Help! How to deal with self-publishing requests?

  • SVS OG

    The good news is, I launched my website just before the SCBWI conference! I'm still getting some kinks worked out, but I'm already getting a lot of messages via the contact form.

    The bad news is, I'm getting inundated with self-publishing requests. Most of them are clearly from people who don't really know what they are doing, so after about two weeks of agonizing, I have now come up with some polite boiler plate language to refuse most of them.

    The truth is, I was hoping to get contacted by an agent! I totally didn't expect this response, which requires a lightning-fast education in illustration business. Currently I am listening to every podcast and reading every illustration business site I can find, trying to get a handle on direct requests from authors and how to find an agent. I also re-listened to several of the podcasts last week, including 10 Reasons I Won't Illustrate Your Children's Book.

    But I don't want to just reject every such request out of hand. I haven't done a published book yet, and so I don't want to be so picky that I never work at all. And I have one request that looks more professional than the rest. This person has one previous book, and it does look good, though I have no idea what she paid for it or how much it sold (I plan to ask about the latter). She wants me to provide an estimate. And while I may just ask her what she has in mind (plus get more details about what the rights would be), is there any way I can get a solid idea of what I should charge? I gather the base flat fee is about $8000 for a 32-page picture book. Do I have the right to ask this, since I have never done an entire book?

    The truth is, I probably am a little bit picky. I am getting a very late start in illustration, I still work rather slowly (trying hard to speed up), and I know I only have a limited number of books in me, so I want them to be good ones. And while I would love to work professionally, if it comes down to earning any money whatsoever, I can teach ESL, which is work readily available to me and doesn't take as much out of me mentally and emotionally as illustration. And yes, I confess I am generally a little bit perfectionistic.

    Do you have advice, either on this request, on the idea of working with self-publishers generally, or on whether I am ready to submit to agents and publishers (the ones that allow it)? I just started making a list of publishers and agents to get an idea which would be the best fit, but am open to suggestions.

    Is there any way to get rid of this feeling that I am just stabbing around in the dark?! Thank you in advance for your advice!

  • Pro

    @LauraA You have the right to ask however much you want, hun 🙂

    You are right that self-publishing requests are too frequent and rarely lead to anything. I find it best to quickly sort them out by giving them a high rate and watch the non-serious ones scamper off.

    Even writing this information over and over can take a long time though so now I created a rate sheet for self-publishers. It states that I charge a base fee of $4000 for 12 pages, $6000 for 24 pages and $8000 for 32 pages. I have all the details on there: that it includes a cover, but doesn't include text. That it includes a standard non-exclusive license to sell up to 1000 copies of their book, and if they wish to license more copies afterwards I charge $1-$2 per subsequent copy (depending on the retail price of the book).

    This is just what I do, the terms and rates that work for me. You should feel absolutely comfortable having higher rates or even stricter terms if you wish.

    I find that compiling all this info in a rate sheet is very efficient to deal with self-publishing authors. I have a little copy/paste letter that just says "Thanks for reaching out! I'd love to hear more about your project. I will attach my rate sheet to get the conversation started. If you are interested, I have availability starting the end of May for a new project."

    This is very low effort and not time consuming at all which is very good considering most of these requests never pan out. But once in a while you get one that works out! I'm currently working on a book for a self-published author 🙂

  • SVS OG

    @NessIllustration Whoa! Fantastic, Ness! I knew someone would have just the right info on that. I'm so glad you responded. Thank you.

    P.S. When you say doesn't include text, to you mean lettering, like titles and such?

  • Pro

    @LauraA Yes interior text + cover title and such. That's because I'm not so good at text haha... I'm actually doing it for my current book because I wanted to try hand-written interior text, but I charged $500 extra for it because usually I just don't do any text at all.

  • @NessIllustration this is such useful information! Thank you for sharing it!
    @LauraA congratulations on your success from unexpected directions! I hope you get a good gig out of all these requests. What a potentially exciting problem to have.
    I'm sure you've build a great list of agencies to contact. A while ago @skillydan posted a list of 30-ish agencies to the forum, and I've added a few more to it. Maybe it'll be useful to you or somebody else here? Here it is:

    Advocate Art Agency
    Allied Artists/Artistic License
    Arena Illustration Ltd
    Astound Illustration Agency
    The Art Agency
    The Artworks
    Bath Lit Agency
    Beehive Illustration
    The Big Red Illustration Agency
    B.L. Kearley Ltd
    the Bright Agency
    Caroline Sheldon Literary Agency Ltd
    the Cat Agency Inc
    The Catchpole Agency
    The Copyrights Group Ltd
    David Higham Associates Ltd
    David Lewis Agency
    Elizabeth Roy Literacy Agency
    Frances McKay Illustration
    Good Illustration Ltd
    Graham-Cameron Illustration
    Inky Illustration
    Jenny Brown Associates
    Kids Corner
    KJA Artists
    Lemonade Illustration Agency
    Maggie Byers-Sprinzles Agency
    NB Illustration
    The Organisation
    Painted words
    Plum Pudding Illustration
    Purple Rain Illustrators
    SPi Global US, Inc.
    Storm Literary Agency
    Sylvie Poggio Artists Agency
    Symmetry Creative Production
    Sheldon Fogleman Agency
    United Agents LLP
    Vicki Thomas Associates

  • SVS OG

    @Valerie-Light Wow! Thank you! I just started an agent list today. I have been binge listening to Anoosha Syed's YouTube videos, which I highly recommend, by the way, and she suggested an agent spreadsheet with the submission requirements for each, who they work with, etc.

    @NessIllustration, I subscribed to your channel too and will definitely listen to all you have there. We are in such a good time for finding lots of resources online. There's so much more available now than there even was four years ago when I started trying to figure all this out, including more resources on SVS. We're living in an illustration renaissance!

  • @LauraA I'm happy to share whatever resources I've got! Thanks for the recommendation to watch Anoosha Syed's videos. I'm going to check that out! I'm not ready for an agent yet- I need to get a few other projects under my belt first, and it is so hard to know where to start!

  • @LauraA Thank you for posting this question! These are problems I hope to have in the near future, so I find this feed very interesting. Congratulations on launching your website!

    @NessIllustration That is a really smart approach! I'm adding it to my notes 😁

    @Valerie-Light Thank you for sharing this list! That's very helpful for getting started!

  • @NessIllustration would you be willing to share your contract with us?

  • Pro

    @carlianne I'm putting together a template that will be included in the online course I'm currently working on 🙂 It won't be out until at least the summer because I'm still writing the script and have much to do in front of me!

  • @LauraA hello! Great responses above! Adding a little more to this convo -- I've been freelance illustrating for 11 years, mainly for self-published authors and very small publishers. And yes, you'll get a lot of requests from self-publishing authors!

    First off, as others have said, don't be afraid to ask for what you're worth. You're going to possibly be spending hundreds of hours on a project, and you need to make sure your time is fairly compensated. In my experience, a professional client will be happy to pay going rates. Also in my experience, the authors who asked for a discount always turned into problem clients. It's a red flag to watch out for.

    So how do you find those good, professional clients? As Ness said, sharing your fees up front will weed out a lot of requests. Another good practice I've found is asking to read the manuscript right off -- it will help you see if this is even a project you want to take on and it weeds out potential problem clients (it's amazing how many authors don't think it's necessary to share their story with an illustrator). Another good practice is to communicate your availability -- you want to work with a client who values your style enough to wait for it if need be and who appreciates professional behavior.

    When approached by an author, this is my basic reply: "Thank you for your interest. I'd love to hear more about your project! Are you planning on self-publishing? Has the manuscript been professionally edited and is it ready for illustrations? Please share the manuscript so I can send you an accurate proposal and also see if this is a story I would be interested in illustrating (it will be kept completely confidential). Just so you know, my schedule is currently booked and my earliest opening is [month] 2021. Thanks again and I look forward to hearing from you!"

    In my replies to requests, I always ask 1 to 3 questions, like: What is the budget? When is your target publication date? Are you self-publishing? Etc. This is to 1) let the potential client know that I approach projects in a professional, businesslike manner, 2) start communicating clearly from the outset, and 3) help me gauge their professionalism and experience.

    As far as pricing, I do have a price sheet, but don't share that on my website. While I don't give discounts, I am willing to work with an author's budget, and there are ways to do that while staying close to my target hourly rate (reducing page count, reducing the size and number of illustrations, simplifying illustrations, etc.) If a client loves your style, wants to work with you and is willing to raise their budget to do so, they'll really appreciate it if you're willing to meet them halfway and negotiate a mutually-agreeable solution. Clients like that are usually a joy to work with, as they usually value communication and collaboration.

    This is what works for me so far, anyway. Hope you found some helpful tips. Your portfolio is lovely, by the way!

  • SVS OG

    @Melissa-Bailey-0 Thanks, Melissa! That's very good advice! And I recognized your piece from the critique arena right away on your site. I really liked it!

  • @LauraA thanks so much! ❤

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