today!

You’ve got everything you need to get started! An idea on how to budget and offer fair compensation, what to look for in an illustrator, where to find them, how to hire them, and what to do if it’s not a good fit partnership. If you follow the action steps, you’ll be way ahead of other authors trying to find an artist.

If you’re looking to publish a children’s picture book, we’d love to help. We have a whole community of authors, just like you, investing in their stories to get them into the hands of kids. We can change the world through our children by bringing them good stories!

We can help you get your book in the hands of kids asap – but only if you take action now.

Have you hired an illustrator before? What was your main takeaway from the experience? Drop it down below so we can all benefit from them!

Disclosure: Some of the links above may contain affiliate partnerships, meaning, at no additional cost to you, Self-Publishing School may earn a comission if you click through to make a purchase.

Marcy Pusey

Marcy Pusey is an Award-Winning, Bestselling Author, International Speaker, Story Coach, Editor, and Mommy (not least of all). Marcy has appeared globally in newspapers, magazines, blog posts, podcasts, workshops, and webinars. She has been a member of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators for over a decade. She uses years of experience writing and publishing to edit, critique, and coach other writers and their work, specializing in children’s literature. Marcy does her best writing on retreats with a nearby hot-tub, in any castle, within view of the sea, or in her cozy home in the Black Forest of Germany. She loves the smiles and giggles of kids who see themselves in her pages and the tearful nods of adults who realize they’re not alone by her words. Watch and share her TEDx Talk: “How Story Empowers Kids to Shape our World”

https://www.facebook.com/MarcyPusey/

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