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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 →
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.
Recently, I completed work on the first issue of my own comic/storybook ‘Sunrise’, a small, wordless story about a silent little monster on his search for the sun.
I wanted to publish it myself – to learn the whole process of creating, printing and selling my book myself, as I still think it’s one of the best ways to learn – to experience it for yourself. To pay for this, I decided to print each of my 4 planned issues as limited edition paperback copies, and sell them myself both online and at comic conventions – the problem being, it turns out people really like it, and 75 limited edition copies weren’t going to last long!
So I had to come up with another plan – lots of people wanted to read it, but I needed a platform to publish it on which would allow others to easily read it, yet not devalue the limited edition copies that so many people had bought in good faith. I completely intend to sell the final ‘full’ version of all 4 issues in a nice, solid hardback, but that is still a year away, at least! So I thought ‘Why not sell a digital copy?’ And so I began to look into alternatives.
There were many methods, most involved selling a PDF version on my own digital stores, which I wasn’t entirely happy with. Not only is a PDF a bit of a bother to read, you can’t sit with your child and read through the book together – and that’s still something that I find important. I even thought about making a book app myself to sell on the iOS and Android stores. However, with my experience with making games for tablet and phone devices, I knew how much of a pain in the behind this would be – I can create the art and menu systems easily enough, but then I’d have to hire a programmer (which, despite knowing many, I couldn’t ask them to work for free!), a testing team and most likely the tablet and phone devices needed to test the app – which is far easier with the limited amount of Apple products than it is with the plethora of Android-using phones! And then I would have to hire a PR team to get the word around – all of which is a little impossible with my teeny tiny budget! So I had to give up on that idea almost as soon as I had it.
Earlier this year though, popular digital comic outlet ‘Comixology’ opened the doors to small-press comic creators with ‘Comixology Submit’. Brilliant! A way to get a digital version of Sunrise on so many phone and tablet devices, as well as computer screens, in an easy to read way – and best of all, I didn’t have to invest any of my own money in it! So, as soon as I could, I prepared a tablet and phone-friendly version and submitted it.
There are a few things to take note of – as far as I could tell, there were no guidelines, so you are working a little blind. I worked with traditional iPad3 screen sizes (2048 x 1536) but this wasn’t big enough. Comixology contacted me to ask if there was a bigger size, so I decided to make it bigger. I can’t remember how I came to this file size, but 2292 x 3056 was accepted. I think the huge file size is to do with their guided view system, which is fair enough – it is essential for those reading on smart phones! Secondly, it takes a long time for your comic to go through the submission process. Sunrise was ‘Tentatively accepted’ nearly a month after I submitted it. After that, it took another 6-8 weeks or so to appear in-store. This is definitely not a quick process and you are not guaranteed to get on the store at all. Thirdly, once your comic is in-store, you can’t see what your sales are. This does annoy me slightly, as I like to know how well my personal work is selling – and Comixology is telling me to trust them with something very important to me, which I find quite difficult when it comes to big companies. Another thing is, that instead of getting your monthly share sent to you each month (like Redbubble, for example) you’re sent a cheque every quarter IF your comic sells over $100, which worries me a bit – what happens if you only made $99 that quarter? Does it roll over into the next quarter? My comic hasn’t been up there an entire quarter yet, so I can’t give an answer. I do worry about them sending a cheque though, rather than wiring it to my bank account. As I have found out in the past, by receiving a cheque in US Dollars my bank will charge me extra to put it into my account – usually about £12 – which is annoying, and what happens if I move house while the cheque is in transit? I know there’s only a small chance of that happening, but it still worries me!
But, even with those cons, there are a lot of ‘pros’ to submitting your work to Comixology Submit.
Firstly – a new, huge audience from around the world! Suddenly, you’re getting reviews and 5 stars from people who would never have found your work before. I now have access to the American market especially, which I would never have had on my tiny little table at UK comic conventions (I will most definitely still be at UK conventions though). Secondly, some of the people at Comixology found Sunrise in the submit section, and included it as the very first thing mentioned on the Podcast – even stopping their talk about Batman, to talk about Sunrise! My partner and I were sat open-mouthed while we listened to it! It was so nice to hear people I’d never met, talking about my little book in such a positive way. They even bought a physical copy of the book afterwards! Success! Even with the cons I listed, this Pro made up for everything 🙂 Thirdly – setting up your comic for Comixology is completely free for you. Yes, Comixology will take a 50/50 cut from your sales (after credit card fees and fees from tablet and phone companies for having the app on their store, which happens with every app), but the cost of hiring an entire team to get your comic on the app store yourself will cost you even more than Comixology’s fees. Plus you won’t get the same level of PR or open up to an entirely new market, like you will do if you go with Comixology. I have worked on many iOS and Android games and one thing I have noticed is, it is very difficult to get people to notice your game/app if you are not one of the top 10, or even the top 50! Comixology will help you with that. And lastly – submitting with Comixology means you are not bound to an exclusive contract – you can still sell digital copies anywhere else, which is perfect for the small-press creator!
So, in my opinion, if you have your own comic and you’re looking for a digital release, try Comixology. It won’t cost you anything to set up, so you have absolutely nothing to lose – and maybe even something to gain. Just keep in mind that it’s definitely not a quick process, and sometimes you can feel like you’re working blind.
I’ll post another update in a few months, once I know whether I get my first cheque or not!
Images and text in this post are copyright of Heather L Sheppard.