Last November, I finally bit the bullet and decided to hire someone to illustrate my children's picture book. In this blog post, I'm going to share with you how I did it and some of the questions I encountered in the process.
The traditional model
Generally, in traditional children's book publishing, the author submits the text and, unless he/she is an illustrator herself/himself, the publishers pick the illustrator. I think this is a great model for the marketplace, but it's not for me. Basically, it boils down to time and control, two issues I struggle with always.
Some advantages of DIY:
Finding an illustrator on Fiverr
I've been working with several designers on Fiverr for a while now. In the past, I've had flyers made there, and book covers for other projects. These were simple projects, more cut-and-dried. They didn't require a ton of interpretation on the part of the designer, and graphics can easily be tweaked in the process.
It has been fun, easy, and fast.
Hiring an illustrator on Fiverr, or any other site, is completely different. I knew I wanted someone who would be able to translate the spirit of my book and develop my character, Tessa. I knew I wanted Tessa to look Asian, since she is half-Asian, so I went looking for an illustrator who would be able to illustrate a little girl, perhaps 6-7 years old, half-Asian. I was also interested in having the images illustrated in watercolor. And I needed someone who could interpret and create the tesselations, or interlocking patterns, in the book.
Step 1: Go to Fiverr.com and Search for "children's book illustration"
Your search result will look something like this. As you can see from the results, the quality of illustration on Fiverr is wildly disparate. Illustrators work in many media and styles, and you could easily get overwhelmed just clicking through all of the options.
Step 2: Click on "High Rating"
Because this is Fiverr, where designers are not vetted, you will be more successful if you work with someone who has a track record of delivering. Look for the 5-star designers by clicking on "High Rating." This should cut the number of options down and ensure you a better experience.
Step 3: Edit your options
Just by looking at the thumbnails of the illustrator's work you should be able to tell which illustrators you are drawn to. You've written your book, so you have the best understanding of its spirit and what you want it to feel like. Find about half a dozen illustrators who you are interested in learning more about. You can add these designers to your "favorites" by clicking on the little heart in the bottom left of the thumbnail image.
Step 4: Explore each individual profile
Now that you have half a dozen choices, you should go into the illustrators' pages themselves (just click on the gig image) and explore what project they have done in the past.
For my book, I started looking at the work of the illustrator called "Taiga Bluet," on her Fiverr page. It wasn't long before I had quickly determined that this was my illustrator. She had a lovely lightness to her work that I felt fit well with the spirit of childhood, she worked in watercolor, and her characters had a vaguely Manga feel to them, so they looked Asian. To my great delight, her English and other communication are fantastic (she later let me know that I'd be communicating with her sister, who does her project management)..
Step 5: Order a sample image
To be clear, I didn't take this step, though if I hadn't lucked out so much with my illustrator (she's awesome!), it might have been a problem. Ask your chosen illustrator to do a sample of your character. Each gig can be ordered with a series of extras. You'll always want to pay for commercial use of the image, and you want to make sure you cover all of your legal bases if you're putting this in a publication. For my project, I would have ordered a single page with a single character with commercial use, which would have been about $25. Give the designer as much information as possible about the character before they start!
Step 6: Work with the illustrator
If you are happy with your sample, great! If not, you'll have to give the illustrator feedback on the sample. Hopefully your illustrator is fast, polite, and speaks/writes great English. If not, you might have to move on to another option. In my case, I was thrilled from the get-go with my illustrator's work, so I knew I had landed well.
Step 7: Create a custom order
If you're happy with the character, contact the illustrator and have them create a custom order for you. My book requires 16 illustrations, so my illustrator came up with a custom order of $25/page. We started with 8 pages so that she knew I was happy with the work before proceeding. You'll have to specify what size you want the images to be based on the trim size of your book. In my case, that was 8 x 11.5 in., or a landscape picture book. You'll also have to let your illustrator know whether they need to leave room for the text/how much room to include. This can be very difficult to change after a design has been made, so plan ahead! You'll need to create a document called Illustration Notes which has both the text of your book and any elements you absolutely want illustrated. This is very important, so take your time!
Step 8: Relish the images as they come in
Be sure to give your illustrator feedback on the work. For my book, it was important the illustrator be able to render the tesselations (patterns) in the book, so we worked a little more closely on developing those. I sent her images of what I expected or might work for the tesselations. Otherwise, I let her interpret the story herself. Part of the fun for me in this project was seeing what the illustrator would come up with. If you are hiring a true artist, they will add to your story with visual interpretation. Watching my illustrations come in was, no exaggerating, a highlight of my life!
Step 9: Thank your illustrator
I think it's good practice to tweet out or post images on Facebook when you have received your images. It always feels good to give back, and doing so can increase interest in your book before it is even out there. In my case, my FB friends were so excited by the images that they actually started pre-ordering the book!
Step 10: Adjust your images
This is where I am now. I have all 16 of my images and my illustrator friend Jeff Diesburg will be adjusting them for contrast, clarity and color. He will also be adding in the text for me. I could probably hire someone on Fiverr to do this, but I trust Jeff, he's family, and he's brilliant.
About the Tessalation! illustrator:
Illustrator Maima Widya Adiputri has been in love with drawing since before she can remember. She is a member of the illustration studio Reeham Visual Courier and is working on a comic magazine called Fairyframe. She lives in Indonesia, where she is studying watercolor and arabesque, a pattern-making technique involving arithmetic. You can see more of her work here and here.
Have you hired illustrators on Fiverr.com or another site? What's been your experience?
Emily Grosvenor, author of Tessalation!, a children's book about tesselations and patterns in nature.