Working with Self Published Authors - Handling Book Design?

  • Hey guys!

    So over the past year I've had a fairly steady stream of requests from self publishing authors, and although that's not ultimately my goal it's definitely been able to pay the bills very nicely for me with something I love. Some of the results have been great portfolio pieces for me and it's all been pretty fun to do!

    But as I get more of these requests and I'm navigating how much I can charge (I am trying to get at least Β£2000 for a 32 page book, but this is already too much for many independent clients). One issue I keep deliberating with these clients is that I am never certain if they understand that my illustration services don't include designing the book layout and text. If I say I won't handle the book design, this means another cost for them and turns away some of these clients.

    I've been doing this in a bit of a vacuum and now I'm curious what you guys might do when you work with self published authors (if you do): Is Book design a skill we should offer as well? Is it maybe not even that big a deal to learn and include in the price? Or is it very fair to say that that's not our responsibility and the client will need to handle this or outsource this themselves?

  • In working with my self-published author, when I first started my contract only stated that I was required to do illustrations. HOWEVER...when the first book came out the formatting was, well, just not what I would have liked. For the next book, I offered to format the type as well (my boyfriend even got paid to translate the manuscript into Spanish so the book became bilingual).

    Ultimately, because my name was going to be attached to the book as well as the authors, not to mention I have some knowledge of book formatting, and (let's face it) I'm a bit of a control freak, I've offered to format the book as well, so that the type and the illustrations go together. This meant a slight increase in my fee, but my client has been wonderful dealing with that.

    You're correct in that self-publishing authors don't have much of a budget, if any. I earn about $3500 per book, which has increased from $2500 from my first book. For me, I take the payment. The reasons I do that are because it's not my primary source of income, the area of California I'm in is decidedly less wealthy than the Bay Area or LA, and it's to promote literacy in the Central Valley. I sort of consider this pro-bono work and am using this to help me develop my portfolio over the next few years (I hope to apply for agencies in about 5 years).

    So, I'd say it all depends on what you are comfortable with. I'd say if they can't meet your base price, they may not be aware of what this industry really charges. My client is very happy to have her firm pay to have me design the book (or my boyfriend translate the text into conversational Spanish), because she is a firm believer in paying for services. If your client isn't (and I know this can be hard because I'd struggle with this too), then it would be better to not work with them.

    In summary, definitely include book design in the price if you want to design it. If not, make it clear to the client that you're only responsible for illustrating. Some gentle instruction might go a long way in helping them understand!

  • When someone enters into self-publishing, they have to be open to learning all the nuances (and be willing to fairly compensate everyone they hire). You are right: to us it may be obvious that design is separate from illustration, but not to someone just figuring out the business. I've heard horror stories of self-publishers paying for and approving finished art before they've established trim size. That's entirely on the self-publisher as they're the one responsible for estimating and budgeting.

    Have you gone ahead and designed books for anyone at this point? Do you feel comfortable designing, or would you need to invest time in learning? Would you enjoy the process, or would your time be better spent on actual illustration? When people pick up a book they like, they more often say, "What great illustrations!," as opposed to "Wow, look at this nifty book design!"

    If book design is something you want to actively pursue, you could break it out and list it as an additional cost in your illustration quote. If a perspective client seems disappointed or tries to finagle a deal to get you to include design, there's nothing wrong with a just politely and firmly saying no. If they can't afford or haven't budgeted for a designer, that's entirely their responsibility.

    If you don't want to get involved with book design, you could maybe refer them to an un-Fiverry place to find a designer, or recommend a friend.

  • Pro

    @Nathalie-Kranich It really depends on you, and your level on ability and comfort in book design. You can always start learning it, take an online class or something and see if you're any good at it. Illustration and design are 2 very different skills: some of us are good at them both, but I know plenty of illustrators who SUCK at book design and especially type. I know it's definitely not my strong suit. For those people, it would be much better to be upfront about it and tell the author they need someone qualified to do this in order for the final product to be up to par.

    But as Lauren pointed out, you also have no way of knowing if the author will then go on to hire a skilled book designer or have their cousin Bobby do it for $15... I've even seen some authors try to do it themselves with no training at all! So relinquishing control of the book design is not always the greatest choice in self-publishing.

    The best solution would be for you to learn it, discover you're amazing at it, and then charge your authors extra to do it. That would be win-win-win for you, but obviously is not always possible. I'm not that good at type, although I've now picked up some tricks along the way so I'm not quite as terrible as I used to be. For my current book I thought it would look great with hand-written script and I was confident I could do it, so I offered to do it for an extra $500. The author was relieved he wouldn't have to look for someone separate (and the whole process that entails). Most authors are very happy to pay that extra to have that taken care of.

  • Thanks for all your great answers, those are all very good points. I'm glad for the confirmation that I'm at least not "unreasonable" for not naturally including book design. Type makes me a little nervous! But I am also curious about giving it a shot sometime with a budget-minded client and seeing if I could add to my skillset with this.

    For now my process is normally transparency of saying "I could help but I'm no pro at this", and hoping that I don't lose the projects! XD

    I totally agree that I've seen some of my first published clients make choices with the book design that I wouldn't have agreed with - but ultimately Rachel is probably right and the illustrations will ultimately shine πŸ™‚

  • Hi @Nathalie-Kranich, your work is awesome. Any reason you’re not chasing traditional publishers?

  • @Jeremy-Ross I am! Just not had a lot of responses. I had a few "We like your work and we'll keep you in mind if a suitable project arises" kind of replies, and I am currently working with one of Germany's biggest publishers on a series (super exciting!) It may very well be that I'm just not sending enough emails in quantity, and I fear postcards aren't working atm.

    But whilst there's a big lull between such opportunities self-published work lets me make some savings and practice my hand at working on whole projects at least. ^_^' I figured there's enough benefits to keep that up.

    Thanks so much for the compliment! πŸ˜ƒ

  • This is a helpful and interesting thread. Thanks @Nathalie-Kranich! Does anyone have info about any good book design courses online? πŸ™‚

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