Working as an illustrator for a publishing house...how does it work?



  • Hey all! If anyone is knowledgeable on the topic or has worked for publishing houses, I'd like some clarity.

    For context, I live in the US and would be aiming my work toward publishing houses which create children's picture books.

    After a publishing house says "yes", then what?

    Do you just work for that publishing house and do their contract-work from now on? (Is it exclusive?)

    Do most illustrators have contracts with multiple publishing houses?

    If so, how are those deadlines handled if they overlap?

    What is the usual turn-time expected from the start of the contract for a book to sending in the finished files? (i.e. how long do you work on a book?)

    My Google-Fu for these sorts of questions wasn't giving me answers so maybe I just need to ask in the right forum! Thanks in advance!


  • Pro

    @Krista-Blue Practically all picture book work is contractual and is done on a book-per-book basis 🙂 You don't work in house for a publisher, instead you get a book deal with them and then move on. It works like this because publishers pride themselves in finding the perfect illustrator to match a manuscript. They may not need us for anymore than just that one book. But if we do a great job and they loved our work, they may hire us again down the line if they come across another manuscript that's great for our style.

    It can be hard to get a book deal because even if they love your portfolio, they may not have any project that fit your style at that precise moment. So even if a publishers says no or you don't hear back, you should keep hitting them up once or twice a year.

    So yes you definitely can work on multiple projects at once with different publishers and it's up to you to plan accordingly so you don't miss your deadlines. Time-frames vary wildly, but 3-4 months should be the very minimum to allow you to do a decent job. Under that, it's just very hard to hit the deadline. Sometimes they'll give you 6 months or even up to a year, which is great! More time is always best. Do NOT accept any book deal if you're not 100% you can hit the deadline while also doing your best work.


  • SVS Instructor Pro

    @Krista-Blue said in Working as an illustrator for a publishing house...how does it work?:

    For context, I live in the US and would be aiming my work toward publishing houses which create children's picture books.

    After a publishing house says "yes", then what?

    These are pretty broad questions that require a general knowledge of the business of picture books. You'll find that some of the answers to your questions just bring up more questions.

    It's not quite as simple as getting a "yes". The "yes" can come in different forms depending on the kind of project you are doing or that the publisher is interested in working with you on.

    If you are submitting illustration samples the Art Director will contact you and inquire if you are available to work on a project.
    If you are submitting a dummy you've written and illustrated the editor will contact you.
    Then comes the negotiation part. This is a whole other discussion. (That is quite interesting and fun)

    Do you just work for that publishing house and do their contract-work from now on? (Is it exclusive?)

    No. And you aren't doing "contract-work" exactly. You are working "with" a publisher on projects that you negotiate with the publisher. I would encourage you to think of it as a "partnership" rather than a "employer/employee" relationship.

    Do most illustrators have contracts with multiple publishing houses?

    I do. And in my experience most do.

    If so, how are those deadlines handled if they overlap?

    Schedule your time carefully. Hit every deadline from every client.

    What is the usual turn-time expected from the start of the contract for a book to sending in the finished files? (i.e. how long do you work on a book?)

    I've noticed that it is about 8 months to a year. It is not uncommon to sign a contract and wait for the manuscript to be ready. So actual working time is shorter.

    Check out these podcasts:
    https://www.svslearn.com/3pointperspectiveblog/2018/12/12/the-life-cycle-of-a-childrens-book

    https://www.svslearn.com/3pointperspectiveblog/2018/11/29/how-to-work-with-art-directors

    https://www.svslearn.com/3pointperspectiveblog/2018/9/5/a-day-in-the-life-of-an-illustrator

    Join SCBWI and get a copy of "The Book"
    https://www.scbwi.org/online-resources/the-book/

    Check these out, and feel free to come back for discussion of the finer points.


  • SVS OG

    Short answer, you are only hired to work on that one book. After that book is completed, you are no longer employed by the publisher and is free to pursue other projects.



  • @davidhohn Thank you, I really appreciate the time you took to answer, and I will check out those podcasts!



  • @NessIllustration Thank you for taking the time to respond. That's an excellent overview! I hadn't even considered the fact that you'd contact publishing houses every year just to remind them you're there, or show them updated work.


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