Illustrating Your Book

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Meet Catherine McGuire!

Catherine is a content writer and freelance illustrator. She writes for several blogs on topics such as entrepreneurship, design, and the freelance lifestyle. Her passion is empowering and inspiring other creatives through her articles.

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When you are planning your book, you might start thinking about illustrations for the story, especially if it is a children’s book. Book illustration is a complex topic and even most artists have a hazy idea about industry standards. In this article, I am going to talk about a some of the basics to help you get a sense of what is involved.

There is something that many first-time authors don’t know and that I think I should share before I share tips about working with an illustrator.


Most publishers want to use their own illustrators.


Why? They know that the people that they work with are dependable, and they have a good idea of what the art will look like. Many art directors look for illustration styles that will go well with the tone of your manuscript. The publishing houses know how to make the project run smoothly and efficiently. This is a benefit for you since you don’t have to be involved with the process!  


The biggest reason to avoid illustrating your manuscript: many experts say that you have a better chance of getting a story accepted if you don’t have illustrations! The agents can read the story and not be influenced by whether or not they like the art or feel that it fits. They also want to see that you are willing to work with them and are open to a bit of change to make sure the book is as marketable as possible.

The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) ( gives this advice:


“If your manuscript doesn't come to life visually without being explained, then it probably needs work. If the story needs to be told by the illustrations, then mention that briefly in your cover letter. Perhaps include a separate page with annotations for the illustrations (so titled), but do not clutter the main manuscript with explanations.”

I think that paragraph sums up an important concept for writers. If you feel like your story is lacking something and are looking to find art to support it, you should think about going through another round of edits. Try thinking about how you can add more information, strengthen the plot, and fill out the characters a bit more.


That topic aside, I am still going to share a bit of information about how to work with an illustrator. If you are writing a book that is personal to you or self-publishing, you may still want to find your own artist.

Finding an illustrator for your book:

You can search for “book illustrator” on the internet and find professionals and their websites. Alternatively, you can post on a job board site. Personally, I dislike job boards because the artists often are not adequately compensated for their work and you can’t always be sure you are hiring a true professional. Make sure to ask for a portfolio before committing to anything. Also, make sure that you have a contract signed. Many job board sites don’t have the capabilities to set up the kind of contract that you will need. There are many contract resource websites, and you can use a free electronic signature program to make sure it is binding.

 This website will soon have illustrators available for contract work. Get in contact if you wish to discuss working with us!

Make sure you budget for the artwork.


Illustration isn’t cheap. I think that many writers fail to budget adequately for art because the ins and outs of illustration for books are not widely known. A good book illustrator does so much more than people realize. They spend a lot of time researching and talking with you to ensure that the end product is good. They do market research, develop character profiles, hand-pick color palettes, put together presentations, and more. All before they start on the main project! If you are self-publishing, you have the freedom to choose the illustrator for your project. With the print-on-demand services available, you might be thinking that you can operate on a lower budget than is realistic if you are going to hire an illustrator. I am going to give you the basics so that you know what to expect and can plan your project. I strongly suggest that you download this free guide that details how to work with an illustrator when self-publishing:

Breaking down the cost:


I own a copy of the Graphic Artist Guild Handbook: Pricing and Ethical Guidelines. I have the 13th edition, but the 15th edition is on pre-order here.

According to this book, which is the trade standard, the art for a 32-page children’s picture book can cost between £1,500 and £15,000. That is a huge range, but many illustrators I know seem to start around £2,200 for a simple job. The pricing depends on how experienced the artist is, how much detail will be in the artwork, and more.


Because I live in the States, these prices reflect the American market and have been converted to pounds. You may run into a slight price difference in your market, but I have heard of colleagues that live in Australia using this guide, so it may be accurate for many regions.

The other thing you should know ahead of time is that you will almost always be asked to pay a portion of the fee upfront. Usually, it is 1/3 of the total price at the beginning, another payment during the work, and the remainder is paid after the project is complete. If you have a contract, the payment terms and schedule should be included.

Things you shouldn’t do when hiring an illustrator:


  • Never start the project without a contract. A contract not only protects the artist, it also protects you! It ensures that you get the work on time and that you are allowed to ask for revisions.

  • Unless you are approached by the artist, or you have a family member or friend that dabbles in art, it is terrible etiquette to ask an artist to work 'for exposure'. The truth is that artists receive requests or expectations that they work for free several times per week.

  • Don’t offer payment in royalties. If you are self-publishing, the majority of illustrators will not work for royalties or even partial payment through royalties. If you have a history of great sales, they may consider the option.

Now that you know a bit about what to expect, you are prepared to start the process of finding the illustrator that is perfect for your story! The benefits of hiring an illustrator yourself are wonderful. Often, if working with a self-publisher, illustrators are passionate about the project and help you create the best book possible. Illustrators often have the ability to format your book for print or eBook, which makes the process more simple. A great artist is not only a good communicator; they know the system and can guide you through the process if it is your first time. Once you find an illustrator that has a great portfolio, excellent skills, and has a great communication style; you are ready to start the journey to creating a fantastic book that will wow readers. And it should be fun for you, too!

Here's a little inspiration for you.

23 stunning book illustrations

'The Best British Children's Illustrators in Bratislava' Awards 

I also highly recommend searching “children’s book illustration” or “book illustration” on Pinterest to get an idea of what is out there and what you are looking for. Many artists are using Pinterest to show off their portfolios and, because Pinterest’s algorithm curates the results, you will be able to see really beautiful work.