Guest Post: How to Hire an Illustrator

The following is a guest post by Liz Amini-Holmes, an illustrator-for-hire and member of the Blurb Dream Team, a group of vetted book professionals you can hire for help with your projects.

Poke My Eye Out Portrait Art by Liz Amini-Holmes, Book Illustrator

I’d like to start by saying there are days when I get an inquiry from a potential client that makes me want to poke my drawing pencil into my eyeball.

Why, you ask? Aren’t inquiries exactly what artists want as freelance book illustrators? Well, that depends.

As I sip my morning tea and scan my emails, I excitedly open up an email inquiry from a potential client.

Inquiry 1

“Hello, Artist/ My Name Spelled Wrong/Anonymous/No Name…

I have a story, <insert any> painfully cute animals / sad, misunderstood clown lost in a supermarket/ hero fantasy starring yours truly/ avant-garde nursery rhyme written in Welsh. My children’s book is beyond amazing and I know this because <insert any or all if you like> my best friend/ professional snuggler/mother/ barista/cat behavior consultant, all LOVE it, therefore, I know it will be a best-seller.

I want all the art to be painted in a bright colored, digital, cartoony style, just like Pixar. Have you heard of PIXAR? You know the Animated Movie Company?

I have very specific ideas about the art and have figured out all the pieces in my head so I just need you to execute it. I want assurance that the artwork will look exactly like what I have in mind.

My budget is very small and consists of coins, bobbins, and lint from my desk drawer I can pay you in inconstant amounts over the course of the next five years. But I know as a freelancer you do this for the joy of it and you will get to ride on the coattails of my upcoming success. As I am sure this is hobby-job for you while your kids are at school, you do not really need the money.

Also, I need it done ASAP.”

When I read this, I have to walk away from my computer in frustration. But then, as if the skies have opened up, a new email request comes in.

Inquiry 2

“Hi, Liz,

My name is Jane Doe and I found your portfolio on in the Dream Team section. I think your conceptual, jewel tone colored illustration style would be a perfect match for my story.

I am looking for an artist to create a color cover and 24 full-color interior illustrations for my self-published picture book about a little girl looking for her lost dog in a mysterious forest.

Since I am new to the self-publishing market, I’m not sure what the budget for a picture book is and I want to make sure I pay you at a fair, competitive rate. My hope is to have all the artwork done by the end of the year. Is that a reasonable amount of time? Can you please advise?

If you are interested, I am happy to send you a copy of my manuscript to give you a more detailed idea of the story and character.

Thanks for your time!


An email like this instantly lifts my mood. She understands the correct way to inquire about hiring an illustrator. I want to hug her over email.

What went wrong in the first inquiry? Let’s break down why the first email put me over the edge.

Rule #1: Know My Name

This person does not know my name, does not use my name, or makes other big errors like misspelling my name. It is very easy to find my name if you found my email address. Google me! I am all over the place. An accurate, personal address makes me think you are serious about your inquiry.

Also, if there is no name attached, I will think you are sending out mass inquires trolling for responses, and my interest in the project drops significantly.

Rule #2: Introduce Yourself

You did not introduce yourself. A quick “Hello, my name is…” is a professional way to begin. You wouldn’t go into a face-to-face meeting and not introduce yourself. An email inquiry is a first time meeting between you (the author) and me (the artist), so put your best foot forward.

Rule #3: Let Your Work Do the Talking

It is healthy to have a good dose of self-confidence about your work, but it is easy to put off potential collaborators by sounding self-inflated. I understand you and the host of people who love your work are excited to see it get noticed, but let the work speak for itself.

Rule #4: Know Your Project

If the description of your work is too vague, or it is complicated and unclear, I can’t give you an estimate. Be specific. Give me a project description, a rough number of book pages, color or black and white, a deadline, and budget. These are essential requirements for getting an accurate quote from a professional book illustrator. I will need the basic premise and a few details about your story to know whether it is something I am suited for. I want to help you but I can only do that if I understand what your project is about.

Rule #5: Know My Work

Before you send an inquiry, take some time to review my portfolio or website to ensure I have a style that suits the project you have in mind. For example, I do not do cartoony, bright-colored work in the Pixar style. Most artists have their own style and shy away from requests to copy someone else’s. We know our work. We hope you know what works best for your particular project in the same way.

Rule #6: This is a Partnership

When a potential client informs me I am just to execute the art with no other input, I’m not very excited to work on the project. As a creative person, I understand that you have very specific ideas about your book. I am here to make your ideas come to fruition, but I am also here to add to the experience, to make it the best it can be. Since we’re both creatives, we both want the chance to use our voices and flex our muscles where we’re strongest.

Rule #7: Know Your Budget

Don’t ever ask a book illustrator to work for free. This is the profession I went to college and received an art degree for. I’ve worked for many years honing my skills. I have bills and a mortgage to pay just like you. The old cliché still holds. You’d never ask your lawyer, doctor, dentist, or mechanic to work for free. All good work comes at a price, and that includes artwork. Please research the costs before you hire an illustrator. A good place to start to look for pricing is the Graphics Artists Guild Guidelines or the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators website. Respect your own work enough to hire an artist that will make their work the best it can be.

Rule #8: Initial Payment

Be prepared to place an initial payment on the illustration job. This secures time on my schedule to complete your project. An initial payment also protects the book illustrator should the client unexpectedly cancel the project after they have started the work. This actually protects you and me.

Rule #9: Expect to Work With A Contract

We are talking about basic, good business practice. A contract protects you and me. You can expect it to include details such as the project schedule, the cost breakdown, specifics regarding the execution of the artwork, payment deliverable, all the details of our obligations over the course of our working together. The contract will also clearly define Rights Agreements specific to your project.

Sidenote: “ASAP” is not a proper schedule.

Rule #10 Follow Up

Please email me back if you are not interested. It takes a lot of my time to write up a proposal, schedule, and estimate of cost. It is just the polite thing to do.

In closing, know that, as an artist, I want to bring to your work my heart and soul and make your story come alive. It is a partnership, where we both compliment each other. Hiring a book illustrator is a big commitment, but it can be a fun and worthwhile experience.

To Sum Up:

  • Be professional
  • Set realistic expectations
  • Understand a contract is needed
  • Plan on a reasonable deadline
  • Know ahead what a fair rate is for an artist’s time
  • Treat artists with respect
  • We are in this together

Best of luck on your project!

We are lucky enough to have people within the Blurb book-making community share their thoughts and ideas on our blog.


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