Elizabeth Dulemba


Illustrating Self-Published Books
By Elizabeth O. Dulemba
(As seen in the Nov./Dec. 2009 SCBWI Bulletin)

     With today’s numerous self-publishing options, anybody can write and publish a picture book, and illustrators are being approached left and right to illustrate them.
     It sounds like a great opportunity, and a potential revenue stream in these economically hard times. However self-published authors rarely have experience dealing with freelancers or the publishing market and can have unrealistic expectations. This can create unique problems for illustrators. Don't let a self-publisher's lack of experience (or yours) burn you. Learn how to protect yourself.
     Never work without a contract. Even if the author is your favorite cousin, issues can arise. You need an agreement in place before you pick up your pencil. Topics that especially need to be addressed are payments, copyright, revision limits, and kill fees.

     Payment: If a self-publisher wants you to work solely for royalties or a percentage of the profits it’s usually because they don't have the money to pay you up front. But if they can't pay you, they probably can't pay for the marketing efforts required to make their book a success either. This means the book is unlikely to sell many copies and may never earn royalties. In other words, you could end up working for free.
     To guarantee you get compensated what you feel you should for your work, demand payment up front or in reasonable increments such as upon signing the contract, completion of sketches, and submission of final art. Royalties are usually unheard of in self-publishing and should therefore be considered an unexpected bonus.

     Copyright: Self publishers often want to own the work you create. Sometimes this is requested out of ignorance and sometimes it’s so they can then use the art any way they like from then on out. This can mean the artwork might show up in places for which the illustrator was never compensated or the illustrator never intended. This can also mean that in the off chance the book does do well, the illustrator won't share in the book's success.
     In traditional publishing, the illustrator always keeps the copyright to their work (the publisher usually pays for this). Keep your copyright and always make sure your artwork is returned to you. You created it, you own it. (You sell usage rights to your work.)
     UPDATE 2013: It can sometimes make sense to treat a project as work-for-hire, letting the client have the copyright. Perhaps the work is too topic-specific to be used anywhere else, you don't expect to stay in contact with the client, or you don't really care what they do with the artwork (not everything we create is precious). You may be able to maintain rights to use the work in your own self-promotion, which is all you'd ever need out of it. Use your best judgement.

     Revision Limits: Some people hire illustrators as ‘hands’ to create what they wish they had the skill to. This can lead to countless revisions and headaches as the illustrator tries to achieve the author’s vision (or a likeness of their grandchild or favorite pet - no joke).
     In traditional publishing, an editor is hiring you because they like your particular style or vision. They want to see what you will do with a story, not dictate what they want to see.
     There will often be limitations to how many revisions can be requested - up to three changes per illustration is reasonable. It’s also wise to try to work all the changes out during the sketch phase rather than after you’ve completed the final art.
     Update 2013: Make sure its in the contract how much extra you will charge for each revision beyond the allowed limit.

     Kill Fee: If you’ve given the project your best effort, a reasonable number of revisions have been made, and the author still isn’t happy, it’s important to have a kill fee written into the contract to pay you for the work you’ve already completed. Just because they don’t like the work, doesn’t mean you didn’t do it. You still need to be paid at least a percentage of the agreed total amount.

     All said, working with self-publishers has become a way some illustrators now supplement their income, but with strict parameters in place. If this is an avenue you are considering, protect yourself by making sure you work with a strong contract and realistic expectations. It only takes one bad experience with a self-publisher to convince you it’s just not worth your time, so in all cases, if a self-publisher isn’t agreeable to these terms, walk away.

** Elizabeth O. Dulemba is an award-winning children’s book illustrator and now author. Check out Soap, soap, soap ~ Jabón, jabón, jabón! (Raven Tree Press) this Fall. Visit dulemba.com to learn more and download free coloring pages for your school, library or bookstore.

-- Need to hire an illustrator? CLICK HERE and download Randy Gallegos free: "A Guide for Publishers: Learning How to Commission Illustration."
-- Read "Hi, I'm Looking for an ILlustrator for my Children's Book... 10 Questions to ask before you say, 'Yes!'"
-- I don't agree with all of these prices, but here's an interesting chart you might want to use for some ball-park numbers: Pricing Your Art
-- At The Abundant Artist: 5 Art Pricing Lessons I Learned the Hard Way (EVERY artist/illustrator should read this!!!!)
-- At Kathleen Temean's Writing and ILlustrating blog: "Strategies for Pricing Your Illustrating Work"
-- From Muddy Colors: Art for Exposure - Why an illustrator should NEVER work for free.
     All Artwork © Elizabeth O. Dulemba -  Y'all play nice, Okay?