Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Is Your Work Worth Money?

I've been sent a proposition and have been pulling my hair out for a couple of days deciding what to do. A friend directed me to your website and I knew you'd be the right person to ask!


I am a professional illustrator, although currently unpublished. I've sent in portfolios to publishers and had reasonably positive feedback so far - many of my submissions have been kept on record for future use. However, I've recently been contacted directly by someone looking for an artist to illustrate their poetry (it's fun and quirky in style and I believe I could compliment it well with my art). I'm not quite sure whether they intend to self-publish or submit the "final work" to an actual publishing house...either way, though, I've read time and time again that author/illustrator duos will NOT be accepted by publishers, regardless. Is this always the case? Even if the art is of a very high quality? I'm feeling a little out of my depth as this situation is all new to me and I'm not aware of the standard expectations of the illustrator either through a publishing house or in a self-publishing situation. Any information you can enlighten me with would be very, very welcome!!

If it's going to be self-published, sure, go for it. Be sure you get paid in advance.

If it's for submission to a publisher, DON'T DO IT. Publishers want to choose the illustrator.

Yes, if the art is of very high quality, the publisher may accept something already illustrated.  THAT'S NOT YOU.  I'm talking about Jerry Pinkney or Kadir Nelson or Marla Frazee or somebody whose art is exemplary and in high demand.

I don't mean to be unkind.  The fact that your samples have been put on file means they are better than the average art submission, and you may have a wonderful career ahead of you.  It does not mean, however, that your art is of very high quality.  You are an unproven artist in a competitive field.  Do everything you can to project professionalism-- including not giving your art away.  And that's what you would be doing if someone convinced you to illustrate their manuscript on spec.  Chances are high that it would be wasted effort.

8 comments:

Carin Bramsen said...

From one illustrator to another, I would recommend trying to think of your own stories, and making dummies of those. At the very least, it's good practice for what you'll need to do well when you get a gig: tell a story visually over 32 pages. Having a good dummy or two up your sleeve will make you more likely to catch the eye of an editor, art director or agent, imo. A top editor once told me that a lot of artists have a beautiful style, but can't do a (picture book) layout to save their lives.

Trying to come up with your own stories will keep the creative possibilities open, and you might find you have it in you to become an author/illustrator.

For making dummies, I've found two books helpful: Illustrating Children's Books, by Martin Salisbury, and Writing with Pictures, by Uri Shulevitz. Writing Picture Books, by Ann Whitford Paul, is one of the few books to focus on writing PBs, and I've found it a good springboard. (And read and scrutinize kids' books by the score, which you probably already do.) Best of luck!

walkinginpublic said...

E.A. is absolutely right... don't ever let an author "hire" you (unless you're looking to self-publish)! As an illustrator, I've gotten those propositions as well. But it really means that the author hasn't done any research on how to properly submit a manuscript and how the industry works... and that's not the kind of author with whom you want to start a project.

Publishers want to match an artist themselves, AFTER they've signed up a manuscript, so those are the people to say "yes" to. I know it's tempting to take any and all work, but trust me, this road won't get you anywhere.

Anonymous said...

"If it's going to be self-published, sure, go for it. "

Make sure you and the writer knows exactly what is involved, labor wise.

I was approached to illustrate a book by an individual. I wasn't interested for many reasons, and simply said no. She eagerly insisted that she will pay me for my time. So I asked her if she was prepared to pay me for many months of full time work. The conversation ended very quickly.

working illustrator said...

Basically, I'm endorsing everything EA said, with this very small asterisk:

You say that you're not published and that you're new to the business. It may be worth your while to engage with this person just for the experience of having to work with a pre-set text.

Not having complete freedom to choose the topics of the pictures and the necessity of working with someone else's opinions are both very central experiences when working in children's books.

It's really not the same head space as creating samples of your own choosing, as many an illustration tyro has discovered to his or her consternation.

I strongly - strongly - recommend not doing anything without money up front, and everything EA has said from the publishers' is true.

But if you really do like the texts, you may decide that the experience is worthwhile for its own sake as a sort of unpaid internship.

At the very least, you may get a portfolio piece or two out of it that you wouldn't have found your way to otherwise.

christine tripp said...

EA, I love that you often address Illustrators in your blog. There aren't many Industry blogs that do, so thank you.
Illustrator, the fact that this writer has contacted you with their manuscript attached, yet not explained what they intend to do with your work (self publish or submit) and not given you their budget or asked what you might charge is all too common.
Illustrators might get one request like this a week, often never hearing from the writer again, once they have replied with their rates for self publishing or explained to the writer that they do not need art to accompany a PB submission.
If you are interested in this project then you can ask the writer what his/her budget for illustration is. This will result in either never hearing from the person again (WHAT, they want MONEY for this great opportunity of working on my manuscript!!!!) or an offer.
Be prepared to say NO to any of these following scenarios...
From the new writer:
"I'm self publishing this, so I can't offer any money up front but will give you 50% of the profits"
"If you illustrate my book and I submit it and a publisher wants it, you will get 50% of anything I get"
"This will be a great exposure for you"
"This will be a good portfolio piece"
No, No, NO and NO!!!:)

Carin Bramsen said...

Christine, excellent list of things to say "no" to. I second each of those "no"s. I'm grateful to EA, too, for addressing illustrators' concerns.

Walkinginpublic, yes, the request itself reflects badly on the writer's professionalism.

Anon@2:52, I find it's hard for most non-illustrators to fathom how much work goes into a picture book. There's an old interview with Marla Frazee on Jama Rattigan's site, where she says, "When I read a manuscript, I want not to like it. In all honesty, I want to say no. If I end up liking it, I want not to like it enough. If I love it, then it starts to get complicated." It really is a big investment.

Working Illustrator, you make an interesting point about illustrating another person's text. For the illustrator who has his/her heart set on working that way, this project could be good practice. But I think it bears mentioning that trying to get paired with a writer isn't necessarily the easiest route to publication these days. Illustrators with any yen to tell their own stories might do well to invest their labor and time in developing those.

Anonymous said...

illustrators get approached regularly by:

- writers who think they need to find their own illustrator before approaching a publisher

- writers who are wanting to bypass normal publication routes so they try to "submit" ms's to published illustrators instead of agents or publishers

- writers who want to us to do a full book of illustrations on spec - often with no specific publishing plans yet

- writers who want to "hire" us for token amounts of money to illustrate entire books, again, often with no clear plans


Most writers who approach illustrators are naive, but some are being sneaky [unpublished writers trying to use a published illustrators connections]. In most cases, writers approaching illustrators suggests a lack of understanding of how the business works. Be careful. Research is pretty easy to do nowadays, what does it say that someone hasn't done the basic? Trying to sell an illustrated book is like thinking you are supposed to fully furnish a house in order to sell it.

A red flag in the question is "I'm not quite sure whether they intend to self-publish or submit the "final work" to an actual publishing house" That strikes me as something that a person who knows what they are asking for would make sure to be clear about up front when making the initial inquiry.

christine tripp said...

>There's an old interview with Marla Frazee on Jama Rattigan's site, where she says, "When I read a manuscript, I want not to like it. In all honesty, I want to say no. If I end up liking it, I want not to like it enough. If I love it, then it starts to get complicated." It really is a big investment.<

Carin, Oh to be Marla Frazee and be in a position of wanting to turn down work...(damn her and her sweet personality and amazing talent!!!:0)