Author - illustrator collaboration



  • Hi all,

    I have been contacted by an author to work on a book project together.

    Here is the context:

    • The manuscript is ready. I fell in love with the story and I would be truly happy to illustrate it.
    • He is currently publishing his first book and would like to push his career more in this direction
    • I am doing some private commissions, but I have never worked with a publisher before. I regard this as an opportunity to show my work as well.
    • He seems to be a really nice and humble person, who really aims for quality in his work and is willing to invest time to find the right publisher and do things in the 'right way'.

    Together, we are trying to figure out how to present the project to publishers who may be a good fit both for the story and my style. I have been upfront about the fact that there is a limit to the amount of work that I can do 'for free', although I know that presenting a book project entails a little bit of that. My main doubts are around the following:

    • What is the best way to present a project like this? Manuscript + Storyboard + 3-4 finished pages? This is what I have read in some articles/books, but I would love to know if it should be regarded as a 'must' or if you can get away with a little less than that as well (e.g. presenting the manuscript alongside my portfolio or maybe presenting some samples of finished art or character studies, ...I mean something to show which style we plan on using)

    • Are there any specific conditions that I should negotiate in this phase, apart from agreeing on the amount of time we are both willing to invest? Any DOs/DON'Ts or red flags you see in this set-up?

    I would love to hear your thoughts and learn from your experience.
    Thanks in advance! ❤



  • Hi Elena! Are yous planning for this book to be published traditionally and not self published? It is very unusual for an author and illustrator to work together before the book is sent to the publisher for their consideration. Publisher's choose the illustrators themselves for a manuscript, usually the author has very little (if any at all) to do with choosing an illustrator! I just say this so you are aware that it would not be industry standard. I am sure some author and illustrator duos have found success this way, but I would prepare yourself for what would happen if the publisher decided they only wanted the manuscript and not the illustrations, or vice versa and thought they had another project your illustrations are perfect for but didn't like the manuscript. This is just a thought for the both of you to consider. Is he planning to pay you up front, or would your payment be only the advance/royalties from the publisher?

    In your response to how to present the project, typically when submitting a dummy book the whole book would be completed in roughs with around 2 full colour spreads and a full colour cover. There's probably a bit of leeway with that though.



  • @eriberart thank you for these super important insights. It was actually one of my doubts as well and I am starting to understand that if I do decide to do this project, it would mostly be to get exposure and it could never lead to a joint deal with this author.

    His plan would be to publish traditionally and there wouldn't be any payment unless we signed a deal with a publisher, so this is where the risk is coming from, for both of us actually.

    I suppose the same could happen to someone who wants to be both author and illustrator, where maybe only one of the 2 'sides' of the project interests the publisher. At least, in that case, it's just one person and this person could still decide to accept the deal.


  • Pro

    @Elena-Marengoni I second Erin - Publishers like to pick the illustrators themselves. If the author is trying to pitch his story to a publisher and he intends to send it fully illustrated, I'm sorry to say he's showing that he hasn't done his research and has no idea whatsoever what is the process to get his book published. He says he aims for quality in his work and is willing to invest time to find the right publisher and do things in the 'right way'. I'm just curious why that doesn't include basic research into the correct process for submitting manuscripts? Maybe he's not so worried about wasting your time as he would be wasting yours. As nice as he seems, this whole thing reads like a red flag to me. I suggest you just email your portfolio to the publishers to try and get work from them. As an illustrator, that's all you need to do. You don't need a manuscript or a literary agent like he does, you just need to send in your portfolio.



  • @NessIllustration I totally see your point and, as I am reaching out to you, I know that he is doing the same with some more experienced people in his network, to avoid getting into something that may turn out harmful for both of us. We both don't have this kind of experience, so that's where his initial idea and my post came from.

    He isn't pressuring me into saying yes, nor I am willing to continue down this road given the clear input I am getting haha! 🙂 In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if he came back to me with the same findings that I gathered through this forum...



  • In any case, as clear as the feedback sounds, I would love to understand a bit more what the main problem is. Is it that a publisher would never accept 2 people that they don't know at once? Or the fact that we are both quite new to this world? I am trying to think what is the difference between this and an author-illustrator would be and my guess is a higher level of experience and simple process (1 person instead of a duo). I am genuinely interested in understanding this, to avoid making silly mistakes 🙂


  • Pro

    @Elena-Marengoni Publishers take a lot of care into pairing a manuscript with the perfect illustrator for it, the one who's art will fit the story most. They don't necessarily trust the author's instinct to pick an illustrator (and they're right, since a lot of authors think it's good enough to just pick whatever illustrator charges the cheapest). Anyway, professional publishers know the value of illustration in a book and they don't want to leave that up to chance. Sometimes, if they see a manuscript with illustrations they'll just straight refuse it on principle because it shows the author is inexperienced. Sometimes, the publisher might accept the manuscript but want to find a different illustrator.

    In the case of author-illustrators, it's a bit different. Since it comes from the same person, a lot of the time the text and illustrations will magically be the perfect fit. It all comes from the same mind and they understand their work and intent better than anyone. For a publisher, there are also other advantages to working with an author-illustrator. They only have to deal with 1 person so it's easy to organize, if they have a book tour they only have to book accommodations for 1 person, etc.



  • @Elena-Marengoni I think it's mainly that they need to feel confident that they can come to an agreement with each person involved, and when there are two people that have an agreement with each other, it can be so complicated that they cannot consider it. An author/illustrator is clearly responsible for all of it, so that's why it's different. It's also a different process when it's an author/illustrator. Each publisher has their own way of working, so an editor that would want to work with his manuscript and sees potential also sees that the work has already been finalized and not changed and developed before the next steps toward publication. I don't know the exact process, but the text is finalized and then given to an illustrator that might be working with an art director. So those that work together and then submit are essentially saying "here is something you might be interested in publishing even though we imagined we could do all the jobs your company is good at as well as you beforehand."

    It's basically clear that people that do that are not focused enough on getting good at their own role in the process, rather than making all of the fun decisions in seeing a project realized.

    But here's the more important thing, I think: if you have found a writer that you really connect with creatively, that is something to maintain! Not necessarily that you would be publishing together, but that you can help each other be better at your jobs. Nobody really talks about that here, but the support of someone whose opinion you trust is far more important than the chance of working together immediately.



  • @carolinebautista @NessIllustration I kind of feel dumb not having thought about these things but, at the same time, happy that I learned something new. It makes perfect sense and it is probably a reminder of where I should direct my energy, which is getting my portfolio seen and trying to get work by agents/publishers. Good thing I asked and I didn't waste time committing to the wrong thing.

    And it's true that this may never turn into an author-illustrator collaboration, but it could still be an interesting opportunity to build a network and exchange information.



  • @Elena-Marengoni I'm sorry if I was too blunt; it's not dumb at all! If you fell in love with his story, that is very different than all the writers that will probably approach you over the span of your career that have big ideas about how you can work on their story but have not started work on it yet. That's what I get sometimes right now and although the person thinks it is a compliment to what I can do, they don't know my work and I don't know theirs so it is very empty. So I have become very quiet about what I do all day, everyday, which is not good either.



  • @carolinebautista no worries at all! I was directing that note to myself cause your comments were so well-explained and documented that I went 'of course! it all makes sense now!' :):)

    I like what you are saying and the fact that there's beauty in having opportunities to truly connect and learn about each other's work, no particular expectations, no strings attached, just the beauty of sharing something personal or that you care about. That's invaluable!


  • Pro

    @Elena-Marengoni You're not dumb at all! We don't know what we don't know until we know it 🙂


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