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"Hi, I'm Looking for an Illustrator for my Children's Book" 10 Questions to ask

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Double W Illustrations
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Someone wants you to draw their children's book for them! How do you respond? What do you ask? I have gotten this email so many times that I finally wrote a template that I use to send out to authors to gauge where they are in the process. I put the template up on my blog and explain my reasoning behind asking the questions of authors that I ask.

Let me know what you think!

Link to blog post and template of letter
#1 - November 13, 2012, 10:58 PM
« Last Edit: May 17, 2016, 11:05 AM by Artemesia »

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Thanks for this. This is excellent. You'll find out how serious the person is by the time you ask "Do you have a budget in mind for this." The one's that aren't serious about paying you what you should get paid start to get a little nervous when you ask that. I do have a question for you about this part of it though. When they do start to get nervous about this how do you suggest handling it? I've tried to explain to them before about how much work it is to do character sketches, roughs, color comps and that my price includes all that but almost never get the job if they are nervous after I ask the question. Is there a better way to go about this or is it even worth going on after they don't really have an idea how much they want to pay?
#2 - November 14, 2012, 12:23 PM

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Don't believe they don't have an idea of how much they want to pay. They may not know what to expect, but they know when you are asking more than they can afford or more than they anticipated. In those situations you are better off letting them go there way. If they are serious and really want you they'll come back. You were in for an uphill battle.

For your own benefit I would set your base. What is the least you will take for a single illustration. Multiply that by the standard number of pages in a book. They really do know what their max is, so you need to know what your true minimum is. If they say they don't have a budget then hit them with your minimum amount, but be sure to say that you still need to review the materials before you can make a final quote. If they stop corresponding after seeing your minimum, good riddance.

Another factor that has to be considered that isn't in the letter is that you aren't dealing with an art director. You are dealing with an author who has a lot of personal attachments to the story and their vision of what it should look like. This isn't always the case, I have been very lucky at times!! But in many instances you will get detailed descriptions of what every illustration and character should look like which in general is a no no within the publishing industry because it locks the artist off from expressing their vision of the story. This can make you not be as invested or interested in what you are doing.  Not to mention that they aren't an art director and probably don't know composition, color theory or any of the things that are integral to making the illustrations great!

I imagine that's why in publishing it's not often that the artist and writer have anything to do with each other. It allows the writer to do their best and allows the artist to as well. Not having that buffer between the writer and artist can lead to a lot of revisions and problems for all elements of the stories creation. You should anticipate that and include that in your estimate as well. The writer is well within their rights to demand the book look like they want it to since they are paying for it. But you should make sure you limit the number of revisions and changes they can make before you get to charge extra. Also make sure you have kill fees in your contract. (I'm not sure if you know what those are.) Let me know and I'll explain!

Hope that helps. At the end of the day, the more you demand from your clients as far as professionalism and being paid like a professional is concerned the better clients you attract. You want the person who will pay you $5-10,000 for 24 pages rather than the person who wants to pay you $500 for 35. Hold out for the good stuff! You get more respect for what you do and better checks in your pocket!

#3 - November 14, 2012, 01:03 PM
« Last Edit: November 14, 2012, 01:07 PM by WilsonWilliamsJr »

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This is REALLY excellent, Wilson! Thank you for putting a link here.
#4 - November 14, 2012, 01:22 PM

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Thanks for the response. I can see your point. One of my first books was one of those $500.00 for 30 page deals and about two days into it I was thinking I must be the stupidest man in the world. I learned my lesson and fast! I do now have a rock bottom price I'm willing to go and have been doing much better with the last couple of projects I've managed to get. My first 3 books have been for self publishers and they do seem to be very picky with the artwork (As you've said some of them right down to exactly what the character needs to look like and the exact pose they should be in on the page) and I have been taking that into account and as you've said they are paying me so they have every right.
The kill fee is interesting I know what it is but have never really put it into my contracts as of yet. I always figured since I get the payments in 3rds if they flaked half way through the project I've already been paid for it up to that point. Is this correct thinking or should I go farther and have that kill fee in my contracts?
#5 - November 14, 2012, 01:28 PM

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This is REALLY excellent, Wilson! Thank you for putting a link here.

You are welcome!! Glad you like it!!
#6 - November 14, 2012, 01:33 PM

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Thanks for the response. I can see your point. One of my first books was one of those $500.00 for 30 page deals and about two days into it I was thinking I must be the stupidest man in the world. I learned my lesson and fast! I do now have a rock bottom price I'm willing to go and have been doing much better with the last couple of projects I've managed to get. My first 3 books have been for self publishers and they do seem to be very picky with the artwork (As you've said some of them right down to exactly what the character needs to look like and the exact pose they should be in on the page) and I have been taking that into account and as you've said they are paying me so they have every right.
The kill fee is interesting I know what it is but have never really put it into my contracts as of yet. I always figured since I get the payments in 3rds if they flaked half way through the project I've already been paid for it up to that point. Is this correct thinking or should I go farther and have that kill fee in my contracts?

The kill fee basically stops them from coming back saying I want my money back that I have given you so far as well as lays out how much will still be owed at varied stages of development should they decide to drop the project. I know many folks who have completed a job and the client says, "Meh I don't like it." and walks away leaving the artist having done all that work and nothing to show for it. For your own protection I would include it in your contract and make sure it is signed before you do anything for them!! Better safe than sorry! Hehe!
#7 - November 14, 2012, 01:37 PM

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Thanks so much for the stickie! I'm honored! ;)
#8 - November 14, 2012, 09:01 PM

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Thank you for the template, I've asked many of them but not all so this is great. I would have liked the extended version that had your explanations, if you ever release that one please announce it! Your blog is wonderful, I bookmarked it - I'll be back! Many thanks!
#9 - November 15, 2012, 02:11 AM

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You're welcome cbahr! If we release it in any other capacity I'll let you know! Enjoy!
#10 - November 15, 2012, 02:36 AM

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>The kill fee is interesting I know what it is but have never really put it into my contracts as of yet. I always figured since I get the payments in 3rds if they flaked half way through the project I've already been paid for it up to that point. Is this correct thinking or should I go farther and have that kill fee in my contracts?<

Your right, if the roughs have been finished and approved and you are then paid for that part of the process, you are out no money at that point and the Author can not ask for that money back because the payments were made for the work done up to that point. Where a kill fee comes into play is for that last 3rd of the job, the final art. Since you must go through all of that work and in the end, it will need to be approved, that is where a client can say, as Wilson so eloquently put it, "meh, I don't like it"!:(
Then... your stuck, because most contracts will say last payment "upon approval of final art". No approval, no more money. THAT is when the kill fee kicks in. You still won't get compensated for all the hours involved in the finals but you'll get something (perhaps half of that 1/3rd)
I got royally shafted working with a Korean publisher, a huge job of 8 books to be completed in 6 months. All the sketches were approved with very little changes made, so far, wonderful. I received half of the contract price. (5 digits) I was a tired but happy camper and thankfully there was little to no background work involved. I had water coloured the first 5 books when the publisher asked me to send them so they could begin the printing process, while I worked on the last 3. I fed exed them. 3 days later, I get an email saying STOP WORK on the rest. They didn't like the colours... too subtle, not colourful enough. I was not just in shock, I was sick to my stomach... no publisher had ever told me this. In essence, I was fired. They farmed out all my sketches to 4 other Illustrators in order for them to colour and get the books out on time. They even sent this massive heavy box of books, months later, to me, as my Illustrator copies. They were HORRIBLE!!!! Bright yellow skins on some, red skins in others. Some of the books had the main characters (same family through out the 8 books) with flat foreheads, long horrid faces, none of the family looked the same from one book to the next, since all these artists had only my low res, light pencil line roughs to work from. Still, my name was on them all as the illustrator. I took the whole box to the salvation army and donated them. It made me cringe to be reminded of months of painting for nothing, less then nothing, a horrible looking bunch of books.
So, yes, killing a project happens and from now on, there will be a kill fee in any contract I sign:)
#11 - November 15, 2012, 03:47 AM
"Penelope and the Humongous Burp"
"Penelope and the Monsters"
"Penelope and the Preposterous Birthday Party"

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Wow Christine,

That is a scary story. Makes me wonder if your client decided after sketches that any (much cheaper) "artist" could "color them in". Having your name attributed to someone else's work is a nightmare scenario.

About self-publsihing authors, the author is coming to the illustrator for the illustrator's services. No one can force the illustrator to work for too little money or to give away their copyrights. The author tells the illustrator what they need and then the illustrator tells the self publishing author how much it will cost for those services and what the terms will be. Negotiation can be part of the deal but as the professional in the process the illustrator should maintain control and present their contract.   
#12 - November 17, 2012, 09:35 AM
« Last Edit: November 17, 2012, 09:37 AM by Steve Feldman »

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Luckily Christine those are the types of lessons we only have to learn ONCE! Wow! How terrible!
#13 - November 17, 2012, 10:35 AM

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Wow Christine,

 Makes me wonder if your client decided after sketches that any (much cheaper) "artist" could "color them in".

Steve, that would be a nicer thought to tell you the truth, easier on my ego, but I don't think so. I do believe they just didn't like my colouring. They electronically deposited half of the Contract payment to my bank account immediately after approval of the roughs, so I think they were well prepared to pay the balance after the work was done.... It felt like the polar opposite of Sally Fields Oscar acceptance speech..."They don't like me, they really don't like me":(
Honestly, looking back I think I got into a mild depression after that. I really felt like I never wanted to draw again.
I wish I had my cintiq back then, it may have had a much different outcome... or at least I wouldn't of had to pay shipping:)
I'll never figure out why they sent me the 5 copies of the 8 books though. I had to pay $300 plus Canadian to fed ex the finals for those 5 books, which, being paper, weighed very little... I can't IMAGINE what it cost them to fed ex that 40 plus pound box of books!!!
Wilson you are right, it's a hard way to learn but a one time lesson for SURE!!!!! I had never run into the need for a kill fee before, and had worked with a number of Korean publishers prior to that without a problem and they had always been complimentary and fair. But... an Illustrator could go happily along without contracts too, until one day when they go, damn, I wish I had had a contract:)
#14 - November 18, 2012, 02:42 AM
"Penelope and the Humongous Burp"
"Penelope and the Monsters"
"Penelope and the Preposterous Birthday Party"

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Great info, Wilson! Thanks for posting it.





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#15 - May 15, 2013, 03:50 PM

Wilson, great post and worksheet! Thanks!

Double-check question 5 on the template, because in the image I'm reading "Do you NOT have a budget in mind for this artwork?" If that is supposed to be the correct wording, it feels confusing to me. As though the person will respond "nope" and leave it at that. It looks like the blog text below the image reads correctly, "5. Do you have a budget in mind for this artwork?"
#16 - May 24, 2013, 05:59 AM

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Wilson, great post and worksheet! Thanks!

Double-check question 5 on the template, because in the image I'm reading "Do you NOT have a budget in mind for this artwork?" If that is supposed to be the correct wording, it feels confusing to me. As though the person will respond "nope" and leave it at that. It looks like the blog text below the image reads correctly, "5. Do you have a budget in mind for this artwork?"

Hey Nightengail! Good catch! The image is wrong but the text and download is correct. Thanks so much!
#17 - August 12, 2013, 11:14 AM

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