How much time do you need for a 32 page picture book illustration?

  • Hi, everyone.
    I am courious about how much time do you need to complete a 32 pages picture book illustration?

    The timeline with the European publishers seems to be a lot shorter than in the US. With the first book illustration project, I was given 2,5 month to illustrate a 40pages picture book. I negociated to 3months, and barely got the project done.

    Since I signed with my agent in the UK, I have gotten quite a few project reqeusts. I have to turn down most of the projects, mostly due to too tight deadlines. With the last project request, it was too good, and I just can not say no. Initally, they gave me 3 months to complete the book, and my agent seems to manage to get 4,5 months for me to complete the project. I am really excited about the story, I just wish I can do this with not too much stress, and make it as perfect as I can.

    I think Lee at some point mentioned that the usual timeline for a picture book in the US is somewhere between 6-12 months.

    What are your experiences with publishers? what kind of timeline have you worked on for picturebooks? How much time do you need to compelte a picturebook without too much stress?

  • Pro

    @xin-li I think the 6-12 months is only what really good publishers give. It makes sense that's Lee, Jake and Will's experience, but when we get started that's not the norm (sadly). You would think because they pay less they should offer more time, but usually smaller publishers have tighter deadlines on top of tighter budgets, which is really too bad. The most common deal I get is 3 months for 24 pages. I once got 1 month for 12 pages which I just had to refuse. My first decent deadline (6 months) coincided with my first nice budget project ($10,000 usd for 24 pages, but half the pages were text so only 12 single page illustrations in the whole book). What a breeze that was, it really makes a difference! As you make your way up to bigger publishing houses and better paid projects, you should start getting better deadlines as well 🙂

  • Just for reference, it took me about 60 hours of actual sit-down work to do a 24 page picture book. So that was 11 full page illustrations plus the cover and then spot illustrations on the pages that had just words (things like bees or flowers).

    This was with me having full creative freedom and very little direction, so I wasn't doing many revisions based on comments. I think if I had to have someone give me changes I'd say it would easily be 100 hours.

    I got that done over the course of about 4 months, which I wasn't working furiously on it, but again I wasn't making many revisions either.

  • This worries me a little. I just signed with my agent and haven't got any jobs yet, but I also work a full time (non creative) job that I can't afford to leave until I start picking up regular illustration work. 3 months deadline while working full time elsewhere seems like a difficult deadline to meet, but surely I will need to take those jobs to get to the point where I am getting steady work! How do people manage their time at the beginning of their freelance careers

  • @NessIllustration thank you so much for sharing your experience. It was really really helpful to hear that. My agent just told me "do not worry, we will help you with one project at the time", which is also very helpful.

    @jdubz Thank you so much. Sounds like you are very organised :-). I think you are faster than me. I tends to take a long time to go through the thumbnail stage. Hehe... Maybe it will go faster after I am done more books. I think after the thumbnail stage, I am more confident that I can pull the project off. I know I need about 4-6 days for finishing a spread in average at this moment. But the thumbnail stage, I have no clue when I am able to solve the design, the pace, and composition. Some of the svs contest piece, it literary takes about 2 weeks for me to nail a concept. Of course, I do not work on the thumbnail 7 hours a day to get there. But I do not think it will help to work 7 hours a day on it either. I always feel like the stage where I do concept work can not be rushed, and I can not do work long hours each day on it either.

    @eriberart I would love to hear more of your experience after you started getting projects from your agent. Is your agent based in the US market? It would be interesting to compare notes :-). I talked about my worries regarding the deadlines with my agent. That was super helpful conversation. We did came up with some ideas on what to do about it. One thing I could try is to write my own story, with an author/illustrator book, you usually get a lot more time to work on the book.

  • @xin-li yes my agent is based in the US, so possibly if I get US jobs the deadlines might be slightly better. My agent knows I have a full time job, I’d like to be able to drop my hours at least to part time within the next year 😊I would like to write and illustrate books (I have a few stories i am working on at the minute) but at the same time I think I should illustrate other people’s books first and gain experience and more knowledge about the industry before trying to get my own books published!

  • I'm not sure where I heard that but I heard that children's books in Europe and in USA are different:
    In Europe the cycle of a book is much shorter than in USA so they publish more books in less time. Let's say that in the time in USA they publish a book in Europe they make 4.
    So that translates into lower budgets, tight deadlines and probably less quality.
    In USA they make a more curated plan for each book: marketing plans to make the book last longer in the market, art director, multiple rounds of reviews, etc. In Europe they burn the life of the book earlier because they don't even invest that amount of money and time.

    Specially in educational market... I once was asked to illustrate a 20 pages book for that market in 7 days (however the agent I had told me they were flexible with the deadline). I declined the job for multiple reasons.

    It's a crappy reality...
    And from what I've heard, yes, the average is 3 months.

  • SVS OG

    @jdubz wow really?!! 😲 😲 😲 your either joking or you're the fastest artist I've ever met! 😅 ✌🏼 ✌🏼 ✌🏼

  • SVS OG

    @xin-li Hi! I'm still currently in the trenches. The last 2 books I did only had around 1.5-2 months to complete. So I'm in no means qualified to give advice. 😅 I do wish you the best. 4.5 months seems a bit more doable than 3. Good luck! Do update us when your book comes out.

  • Pro SVS OG

    I mostly work for “big” publishing houses in our Europe country and the timeframe for a book usually is about a 6 month, sometimes even more, the problem is the pay - which hardly covers like one month worth of time. So to make my money worth, I would actually need to be able to finish a book in a month (which is ridiculous and it horribly affects the results, I cannot spend enough time sketching, etc).
    But I understand.
    The market for books in Europe is significantly smaller. For each language there’s just a tiny-tiny group of buyers, so I completely understand why they don’t have enough money. Because the book just possible can’t earn that money!
    And that’s also why I really really would like to get into the English (well USA) market with my illustrations. It is possible to make a living with illustration in my country if you are good but it’s a stretch and I feel I just cannot make better art because there’s never time for it.
    Sorry for long post 😳 I had to get it out of my system.

  • I have illustrated two books and it took me about 4-6 months to finish each, although I did not work on them full time. More and more children's books are being made and the shelf life of the books is shorter than it used to be. Also I live in Finland, so the market for children's book is a lot smaller due to language. Most illustrators (unless you are a "big name") who illustrate children's books cannot really rely on it as a viable income. They either have a regular dayjob or they apply for grants for their illustration projects which are difficult to get.

    The compensation for doing a 24 or 32 page book can be as little as 1000-1500 € which compared to the time it takes to illustrate a book is not financially reasonable. Which is a shame because it means that you cannot spend the time polishing the illustrations that you would really like to and you cannot solely focus on that type of illustration. That is why I am also trying to look for more international publishers and other types of work and creating my own stories. Also looking for a part time job right now that would pay the bills and take some financial pressure off "making it" as an artist. It takes time.

  • @cristamay I think your impression fits with what I heard from my agent regarding to timeline. This was something I wish I had learned before I signed with an agency, hehe. It is really not my personality to do things quick and fast. But I believe there is always a way to make things work somehow. I am working with my agent to figure out that at this moment. On the bright side, the book I am working on now is probably going to come out next fall. So it does not take 3 years for a book to be out in UK (which is sometimes the case in the US, I heard.)

    @Nyrryl-Cadiz wow. 2 months, that is really tough. I did last book in 3 months, I would say, that is like "60% good". You are definitely qualifed giving advice - you have a number of books under your belt now :-).

    @mag thank you so much for sharing. Which country do you located? I feel your pain. I used to work as a designer in the IT industry. The last book I did for the local publisher took me 3 months, and the pay is like a week's work for a design consultant. So It is crazy low pay for an illustrator here in Norway. I can say that I am in it for art, not mone, for sure. But it would be nice to firgure out a way to make enough money so I can make art :-).

    @hakepe, it is really interesting to comparing notes with fellow European artists. The pay in Norway is for a 32pg would be around 2000 - 2500 euro, which is not glamours either. I think part-time job is probably really smart from the sustainability point of view. Good luck with that 🙂

  • @xin-li oh, you're right! That means your book will be published sooner. Good point 👌

  • Pro SVS OG

    @xin-li I'm from Czech republic, so usually when I work on a book, it goes to Czechia as well as Slovakia, (the publishers usually have their imprint there and make a translation of the book for them), which helps a little bit with the prices, but still...
    The pay for a 32 page book in here would be about 1200 euro, which is really bad in comparison with other countries, but the cost of living is also a lot lower. I work in this industry full time (well, now on maternity leave) and make a living because I now how to work quickly and I also do some work for educational pub - both here and abroad - and that helps to patch my income. But I'm not happy about it.
    On the other hand, see my book on the shelf of local bookstore, that's kinda cool! 🙂

  • SVS OG

    @xin-li it was an educational book with only 8 illustrations so it was a bit lighter but It was still very tiring

  • Pro

    One thing to remember, for all of us who are making lower wages with these books, is to see the finished illustrations as assets and try to re-sell the licencing rights again. In the long run, that could mean making enough money from these illustration to be really worth your time 🙂 That means of course, that we should never sign over our exclusive rights especially for such a small rate. 1000-2000 euros is definitely not enough to forfeit your potential future income!

  • There are multiple factors to how long a book might take, and if you can’t control one, try adjusting with another.

    For instance, if you know it takes you 10 hours to complete a single page, a 32 page book would take you 320 hours. If you work only an hour a day, that’s going to take almost a year to complete! If you work 40 hours a week like a full-time job, it will only take you 2 months.

    So if you are very busy with other things, it’s just going to take longer. If you have short deadlines, you’ll have to give up some of your time on other tasks to work on the illustrations instead. Alternatively, you could change your art process or simplify your style to take less time to complete. If it took you 8 hours to complete an illustration instead of 10, and you worked 256 hours for those 32 pages, that means you’ve saved 64 hours of work total!

    That’s simplified, since emails, phone calls, revisions, etc. also take your time, as the general idea. Something has to give. If you’re stuck with a short deadline then something else has to give. If you insist on detailed work that takes 20 hours per page, you are going to have to have longer deadlines for sure.

  • @mag I have a lot of respect to artists who manage to make a living. It is a pain to see your works out there you are not 100% satisfied. But on the other hand, we always grow, we will be unsastifed with works we have done in the past. And that is a good thing :-).

    @NessIllustration Thank you for reminding everyone on this. An important point we often do not think about it.

    @StudioHannah It is really hard for me to plan my schedule this way. Maybe it is just I do not have enough experience, or maybe it is personality. I can not do concept work 7 hour a day, and I can not plan when I would land a satisfactory concept for an illustration, a spread I am working on. My limited experience is that good ideas tend to come when I am not under pressure, or not even trying very hard, and sometimes the best work I do is the "side project", not the main porject at hand. It is frustrating from planning point of view. But currently, I can not help it. The only way I am trying is to get as much time for concept development as possible. I once explained to an editor "the more time I have, the less time I need." It sounded ridiculours, but that is the reality for me.

  • @xin-li I would time whatever illustration you’re currently working on. I know it sounds a little nuts, but it’s very useful to have this information. That way, if you do 2 hours on Monday, 1 on Thursday, and 2 on Saturday, finishing the drawing, you still know it took you 5 hours to finish. With this baseline, you can negotiate for more time if you need it. “If you want work that looks like this, you have to give me at least X hours to complete it.” I certainly don’t work the same number of hours each week on my art stuff, but I do know how long it takes to do my different kinds of art. Knowledge is power 😉

  • SVS OG

    @NessIllustration i need to learn to assert this more during negotiations. When it comes to contract time, I just let the client have all the rights. I should really be approaching this differently from now on. Thanks!

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