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How long should a children's book usually take to illustrate?

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Hi everyone,

I wanted to get some feedback about what the experience has been for anyone that has fully illustrated a children's book. I recently finished finalizing the spreads and pages for a children's book with a 5-week turnaround time for everything (character sketches, storyboard, and final color-with deadlines within that timeframe). I won't say more than that but I just want to know if this is a normal turnaround time for a standard 24-32pg book. My gut is telling me no and that most children's books should take a couple of months or more to complete (especially with a more well-known publisher...?)

Is my thinking correct on this? Thanks in advance to anyone that can enlighten me  ::-)
#1 - September 12, 2013, 11:19 AM

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Hi Amanda. I'm currently under contract with a publisher. Before the contract was sent, they requested character studies. There were also requested changes to the characters to be done before they finalized the contract. After those were approved, they contracted me.  I was given about six weeks for completed sketches. Then, I'll have another 4 months after that for finalized art.

Each project is different based on style and if there is any research involved, etc. I imagine Paul O Zelinsky's Rapunzel   or one of my favorites, Brian Lies, Bats at the Beach, with all that detail work took a fair amount of time. People with a cartoon-style or something minimalistic are probably given deadlines according to how long most artists with that style typically take.



#2 - September 12, 2013, 11:51 AM
Fur Balls & Feathers & Fins, Oh My! Animals Are My Kind of People
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I've illustrated a handful of books, but take my schedule input with a grain of salt, since as an author/illustrator I usually have a headstart on the sketching when I sign the contract.  I submit my manuscripts with full sketch dummies and a couple "finished" spreads ("finished" in the sense that they are representative of the style I envision for the book, not in the sense that they were in any way immune from crazy amounts of revision).  After a manuscript sells (and the celebratory dust settles), I generally have two or three months before the deadline for revised sketches and two or three months after that until the deadline for final art.  These deadlines are a little mushy, since it can sometimes take a while for the editor to put together a detailed editorial letter, which pushes back the revised sketch deadline.  There are also sometimes multiple rounds of sketch revisions or revisions requested to the final art after its delivery, which can push the deadlines back, too.

My impression from speaking with my agent and poking around elsewhere, though, is that my five-six months schedules are a bit on the brisk side.  And I have no doubt that Cynthia is right about more involved styles getting more time.  I work in pen and watercolor, so the spreads don't take much time to crank out once I have them figured out. 

Long story short: your five weeks is short.  I probably would have spent a lot of it hyperventillating.  (Oh, and as long as I'm here: I took a spin through your website. Your work is awesome, Amanda.)
#3 - September 12, 2013, 01:43 PM
« Last Edit: September 12, 2013, 01:54 PM by Josh S. »

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I've illustrated 7 PBs. I was given a year for one and only 4 months for another. In my experience, with my detailed style, 4 months was killer-insane. The art suffered and so did my health. I need a minimum of 5 months for a 32 page book, 7-9 months is ideal.

Trade publishers have a longer lead time than education publishers or small presses. Many education press books have a turn-around time in weeks, not months. That is a huge reason on the stylistic differences between trade art and mass market art.

Decide what turn around time works for you, based on your artistic style, and try and stick to it.
#4 - September 12, 2013, 08:04 PM
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I have personally illustrated PB's from 2-4 months. But I know some houses gives 6months 
#5 - September 13, 2013, 04:32 AM

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ooh thank you to everyone that responded!

and thank you, John, for taking a look at my work-I really appreciate it  ;D

These responses have been very helpful with answering the original question. Research, illustration style, and type of picture book really do have a say in how long it should take to complete the illustrations for a picture book. It does seem like a few months rather than a few weeks is more the norm.

Cynthia, that sounds a lot like how my process went. I was contacted about the project, did character sketches, and then the author liked my work so it went from there. Your length of time sounds very nice and comfortable compared to what I was given  :P. I know I usually work in a more cartoony, simple style and I work almost entirely digital so I feel after sketches are finalized and I know what I'm doing that I can work fairly fast. but still, 2-4 months or so would've been less stressful for sure  :bewildered:
just out of curiosity, can you say how many pages your current book is?

Wendy, I feel similarly about the 5 week deadline I was given to the 4 month deadline you were given for that one picture book. This book I'm illustrating is technically my first with a publisher (a smaller one, so the shorter turnaround time makes a  bit more sense now but was still a bit rough) I think I didn't feel like I had room to negotiate the length of time-I was told the turnaround time and just figured I could get it done in that time and there was no room for negotiation.

I definitely learned a lot from illustrating this book and now know a few things for the future. :yup Thanks again, everyone!
#6 - September 13, 2013, 07:15 AM

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There is always room for negotiation. You are a professional, don't devalue your work (which is quite charming) because you are just starting out. If you feel a deadline is unreasonably short or a fee too small, say so. Either they will adjust or they won't. If they won't, you always have the option of walking away and finding a opportunity better suited to your working needs.

Newer, smaller publishers need to hear from illustrators about proper working conditions. If every artist just accepts deadlines or payments that are too small or short for high quality work, such fees and turn-arounds will  become the norm rather than the exception. New small publishers who haven't worked with illustrators before have no idea just how long it takes to produce art work. There is a lot involved before the color hits the image. Stand up for yourself. Your work has value.
#7 - September 13, 2013, 09:15 AM
« Last Edit: September 14, 2013, 10:01 AM by Wendy Martin »
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Amen Wendy!

Amanda,

Your work is very nice! I especially like Gopi. The bull is a nice mix of majestic and sweet.

That would be a very tight and stressful deadline.

I will be doing 14 full page spreads, 2 single pages, 1 spot and cover work.


I think for now you can breathe a HUGE sigh of relief and pat yourself on the back for working well under pressure. The take is that you know what is a reasonable amount of time for a deadline for your next project and work from there. They were lucky to have you.
#8 - September 13, 2013, 12:54 PM
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Thank you Wendy and Cynthia for your responses.

I agree wholeheartedly with you Wendy, if I could go back in time I would definitely have tried to negotiate more in both aspects of deadline and timeframe. Hindsight is always 20/20 *sigh* and just because I'm a little green in this field as of now doesn't mean I should be given the runaround or treated any differently than a more seasoned professional-I do feel I have a fairly good portfolio to back myself up. You make very good points about how illustrators need to value their work and not settle for less especially for illustrators starting out and newer/smaller publishers or clients. I hate hate hate seeing listings and asking prices where the price is criminally low and just slimy work practices in general, guh, this could be a whole nother topic that's for sure.

Cynthia - Thank you for taking a look at my work and for your compliments  :embarrassed2 I checked out your work too and I love your dog illustrations! they're so charming! especially the puparrazzi piece-I was giggling at pretty much every piece with a dog pun in it. Yes, if anything this was definitely a learning experience-I'm not sure how the end result will be but I'm glad I got the chance to illustrate the book and learn what to do what not to do for the next time. Good luck with your current project! :goodluck

#9 - September 13, 2013, 03:11 PM

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Thank you too Amanda. You've got a lot going for you. Good luck with your next contract!
#10 - September 14, 2013, 01:53 PM
« Last Edit: September 14, 2013, 01:56 PM by Cynthia Kremsner »
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The others have already posted some great advice, so I don't have a lot to add. Here are just a few more thoughts...

I agree with Cynthia re: times varying widely, depending on the nature of the project. Other factors include marketing/PR scheduling, feedback time, publication dates that can't really be moved (partly because it would mean that moving them would overlap with your publication dates for other books). I'm currently working with Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers, HarperCollins Children's and Random House Children's Books.

I've been asked in the past how long my book projects have taken, and I find the question so hard to answer because (at least in my case), there were multiple rounds of sketches which involved time when I was waiting for feedback. Also, like John, I usually have the mss in hand by the time I sign the contract, so I can have a headstart on sketches. I currently have the mss for some upcoming book contracts now, for example, whose deadlines aren't for a couple YEARS. My plan is to start character sketches and roughs during "waiting for feedback" periods for my current projects.

I had about a year for I'M BORED and about 5-6 months for NAKED!

5 weeks sounds like a VERY short timeframe (!!!). But again, it depends on how you work, what else you're working on, what else is going on in your life (if you have kids, a day job, a social life :-)).

Compared to others responding in this thread, I'm relatively inexperienced -- although I have new book projects coming up, I only have ONE book in bookstores and have only finished two book projects so far. But what I'm finding is that when estimating time for a project, I also need to build in a fair amount of THINKING time. It's not just about the drawing, but also about just reading over the mss, thinking about the story, finding solutions to visual problems, taking the time to step back and look at the overall narrative, ask myself if there's anything more I can do in my art to bring something extra to the story. I usually re-draw a LOT. I think I re-drew just one of the images in my most recent book project (NAKED! for S&S) over 40 times.

I love your art, Amanda. Question: Was that literacy poster made for a specific commercial project or did you just do it for fun? If for fun/promo, then I encourage you to add your portfolio URL somewhere (in case it's shared out of context) and then post it on a separate page....and then let me the URL so I can point people there. :-)

Good luck with your next contract!

Debbie

#11 - September 27, 2013, 06:36 AM
« Last Edit: September 27, 2013, 06:48 AM by Debbie Ridpath Ohi »
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Thank you for your reply, Debbie and for all your information! I can relate to the redrawing process-I always rethink composition and it never fails that whenever I look back at my work after I deem it "finished" I always find/think of ways that I could've made it "better". ah well, such are the woes of an artist.

Thank you for your compliments on my work  :thanx: I love your little girl character from I'M BORED and her expressions! My local library has multiple copies so I will be sure to read it! Did you get the chance to talk to Michael Ian Black at all while working on the book?

the READ piece was a personal project. I have it up on my blog http://amandaerb.tumblr.com/post/62826293016/amandaerb-read-poster and on my Behance portfolio site with some sketches: http://be.net/gallery/Read-Poster/6378411. I'm in the process of reorganizing my personal website to a more project-based theme so hopefully I will have that fleshed out within the next week or so.

Thank you again for all your comments and information on this subject and good luck with your current projects!  ::-)
#12 - October 01, 2013, 12:35 PM

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It took me 6 months to put my book together. The book had image changes and text revisions that push the completion dates back. I also did all of the indesign, photoshop and illustrations. I also was working on the website as we worked on the book.
#13 - October 14, 2013, 05:09 PM

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Hi Amanda,

Michael and I emailed a bit near the end of the project, and keep in sporadic touch. He has always been so sweet and supportive of my work.

Thanks for the pointer to that READ poster! Just tweeted about it. :-) https://twitter.com/inkyelbows/status/391313247972126720

Debbie
Thank you for your reply, Debbie and for all your information! I can relate to the redrawing process-I always rethink composition and it never fails that whenever I look back at my work after I deem it "finished" I always find/think of ways that I could've made it "better". ah well, such are the woes of an artist.

Thank you for your compliments on my work  :thanx: I love your little girl character from I'M BORED and her expressions! My local library has multiple copies so I will be sure to read it! Did you get the chance to talk to Michael Ian Black at all while working on the book?

the READ piece was a personal project. I have it up on my blog http://amandaerb.tumblr.com/post/62826293016/amandaerb-read-poster and on my Behance portfolio site with some sketches: http://be.net/gallery/Read-Poster/6378411. I'm in the process of reorganizing my personal website to a more project-based theme so hopefully I will have that fleshed out within the next week or so.

Thank you again for all your comments and information on this subject and good luck with your current projects!  ::-)
#14 - October 18, 2013, 02:45 PM
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