Episode 7: 10 Reasons I Won't Illustrate Your Children’s Book

  • SVS OG

    alt text
    Art by Tanner Garlick

    Every time we get an offer to do a book we feel super grateful and flattered that someone would want one of us to illustrate a book for them, but for many reasons we can’t say yes.

    In this episode we get into the details of book publishing, including the economic, social, and career building reasons we take on certain book projects, and why we say no to others.

    Here are Will’s 10 Reasons for why “I can’t illustrate your children’s book.” Some of them deal more with submitting a book with an author to a publisher or self publishing; they are all things to consider and reasons for why you may want to second guess saying yes to that lady you know who wants you to illustrate her book.

    You can listen to the episode and read the show notes here.

    We'd love it if you had any more insight or shared you own experience with this topic, and let us know if your experience is different from what we talked about in the podcast.

  • @jake-parker said in Episode 7: 10 Reasons I Won't Illustrate Your Children’s Book:

    and reasons for why you may want to second guess saying yes to that lady you know who wants you to illustrate her book

    Oh my goodness I've made a terrible mistake...

  • This is a brilliant topic! I am going to listen to the episode RIGHT NOW.

    I get this query all the time and have to kindly put people in their place. AND I've made a SEVERE rookie mistake for my first ever childrens book... probably ticked the list of ALL the wrong things to do....plus more....

    Luckily I'm a good friend of the client now and we will make the future books better and better, haha!

  • SVS OG

    @jake-parker @Will-Terry @Lee-White This podcast is very timely for me. It's not a book but a board game that I've been wresting over whether to take on or not, or at what price-point I would take it.

    Point 7 (I think) is one of the glaring issues I've been seeing here with this particular project. Lee, you said this was your #1 reason of why you wouldn't do it (they don't know what they're doing... — This spills over into some of the other issues mentioned like lack of distribution and so forth. ) and it has been a huge issue for me (Do I really want to work on something that from my perspective may have little-to-no chance at success just so I can make a buck? Do I really want to commit myself to a client that has ambiguous direction and doesn't understand the process, costs, pitfalls, needs, etc. of development, production, & distribution?)

    I've dealt with enough painful, cannot-wait-for-it-to-end projects in the past where either the project idea or tasks themselves were something I disliked or the client was ignorant and/or incompetent in this area or had personality & work process issues. From my experience, these projects are rarely worth it financially (other than allowing you "to pay rent" if you have that serious of financial need) or for furthering career, portfolio, networking, etc. I've never put out "my best work" in those situations either as it seemed to be more of an exercise in pain management and meeting the basic requests as quickly & effortlessly as possible in order to move on to greener pastures.

    My/Our time is valuable. We can't get it back. If we are going to commit ourselves to projects, it will be at the expense of doing other things (opportunity cost), including non-business things like spending time with our family/friends, contributing to the wellfare of others, growing ourselves in some fashion, etc.

    I've already responded (prior to this podcast) that "this may not be the project for me but I may reconsider at such-and-such a budget." I'm mulling over the response I got right now, so I really appreciated hearing all of your thoughts on this as it helps!


  • A friend of mine, who knew my artwork, wanted to do a series of children's books. However the style she wanted was nothing like what I could do, and a bit outside my skill zone. (I do well with pastels, but not realistic human faces).

    I tried a few sketches to see where my abilities lay, and just couldn't do it. The project fell through.

  • Nice episode. I recognize a lot of these problems even though I'm still pretty new to all this. Strangely enough, I feel that fewer people ask me to illustrate for their vague book idea now that I've actually illustrated a couple of published books. Maybe I'm too experienced for friends to ask anymore but way too inexperienced for others to ask.

    I've also had the problem where the client haven't thought at all about style. At one point a client looked at my cartoony sketches and said "We don't like this style. Just draw photo-realistic instead". I was completely new to working with illustration back then and had no idea what to respond. They were very understanding after some discussion though.

  • SVS OG

    There’s a part of me that wants to send this episode along to anyone who asks me to illustrate their book, but I would be scared that they would take it the wrong way, depending on when they stop listening 😂.

    I just got a request to do a book from a relative last week and... I just didn’t respond to that part of their message. (They had also asked for a commission, which I thought was more likely to work out, so I responded to that part. They never got back to me but I’m not too worried about it.)

  • (first post on the forum, hi everyone!)

    This was a great episode; timely and a little terrifying (as I'm in the middle of illustrating a book for literally a lady i know). Luckily i am a graphic designer and a marketer by trade so can lift a lot of the layout, printing, marketing weight but this is my first venture out the gate doing this and...well, we will see how it goes. We are self publishing and doing a kickstarter to cover the production of a small run of books. At this point we are both in the same boat, we want to be able to point at something and simply say "I made a thing". I have a full time job in marketing so this is a "pointing in the direction of the mountain" type gig and a learning exercise for myself as i steer in the general direction of where i want to go.

    question: are "caned" or free contract templates online "good enough" for a first time writer and first time illustrator to get? Should we really hire a lawyer to get this right?

  • SVS OG

    I had a gentleman inquire about drawing a comic based upon a short story of his. Solicited me at a convention, I emailed him that I was interested in working with him but he ghosted me. Probably for the best.

  • SVS Instructor Pro

    Just listened to the podcast. As ever great points being made!

    Couple things from my experience in the industry:
    SCBWI -- My experience is that the organization does not encourage illustrator/author collaborations. I just want to clearly state this as it was a little murky during the discussion. As was mentioned in the podcast discussion there are regular breakout sessions during (pretty much every conference I've attended) in which this is discouraged for all the reasons mentioned in the podcast discussion. In fact, when I receive the "Will You Illustrate my Story" e-mail I regularly direct authors to SCBWI to learn all the stuff they didn't know they didn't know.

    Contracts: Good for everyone! Contracts have gotten a bad rap by the perception that they are tools used by big businesses to hurt little ones. While that is certainly true that has more to do with negotiating positions to the individual parties, than by the fundamental point of a contract. Fundamentally contracts are designed to allow everyone to understand their role in the project. Whether is be a book contract or -- as Lee suggested -- a critique group. This last is a great idea BTW. A basic crit group contract that everyone reads and signs -- that's a group I'd feel really comfortable sharing my ideas/book dummies with!

  • SVS Instructor Pro

    @pagurcia wrote: Question: are "caned" or free contract templates online "good enough" for a first time writer and first time illustrator to get? Should we really hire a lawyer to get this right?

    Short answer: No. There are many great resources for "standard" (often referred to as "boilerplate") contracts available. I can't speak for the online ones as I'd have to see the specific language. And we all know that the internet is full of GREAT information and a whole load of total rubbish! BUT, I can recommend Tad Crawford's Business and Legal Forms for Illustrators As well as Graphic Artist's Guild Handbook of Pricing and Ethical Guidelines and (for the childrens book industry) The Book: Essential Guide to Publishing for Children You should find a contract that applies to the specific project you are working on. In my experience you do not need to have a custom contract drafted by an IP attorney (unless you are working on a very specific and non-standard kind of project)

  • I really enjoyed this episode and I have definitely faced a lot of these issues recently after putting my recent work out there. The "I love your work and have just written/ almost finished writing a children's book. What are your prices/rates?"

    When I receive these kind of e-mails I usually state that I don't have any set rates as prices are based around the project rather than a per page format. I ask in return whether they have a budget in place, previous experience with publishing, who will be responsible for sorting out the typeface, layout and other issues that they probably haven't thought of. Usually I either don't hear back or they are not sure and just want to know how much I charge 😕 I have also received the "Let's collaborate!" messages, which will never pay the bills, but there are a couple of authors that seem to know what they are doing and have budgets/ understanding of royalties etc that want to keep in touch for future projects, which I may take forward someday.

    Maybe when the electricity and water is about to be turned off then I will be fighting for the scraps, but until that day I would rather work on my own projects!

  • Pro SVS OG

    This episode is undoubtedly useful for self-publishing authors or aspiring authors, yet I feel it neglects some aspect of entering the illustration world today. I totally agree with everything that is said about working with self-publishing authors - all very good reasons to steer away from those projects. But as I started promoting myself end of 2016, I got confronted with a wide variety of clients that are neither publishers nor self-publishing authors.
    There's small publishers all over the world which will not pay good advances...some would not pay any advances at all. Yet they have the machinery, the design, printing and distribution, and may well submit the books to awards and sell foreign rights.
    There's educational publishers or the educational imprints of big publishers, who will not pay royalties (and normally pay little) but may be a foot in the door. There's advertisement contracts, which will pay nicely but will do copyright buyout.
    There's companies who are not publishers but will commission picture books for whatever reasons and hire the whole team needed - yet have no idea how publishing is coordinated.
    There's app producers, animation studios, educational organizations, T-shirt companies...all hiring illustrators in different forms and ways.
    Entering the traditional publishing world today as an illustrator is a really tough call. I consider myself very lucky that it took me only about one and a half year to get my first trade book contract, and I have to credit my agent in full for procuring that. A visit to Bologna Book Fair or to any large SCBWI conference gives a scary glimpse into how much of a buyer's market illustration is - so many talented young illustrators out there vying for jobs.
    The "opportunity cost" is a very solid point to keep in mind...but if you are not getting any paid work it's tough to keep up motivation month after month (or year after year) and keep striving for the craft, the portfolio or your own projects. Writing and illustrating your own books is a nice endeavour if you have a realistic chance of selling them - which is not any easier. And turning down all jobs that are less than perfect becomes difficult if the perfect jobs take too long to materialize.
    And then there's the whole topic of experience - every project I've worked on has brought me further in terms of process, discipline and self-awareness in ways self-initiated projects don't. Possibly every one of those less-than-ideal jobs has been a necessary step to get to the good ones.
    I'm also not totally in tune with the idea that you can only do work you enjoy doing. Having worked as a designer, art director and in-house illustrator for years, I've had to do creative work I didn't particularly enjoy countless times. Even the worst briefs are opportunities to do good art - and sometimes I've been surprised by the experience. I'm currently working on a series of minimalistic illustrations for an app for my day job - nothing could be further away from my illustration style and yet I'm finding it surprisingly fun to do. I'm sure some of that will seep into my own style in a good way. I consider myself very fortunate to earn my living with art - I'm not so far (yet) that I feel comfortable putting conditions to that, though I can imagine that could well be the case one day.
    I guess what I want to say is that I really enjoyed the podcast and all "10 reasons" are excellent points (particularly with regard to working with self-publishing authors) but may need to be interpreted in a flexible way when considering the challenges of starting a career as professional illustrator today.

  • @smceccarelli very valid points raised which would make for some great discussion points for future episodes (e.g. projects such as apps and interactive storytelling etc, new ways that illustration is being commissioned).

    However I do think this episode was supposed to be hyper-focused on the topic of being approached by an INDIVIDUAL (not a publisher or company) in the context of the traditionally published childrens book route, and isn't meant to discourage from other kinds of offers that may come to the table.

  • SVS Team SVS Instructor Pro SVS OG

    @smceccarelli I totally agree! But since we only have around an hour of time, we have to focus on one particular thing at a time. If we got into every way an illustrator gets approached we would be talking for days! haha!

    We will address those other areas in future podcasts for sure!

    Thanks everyone for listening! : )


  • SVS OG

    I listened to this podcast and will just say I'm really glad I didn't take that illustration job for a friend of a relative a couple of years ago. I was glad then too, but now I know why.

    But for now, just wanted to add that I particularly appreciated the use of "losing your artistic license." Good quip--Jake, I think it was?

  • Such a great episode, fellas. And fantastic new podcast. Really enjoying as I work. I can't count how many times I've been asked to illustrate someone's story and just how hard and time consuming it can be to explain to each person the reasons why I can not take on the project. One measure I've taken over the past year to curb this, is that I now explain that all inquiries will go directly to my agent. Since making that notice on my website, I've gotten much fewer email requests. I'm still fielding these requests in person, and typically direct them to the SCBWI as well as always asking if they intend to self-publish or query editors. If they say they would like to be traditionally published, I always advise them to never spend a penny on art and to only send the completed text to editors. New authors do not realize that it is nearly the kiss of death when they send their ms with art attached. Thank you guys for the great podcast. Looking forward to more great episodes.

  • SVS OG

    Listened to this yesterday. And I’m currently involved in a project with a friend. 😬 but, we have no intention of making anything big out of it. It’s just a story he tell his girls and we thought it would be fun make a board book just for family and friends, people at church... So, I feel like that’s not quite the same. I love what Lee said about the Neil Gaiman principal. Gonna have to watch that speech. And I think I’ll feel more confident about saying no from here on out. It is remarkable how many people who ask what Im doing with my art just happen to have a children’s book they’re writing...

  • SVS OG

    Great episode, the three perspectives were really interesting too. I once got an inquiry about illustrating a poem someone wrote. I had recently listened to Will video about self-published authors. When the client mentioned the main character was based on her daughter, I imagined troubles in the future of not getting her character exactly right and said no thanks.

    Best advice from Will & friends is to talk money early. That tends to weed out quite a few requests and save you time. I got a commission request last week for a "quick sketch" and when I sent over my pricing info there were no further replies.

  • Thanks for another great podcast with such great advice about this very relevant issue.
    There's definitely a few times where I wish I could go back in time and say 'no' where I've said 'yes'. The struggle is real.

Log in to reply