Children's Book Pricing Question
Is $500 per book a fair price?
I got an email from an independent author who wanted to make a 3 book series and offered to pay $500 per book. From what I heard, this price is quite low.
I haven't yet asked the details of the project but, if I like the story and have creative freedom, I thought this would be a good learning experience and a nice addition to my portfolio.
I wanted to hear your thoughts on this and maybe suggestions for counter-offers to compensate for the client's budget?
Thanks in Advance!
Short answer: no. It’s not. And that’s coming from someone living in a tiny-tiny European country. I still would have to make at least three of these books in a month! to somewhat make a living…
But - if it’s a good learning opportunity, the client would knew you giving them a HUGE discount and you would retain a complete artistic control over the project (so you can have at least some portfolio pieces out of it), and you have the time to do it, AND you love the project and love the idea of working on this thing - then it might be worth some consideration?
Still… no. It’s not a fair price for a picture book.
I did a few of book projects where the price was this low - but I took them all as a “payed internship” in a way. I also let the client know the price is really low and I probably will not be able to work for the, again under these conditions. But I wanted to have some “real” work experience, and having a real book project to work on was a great chance for me to try to apply all the stuff I was learning. However this all came with a cost.
1)A book project is time consuming - even a “bad” book project. So when I was working on these badly payed assignments, I wasn’t free to work on something maybe better?
2) these bad bad books now have my name on it. I’m not ashamed I was working on them, but - I was a real newbie. My style is totally different now, my skills are on a different level too. And the writers I worked for were amateurs too (at least at the time), and it shows. And I’m stuck with these books for the rest of my life.
3) as I was trying to make my time worth the money I was getting per project, I rushed a bit. And that did not helped me at all when trying to improve my skills as an artist. Sooo… at the end, I’m still glad I had the experience, but as I see it know, working on some personal projects and giving my self enough time would be more beneficial even as just a “training” assignment.
Hope this all helps you decide! everyone’s situation is different, so what wasn’t as good for me maybe will be just perfect for where you are right now in your career. Good luck!
Your work is really great!
I strongly agree with @mag point #3 in the above post. You would likely be better off working on your own book dummy, or promoting to more traditional publishers / better paying clients.
But everyone is different, and you may just REALLY want to do a project like this (I know I did just starting out, but I didn't have a space like this to discuss the pros and cons)
So, with the pros and cons in mind here are some additional thoughts:
The details of this project might have some additional bearing on the appropriate initial payment.
Is this $500 a flat fee or an advance against royalties?
Honestly, either way it's still too low, but a royalty arrangement allows for the possibility of additional income down the road.
One book I worked on had an advance in the very low 5 figures but has earned mid 6 figures in royalties over the years.
While another was in the mid 4 figures, but has gradually earned royalties into the mid 5 figures over the years.
And of course many others have yet to earn out their advances at all (so, no royalties yet).
Are these 32 page picture books? Or longer? Or shorter?
Are these full color picture books or black and white or some limited palette?
If you do decide to take the plunge on a project like this, you might consider accepting just one book at a time, rather than 3 all at once. Test it out. See if the working relationship is a good one. See if the first book actually gets made etc.
Melissa_Bailey last edited by
Think about the time it will take you to illustrate a book. Depending on how many illustrations the book requires and how detailed it is, it could take you 100 - 300+ hours to illustrate. For the sake of example, let's assume that this is a short book with simple illustrations that will be relatively quick and easy to illustrate. We'll estimate it will take you 100 hours to illustrate one book for this author. If you break it down, you'll be earning $5/hour -- before taking out taxes and business expenses. So really, you'd be earning more like $4/hour.
Consider, too, that while you're illustrating that book, you can't use that time to work on anything else, so the time you spend on the book will have to cover your living expenses. Let's say you spend 30 hours a week illustrating the book -- it will take you a month to complete it (and that's rather quick, but again, we're assuming this is a quick and easy job). Can you live on $400 a month? Will that cover all your expenses?
But what if the author is asking you to illustrate a highly-detailed 32-page book for $500? You could end up earning less than $1/hour and it could take you several months to illustrate. Could you live on $400 for 3 or more months?
How long does it take you to illustrate a spot illustration? A full page? A spread? How many illustrations will this book require? What is your hourly rate? Add the estimated time + your hourly rate -- that is the absolute lowest price you should accept to do that job.
One more thing: always ask for project details first. The author should send you the manuscript to read -- if they don't, that's a huge red flag and a sign that this might not be a good client. It's unfair for a client to ask you to make a commitment without giving you all the project details. If this ends up being a project you want to work on, don't accept the $500; make a counteroffer.
As far as suggestions on counteroffers, that's tough because I live in the US, where the cost of living is higher and the going rate for illustration averages between $35-$50/hour. Also, we don't know the specifics on this particular project. But we can extrapolate from the above example. If this was a quick-and-easy job that was estimated to take 100 hours, and if a US-based illustrator had an hourly rate of $35/hour, then they might charge $3,500 -- a huge difference from the $500 the client was offering!
Hope this helps -- you've already gotten some great advice. Best wishes for you going forward!
lpetiti last edited by
@donnamakesart while working with an independent author can be a great learning experience for you, $500 is way too low. I get paid $3500 per book I work with on an author friend, and while I acknowledge that is still too low it’s also not my primary source of income, it’s something I use to build up my savings and have some fun money. $500 is definitely less than minimum wage.
@donnamakesart If the book is 24 pages it would take me minimum 3-4 months full time to illustrate it. $500 is barely enough to cover 1 week of expenses, so for the remaining 11-15 weeks I'd be in a hell of a pickle. Truthfully, at $500 per book you're literally losing money working on this.
xin li last edited by xin li
I agree with what others have said about the price. It is not a fair price.
Book illustrations are not well paid in small European countries such as Norway (Where i live). This is mainly because the market size is really small. But still, a 32 pages picture book is paid around 2500-3000USD, and with 10% royalty (a lot higher loyalty compared In the US and UK).
I would be careful with "paid internship" approach with an independent author. I am just not sure what she/he can teach you. Also royalty is a tricky question with a self-publishing author.
I know everyone is different. If you decide to do the project, make sure to get creative freedom, and also enough time to produce something you are proud of, and useful for your portfolio.
I also agree with David about accepting one book at a time, rather than 3. Depending on your style, three picture books may take you more than a year to do. The commitment is big for 3 books.
@xin-li I agree - most authors are inexperienced and relying on us to tell them how to publish their books, so we receive little guidance and end up guiding THEM! Honestly some Google research would be a better use of your time, @donnamakesart You're a very good artist and your worth is worth so much more.
Thank you everyone for the feedback! They really helped put things in perspective.
@mag Thanks so much for sharing your experience with working on similar projects. Yes, I agree. Rushing the project would not be a good experience for me or the client and I would just end up with work I wouldn't want in my portfolio.
@davidhohn Yes, I'm so thankful that we have a forum like this! I was pretty flattered and excited to have someone inquire for children's book but I thought I would hear a pro's perspective before saying yes and I'm so glad I did!
I asked some follow up questions as you suggested and, after weighing the pros and cons, decided to do my own project instead.
@Melissa-Bailey-0 @lpetiti This is a goldmine of information! Thank you for being transparent with the numbers. Living in a third world country, I'm used to very low pay. Having an international perspective on things opened my eyes to possibilities!
@xin-li The comment on "internship approach" with fellow beginners was really great food for thought. I was still willing to give it a try but when he mentioned how he had a specific style and vision for how the book was to be illustrated, I decided to do my own project instead.
@NessIllustration thank you so much for the kind words! It truly means a lot and yes, I'm probably better off doing Google research than being tied to a project I might not be proud of for 3 months :))
Melissa_Bailey last edited by
@donnamakesart you're very welcome! Your art is beautiful -- keep up the good work and well-paying jobs are sure to come along!
@melissa-bailey-0 thank you for the vote of confidence! It means a lot
@donnamakesart Honestly, you deserve better. That's hard to say when you're the one taking or refusing the job, but consider that if you're locked up doing this for a year and you get a better offer, you can't take it! You also won't be free to concentrate on your own priorities in your work.
Also, @NessIllustration says in her YouTube video about mistakes beginning illustrators make (I recommend it!), a huge one is asking too little. Oddly, there is a correspondence between how much you charge and how others view you as a professional. And also, asking too little hurts other artists because it feeds the idea that artists aren't worth their own time. This is especially true when you end up making less than you would doing a minimum wage job that has nothing to do with illustration.
And while it's true that there are self-published books that really look professional, there are many more that don't, and it's even rarer that they get professional publishing eyeballs on them. Also, it's unlikely that they would sell enough books to pay you royalties.
Again, maybe I'm not one to talk, but I do feel strongly about this. One only has so many years to work, so use it as strategically as possible. Keep plugging away, because I feel confident that you will make it!
@lauraa Very true! If we charge $5 people will think "Ohh, this crap is only worth 5 dollars" but if we charge $5,000 they will think "Wow! This is top of the line art worth $5,000!" There's a direct correlation to our price and how much they respect and value our work and our time. Clients who have paid more tend to respect our expertise more, give us more room to do our thing and cherish the finished product more. On the other hand, they expect an impeccable work ethic, active communication at every step and all the deadlines to be met.
Griffin last edited by
This would be appropriate pricing for a cover but for a book this is insulting in my opinion. Think about how much you want to earn per hour and from there figure out how long it would take you to illustrate a book. That should give you a good idea of what you should be getting paid. It’s great to get work and it’s tempting to take projects but I think your time and your artwork is worth more than this project. You’d get some good portfolio pieces out of it but if I were you I would instead spend that time working on my own projects which will also generate portfolio material.