If you’re a member and you’re looking for the Art Card page, please click here.
Getting a comic book from script to print can be a complicated undertaking, with lots of moving parts to consider. We’ve complied this article to help simplify the process and hopefully explain how the relationships between the illustrator, writer and publisher work in general without going into too much detail, but while still covering all the main talking points. Although this article is written with comic book writers being the primary audience, we do encourage comic book artists and others in the creative field to read it too.
These questions were devised and answered by Jason Piperberg (professional comic book artist), and edited and updated with additional content added by Darren Di Lieto and Jane Di Lieto. Feedback was also given by comic book artists Matt Timson, Brendan Purchase and Christine Larsen.
So, should I hire a comic book artist?
If you are working independently to publish your comic or graphic novel and you want to get your book into the hands of an adoring public, absolutely, yes, you should hire an illustrator – or more specifically a comic book artist. Independent and self-published comics are a vital part of the publishing industry. A lot of new writers and artists make their mark in the independent (indy) market, which can be a natural stepping stone into the mainstream market if that’s what they want. New ideas and creative stories keep the market vitalised and interesting, plus, everyone needs to start somewhere, so stop dithering!
For those who are more inclined to work with a publisher that will hire and handle the illustrator, you may want to submit your script directly to a publishing house for consideration. If a publisher decides your story is right for their brand, it’s very likely that the they will hire the illustrator directly without the author’s input, although some do require an artist to be attached to a book before it’s pitched to them. Either way, you’re only going to know what each publisher’s requirements are by finding and following their submission guidelines, and in most cases these will be available on their websites. Continue reading →
Brief the illustrator by including the following information in your message;
Usage and Distribution
Image Licensing Requirements
If the illustrator agrees to take on the project, fees and contracts are then negotiated, and the client will pay a deposit.
The illustrator sends the client a rough sketch or selection of thumbnail drawings based on the brief. The detail and quality of these drawings will vary from illustrator to illustrator.
Revisions, if needed, are made. Normally 3 rounds of revisions are included in the contract.
Once the sketch work is approved, the illustrator will produce the final artwork.
Low resolution copies of the final artwork will then be sent to the client for approval.
There may be some minor revisions at this point depending on how detailed the original sketches were. Major revisions at this stage will normally require additional funds.
Once the artwork is approved, the illustrator will send over the high resolution files.
An invoice will then be issued. If it’s not paid instantly, it will usually need to be paid within 30 days subject to the contract.
Note: Depending on the client and illustrator, it’s not unusual for the illustrator to withhold a high resolution copy of the artwork until the invoice has been paid. Corporate or editorial clients often do not pay a deposit upon signing of the contracts unless previously agreed upon by both sides. There are always exceptions, but communication and clarity is key.
On Contracts: The contract between the two parties should be a reflection of the negotiations and conversions had before work commenced. It is generally bad practise to have terms hidden within a contract that have not been made clear or previously discussed, for example talking about a usage license while the contract states the job will be work-for-hire. Both parties need to read the contract and know what’s in it. Don’t blindly start working or pay a deposit on a job until all the terms have been agreed. On many occasions boilerplate contracts can be used, which are easy to revise so that they meet the agreed requirements of client and illustrator, and avoid any conflict or nasty surprises.
Doing the boring bit properly will help make the fun bit awesome! Happy and confident people produce their best work (and win awards!) when they’re under pressure, but not when they’re stressed out over the technicalities. Our members have access to free boilerplate contracts that can be modified to fit the needs of the project.
Spring is here (yay!), so what better time to log-in to your HAI profile and make sure everything is up-to-date? Here are a few suggestions to help you freshen-up your portfolio and get the most out of it…
As the first thing that potential clients will probably see, your Highlight image is really important. Check that the image you have uploaded to the ‘Images’ section in your profile represents the work that’s in your portfolio and really stands out. The image you upload should be 160 x 160 pixels square, jpg.
When did you last add new work to your portfolio gallery, and maybe get rid of some older pieces that aren’t the kind of thing you do any more? This is where you can have a really good Spring clean, dust out the cobwebs, and make sure you have your current – and best – work on show!
Occasionally, members don’t choose the best categories for the work that’s in their portfolios – for example, artists who do beautiful figurative work who don’t select ‘Fashion & Beauty’. This means that when clients search these categories, they don’t see everyone who might be suitable for their job. Why not grab a cuppa and have a browse through your portfolio to see if there are any categories you could be missing out on using?
If you change your Facebook page or set up a new Instagram account, it’s very easy to miss some of the places where the links to them need updating. Have a quick check to see if the links from your portfolio are still working and correct them if not.
Most illustrators, if not all, display enough of their work online for a client to make an informed decision as to whether they’d like to work with them or not. I’m not talking about how much an illustrator will quote on a job or whether they’re affordable, but whether an illustrator’s style matches what the client is looking for. When those elements line up, it’s time for the client to get in contact and this is where things can sometimes go wrong or trip up a commission before it’s even got started.
The way the messaging system at Hire an Illustrator works is that you hit the “Message Illustrator” button on an illustrator’s portfolio page and this will email them the message you want to send. Simple, right? Most of the time, yes, but not all of the time.
When composing your message to an illustrator you should include the following information:
A short summary of what you’re actually after.
How and for what you intend to use the illustration.
Your deadline for completion, especially if it’s soon.
And, if you’ve worked with an illustrator before, your budget.
We don’t specify exactly what you should be emailing our illustrators, as everyone works in different ways and we’re all grown ups. But you wouldn’t call up a plumber if you didn’t know what you wanted them to fix or have enough money to pay them. Just telling a plumber to come to your house isn’t enough information. It’s the same for an illustrator; just telling them that you like their work or that you want to work with them isn’t enough. They need to know what you want them to work on and you need to be specific.
The initial message doesn’t really need to be more than two or three sentences. Once you’ve sent it off to the illustrator, they’ll probably get back to you with several standard questions that they send to all potential new clients. Each illustrator has their own set of questions, but they’ll all be in a similar vein and it’ll allow them to work up a preliminary quote. If the illustrator doesn’t reply to a client, it’ll either be because the client’s message made no sense (which happens more than you think) or the client didn’t even bother looking at the illustrator’s portfolio (which also happens a lot). Illustrators tend to work in the same specific style as seen in their previous pieces, so although you’ll be hiring them for a new custom piece, it will reflect their established style and that’s the reason an illustrator is normally hired. You shouldn’t be asking an illustrator to work up free samples of the image you’re after just to see if they’re the right person, because if you can’t see whether they’re right for a job from their current portfolio, you need to hire an art director to work with them on your behalf. Plus, no one should be working for free in a profit driven industry.
The length of time it takes for an illustrator to reply to an email can vary; some may reply within 10 minutes, others can take a week. A digital artist, for example, might see your message pop up as soon as you send it. One of our more traditional illustrators, who works in a studio with oils, might only check their emails once a week. You just need to be patient and take a guess at a reasonable length of time to give them before following up. Email is also a fickle thing, so if you feel you’ve given it a reasonable length of time for a reply and (as far as you’re aware) your message made sense and wasn’t confusing, send us an email and we can check in on the illustrator on your behalf. You never know, their email might be down or their spam filter might be being overzealous. Patience is a virtue, persistence gets things done!
Fees vary drastically from illustrator to illustrator depending on their style and their experience. Some might have a very labour-intensive style, or something that’s more niche. The thing is, until you’ve worked out what you want and a number of details have been pinned down, the illustrator can’t actually give you a quote. So if you’ve not even got the initial contact points mentioned above, you’re not ready to contact an illustrator. If you can’t fathom or work out those details yourself, as mentioned before, hire an art director or an illustrator who also has experience doing their own art direction, which many have. You just need to be prepared to be very hands-off when it comes to the direction and choices they make with regards to the illustrations. You’re paying them to do what they do best, so trust them and let them do it.
Now, once you’ve said your hellos and both parties know what the situation is and are on the same page, it’s time to talk about money and contracts. This ground work should be established before the creativity starts:
How much is the illustrator being paid?
What are the terms of the license?
Is there a kill fee and upfront deposit?
When is the deadline and when will the invoice be paid?
Have the contracts been signed?
Are revisions included in the fee, if so how many?
After that, you’re good to go! Follow the project, hit your targets and let the magic happen.
The accompanying illustration (2013) was created by Tom Holme for Creative England. We’re pretty sure Tom would love to hear from you if you’d like something similar.
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.
We would like to welcome Tim Paul as a guest blogger on the hai staff blog. In this post New York illustrator Tim Paul has written down his thoughts and opinions for us with regards to illustrators and writers being paid an advance verses not being paid an advance on their royalties. Tim has worked as a colourist for Marvel Entertainment and been in the creative industry for almost 20 years, dare we say he could be considered a veteran… – Darren Di Lieto
So Where Do We Start?
Getting even a simple book out can take a year or more. It’s a long, slow road from concept to paycheck especially if there isn’t an advance at the beginning.
PART ONE: Necessity
These days you hear that publishing needs to evolve to survive. One way large publishers are trying to evolve is to copy smaller publishers in how they pay the artist/author. A smaller publisher, who doesn’t have the finances for an advance, will sometimes offer a higher cut of royalties. This can be up to a 50/50 split after costs. Larger publishers are beginning to follow suit, with inexperienced and untried creators seeming to be the main focus of this shift.
If a writer’s goal is simply to be published, self-publishing is an option they should consider. They’ll be published, and it will even bring in some extra earnings if their book sells well. But for artists and authors whose goal is to make a living at publishing their work, the no-advance option puts more of the risk on their plate. Publishers are looking to manage the financial risks they are taking. If a book fails to make the necessary sales to cover the advance, the author isn’t obliged to pay back the advance. That money is their’s regardless of the how well the book sells.
For the artist or author, the potential for a larger paycheck in the form of higher royalties can be very tempting. However, an advance isn’t a case of the publisher being nice to the author. It’s a way for them to work on the project, without the pressure of having to take on additional work to pay the bills. This way, the artist or author can work towards giving the publisher the best possible product, distraction free.
PART TWO: Business
Getting even a simple book out can take a year or more. It’s a long, slow road from concept to paycheck especially if there isn’t an advance at the beginning. A long wait for payday isn’t the only thing creators have to consider under the no-advance approach. What happens if the work is completed but, through no fault of the creator, it gets canceled by the publisher? Naturally you can try and cover these and other possibilities in a contract, but this does mean more time-consuming negotiations with both sides trying to protect themselves.
Publishers aren’t looking to screw or trick their artists and authors. They’re trying to do what is best for their company financially, as any business would. This doesn’t mean it’s the best course of action for the author or the publisher’s long term goals, but it minimizes the financial risks for the publisher. Plus with no advance, the onus is on the author to produce the work, because if they don’t there will be no royalties.
With an advance, the risk is moved back to the publisher, which means it’s easy for an author to work out what happens if a project gets cancelled by the publishing house… they get to keep the advance. But how is that going to play out with payment based solely on sales? There’s no way for an author to say if a book is going to flop or be a 50 week bestseller. It’s the publisher who will have the experience and expertise to make that sort of judgement, rather than the author.
Smaller publishers don’t normally have much in the way of a budget for marketing. They rely on word of mouth, reviews, and the creator promoting their books along with social networking. If this method of getting a book to market is picked up by the larger publishers, how much self-promotion will their artists and authors be expected to do? After all, isn’t the point of signing with a large publisher that a creator can use the publisher’s resources, connections, experience and knowledge to properly market their publication?
Should large publishers decide that all untried creators have to prove themselves before getting an advance, it could easily become, “accept this deal, or remain unpublished” for all. The no-advance model reduces or takes away the ability of the creator to remain independent of the business side and solely focus on the creation of their writing or imagery. If no advance was to become the norm, there would be no reason for it to go back to the old ways. In the struggle to make a living as an artist or author, getting fair compensation has always been a fight. It’s better to know what you are going to be paid, than the promise of a potentially higher paycheck in my opinion.
PART THREE: Final Thought
Part of being a freelance illustrator or writer is making a plan on how you are going to support yourself while creating. Advances allow artist and authors to plan their finances with solid numbers and a real income. For publishers to receive the best products takes time and dedication. Insist on an advance when the big companies come knocking. Don’t do yourself a disservice, believe in your work and worth, and the big publishing houses will believe in you too.