Hiring a children’s book illustrator FAQ

Illustrators tend to be bombarded with the same questions over and over again from clients looking to hire them to bring their children’s book manuscript to life, and from publishers looking to have them work on a future project or their next release. With our illustrators being the pros they are, they tend to send a personal reply to every query that comes in regardless of whether they’ve answered the same question half a dozen times that week already.



So, here are a list of questions you need to ask yourself before you hire an illustrator, and some answers to questions that clients commonly ask illustrators during the course of hiring one.

These questions were devised and answered by Ginger Nielson (illustrator of almost 40 children’s books), and edited and updated by Darren Di Lieto & Jane Di Lieto-Danes.

Should you hire an illustrator?

If you have a finished, edited, and great manuscript, by all means submit it to a publisher. If they decide it’s right for their line up and marketable, they will normally pay you an advance followed by royalties in exchange for the right to print and sell your book. They will also hire an illustrator, pay the production costs and help you market it. You do NOT need any illustrations to submit your manuscript to a publisher unless you are an author/illustrator yourself.

How do you find a publisher?

To find out who might be the best publisher for your book, get a copy of the Children’s Writer’s and Illustrator’s Market or the Children’s Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook. They list publishers, their contacts, their terms, and what they are looking for. It also includes international markets, magazines, contests, agents and wonderful articles from artists and authors as well as publishers and editors.



What to do if you’re self publishing?

You need to be very sure of your own work and you need to be ready to invest your own time and money in making your book a success. You will be choosing your own illustrator and paying for the artwork and license or rights to use it; for the book printing; to have it proofread; for distribution; for all your own advertising… and you’ll be doing your own sales. Your local indie bookstore may be happy to host a signing. You might be able to market your books at a local craft fair or market, or at any event with the right setting and clientele. Some schools have book nights where you can sell your books too. Self publishing is often sold as the easy (and cheap) way to get your book published, but don’t let all the hype fool you. The more work and money you can invest in your book, regardless of how good it might be, the more chance it has of being a success.



How much does a children’s illustrator cost?

When you hire an illustrator remember that you are hiring a professional. You need to be prepared to pay a fair market price. Depending upon the length of time it will take to illustrate your book, the amount of research needed, and any unusual requests, the cost could be a few thousand pounds/dollars or many thousands of pounds/dollars.

OK, so how much will it cost?

Most illustrator’s rates are only shared with a potential client after they have seen a finished manuscript or at least a detailed outline of the work. The illustrator also needs to decide if their skill and style is right for the story and that they’re a good fit for the client. Some illustrators also do the design and layout for children’s publications, so will provide a print ready PDF on completion. If this is not the case, the client will also need to hire a designer who’ll turn the artwork and manuscript into a ready to print product. The illustrator may be able to recommend someone for the design/layout part if they’ve worked with self publishers in the past and do not do the design themselves. Working with a separate designer will increase the overall costs, but you will benefit from the skills a well trained graphic designer brings to the table and you’ll probably find you’ll have a quicker turn-around time too.



Really, how much does it cost?

The GAG (2013) says a colour 32 page children’s book will cost you between $3000-$60,000 USD + 3-5% royalties while the AOI (2008) says it’ll cost between £3000-£5000 GBP for the advance plus royalties. It really does depend on who you want to work with, the type of style you’re after and the experience of the illustrator. You may find a really talented young illustrator fresh out of university, but as with fine wines that get better with age, all illustrators get better as they hone their skills and gain experience.

How long does it take?

A contract is issued with payment dates, artwork dates, and copyright restrictions for both the author and the illustrator. Work will normally take from 3 to 6 months to complete, give or take a month depending on the illustrator. Payments will normally be made at different stages throughout the project as work is completed and approved. There will normally always be an upfront percentage to pay before work is started too. This upfront fee will normally not be refundable as it’ll also be the kill fee if the client decides to scrap the project or work with an alternative illustrator after work has begun.



What about changes and artwork revision?

Any artwork that has been finished and approved by the author/client is final. However, if changes are requested after the final approval a fee per hour for any changes may apply. Revisions after approval will also be subject to an illustrator’s availability.

If you’d like more advice on hiring an illustrator for your children’s book, check out Dani Jones’ blog or Randy Gallegos’ PDF Guide For Publishers via the links below. And obviously if you’re ready to hire an illustrator have a look though our children’s illustrators or submit a job request and we’ll help you find one.



Randy Gallegos’ Guide For Publishers…
PDF Guide For Publishers: Learning How to Commission Illustration

Image Credits…
1. The Waif by Pete Underhill
2. Caterpillar for Target by Lee Cosgrove
3. Tiger Character by Marcus Cutler
4. Dogolate by Michael Slack
5. The Butterflies and Millie by Corey R. Tabor
6. Happy-go-lucky Unicorn by Sophie Burrows


    1. I’m a beginner writer looking for an inexpensive illustrator who may also be a beginner. Do u know anyone? Thanks!

      1. Hi Destiny, hiring a children’s illustrator isn’t normally cheap. Even if you hire someone at the start of their career, they still need to train for years and purchase lots of expensive equipment before they start accepting commissions and offering their services. I would suggest working out what you can afford and deciding on a budget, then contact a few illustrators you’re interested in working with and ask them for a quote. You may find you’ve got enough in your budget to hire them or that you need to increase your budget to find the right person. If cost is your only concern, you may do better seeking out an amateur rather than a professional.

      2. My name is Russell and I’ve been an artist for years. I love doing pencil portraits. My experience has been in graphic art and screen printing. I love children and I’ve been wanting to pursue illustrating for children’s books.

    1. All of our members are freelance illustrators and available for commissions. Whatever you’re after, find an illustrator with a style you like and message them for a quote. Illustration jobs vary tremendously, only a very small portion of them are children’s publications.

  1. When you’re hiring an illustrator is it common to ask for a work for hire contract? Or should you be expected to only ask for a grant of rights?

    1. Normally the illustrator will sell you a license for your needs while retaining the copyright. Work for hire contracts are very expensive and a good number of illustrators won’t even accept them for children’s illustration work.

  2. Is it common for a contract to have a fee for the illustration and a fee for the original art itself? Or do authors only get a file for print and rights to use? Thank you!

    1. Normally the client will have the option to purchase the original artwork for a fee if they ask for it and it’s not a digital piece.

  3. There are a gazillion artists on the planet and finding the right children’s book illustrator is a daunting task for self-publishing writers. Spend time finding the right look for your story and then figure out the right budget with the right illustrator. Most artist’s have a good heart and will work with you within reason. They would rather be doing artwork than not.

    1. That really depends on the style you’re after or the illustrator you want to work with. Have a look through our children’s illustrator and once you find one you like the look of, send them a message explaining your requirements and ask for a quote.

  4. A children’s book writer likes my artwork so much that, even though I’m not an illustrator, wants me to make the illustrations for her book. I’m thinking about just making the paintings on canvas, like I always do, and selling her the paintings with a license to use them on her book. Is this a good idea?

    1. Being able to utilise your skills to make a living is always a good plan of action. But without knowing the full details of the job or related contract, I wouldn’t be able to say whether it was specifically a good idea to proceed with this or not. We offer our members one on one advice when they need it for questions exactly like this. 🙂

    1. There are dozens of hidden costs you need to factor into your budget if you’re self publishing. Even if you’re not self-publishing you still may need to factor in your own marketing costs to promote the book after publication.

    1. There are many aspects to being an illustrator, like in any profession. One advantage could be that you get to run your own business, but at the same time… you have to run your own business! Being an illustrator is normally more than a job, it’s a way of life. You have to be passionate about it and it’s a lot of hard work if you wish to succeed.

  5. Hi! is it legit to get paid only $3 per colored illustration providing the image has a plain gradient background and such? Because I wanna know if I am getting underpaid or not. This is my first project as an illustrator by the way. Thanks

    1. I don’t think that even covers your costs, I’d actually be quite shocked if you accepted $30 per illustration regardless of your skill level, let alone $3. Referring to that as getting underpaid is an understatement.

      1. Yeah, I know right? I told the employer nicely if he can at least raise it to 25 dollars per hour providing I work 4 hours striaght, so 100 dollars per illustration. He replied sarcastically saying if Im painting the mona lisa with that kind of pricing. Also told me that he is sure Ive been outbidded.

        1. Bidding for work like this is the best way to burn out and not make enough to feed yourself or even pay your bills. You probably should have passed on the job. If all that matters is that the work is low cost, the quality of the work or the person that does it doesn’t matter in the slightest.

          1. May I ask for your advice regarding the cheapest price I should charge per illustration. It would be handy to me for future transactions.

          2. It doesn’t really work like that. You need to think about the value of your work to the client, the minimum you can accept to make a living and then there’s all of the licensing and usage rights to consider. Don’t do yourself a disservice by oversimplifying it.

  6. My name is Alex I have experience doing illustration, I used to worked for an advertising agency and I’ve did a children’s books project for an executive who used to worked as movie writer for WB.

  7. Hi! I’m an illustrator working with a (new) children’s book author right now, and the questions and requests she have are beyond the contract I’ve been using for my other projects. (I found a semi generic illustration contract online where I just change a few details to fit the project.) Do you have any recommendations for contract lawyers, or places that specialize in these type of contracts? Also, how much additional this may cost?

    1. We have contracts available to members and we’re happy to help them modify them to their needs if needed. If you’re interested in membership you can find more information here. Contract lawyers, especially ones who specialise in copyright aren’t cheap, but there are plenty of good ones about. A simple Google should point you in the right direction.

  8. Hello. Thank you for your article. I know your estimations for cost were for colored picture books but if it is illustrations that are black and white, say for a chapter book, would it be safe to assume the cost could be cut in half? Or would that all depend on the agreement between client and illustrator?

    1. Primarily it would completely depend on the agreement between the client and illustrator. I can see quite a few charging the same for black and white as they would for colour as good black and white work isn’t just the absence colour, other skills normally come into play for monochrome work. If you’ve ever watched a black and white film, you know it’s not been filmed in the same way as it would have been if it was colour. There’s an art to it.

  9. Hello, my 11 year old daughter was just approached with an opportunity to illustrate for a children’s book but as her mother who isn’t gifted in the art world I have no idea what to charge for a 50 page children’s book. I also want to know should I request her name being added to the front of the book as illustrator and if so would I negotiate a percentage profit on book sales if it’s allowed? Any direction would be greatly appreciate

    1. Hi Timeka, by all means encourage your daughter to create her own children’s book, but for most countries the minimum working age for this type of work is 14 and even then the hours that can be dedicated to it are limited. Please check your government’s website for the legal working ages and prerequisite.

  10. Hi… I started writing a book for children (in spanish). My idea is to make bedtime stories (non fictional). I want to know if I can get a quote before completing the book to see an average of how much should I pay. I’m thinking of doing one story per page, so that would be around 50 images.

    Another question is… How do I get a publisher to see my work so they can publish my book. What steps should I take?
    I am new into this world of writing. I started writing already but honestly I am looking information of how to publish a book because I dont know how to do it and nobody I know can help. Any help would be appreciated.

    1. You need to contact the illustrators you’re interested in directly for a quote. You can find a list of children’s illustrators here. Please note, most will only quote on the job if you’ve got a publisher attached and the publisher wants you to find an illustrator or if you’re self publishing.

      For submitting your manuscript to a publisher, you need to do your research as to which publishers your story is suitable for. You’ll find submission details on most publishers’ websites, if they accept public submissions. Other than that you’ll need to find a literary agent who’s willing to take you on.

  11. Much appreciated honest and generous sharing in the article and downloadable PDF! Would you be ok if I shared it forward in my Indian community of Practice? Whom should I credit?

  12. Hi! Thanks for the great article 🙂 I’m about to write and finalise a contract with an author for my first children’s book (20 illustrations including cover). This will be a large project of a 26 book series that he may need me for if the first one goes well. I am still very stuck on the pricing if I’ll be honest. I normally charge about £35- £50 for a commission piece but this time I’m keen to receive royalties. The author is willing to split this 50/50 with me however without a flat fee, would it still be in my right to ask for a deposit or a fee as well as royalties? Is asking for an initial cost of let’s say 5 illustrations plus a 35% royalties worth it? The budget isn’t big however I’d really like to do this project. Would love any help with this!

    1. You could ask for an advance on the royalties. Also you don’t mention usage rights or distribution which is a big factor when pricing. I’m more than happy to help HAI members with contracts and pricing, you can find out more about membership at Join Hire an Illustrator.

      Once you’re a member, I can give you direct advice. 🙂

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