Guest article by Gayle Martin

Finding the right illustrator for your next book can be a daunting task. Here are some tips from a former graphic designer to make the process easier.

There are times when clip art just won’t do, and the illustration for your book’s front cover is one of those occasions. If you write children’s books or romance novels an artist’s illustration on the front cover is a must. Those of you who don’t write in those genres may also want to consider having an eye-catching illustration with your front cover. It would give your book unique look, and who wouldn’t want their book to stand out from all the others on bookstore shelves? But how and where do you find a good illustrator?

A good place to start would be with your publisher. When I published my first juvenile novel, Gunfight at the O.K. Corral: Luke and Jenny Visit Tombstone, my original publisher hired the illustrator and oversaw the artwork. And while it was convenient having someone else do the legwork for me, I didn’t have the creative control I would have liked. I was able to offer feedback, but in the end the final design decisions were made by someone else.

By the time I finished the manuscript for the next installment in my series I learned the illustrator for my first novel had raised his rates and was no longer within my budget. I had also changed publishers, and my new publisher didn’t have an illustrator to refer me to. Luckily for me, I had been a graphic designer before I became an author, so I knew what to do. But for those of you who don’t have an art background the process of finding the right illustrator can be daunting. Here are some simple steps to help unlock the mystery of finding and working with visual artists.

Before You Begin Looking for an Illustrator

The process of working with an illustrator actually begins when you start writing your manuscript. Think about the visual images you are seeing in your mind as you write and make notes. You could write your thoughts down, or make stick-figure sketches, but get the ideas down while they are still fresh in your mind. Then imagine yourself holding your printed book in your hand.

* Are there any illustrations in the interior? Or is it just the cover?
* Are they color or black and white?
* If you are writing fiction, what do your characters look like?

Note: This is the perfect time to play casting director. As I write I think about the actors I would cast to play my characters. They can be today’s celebrities or movie stars from days gone by – it really doesn’t matter. The purpose is to create a visual reference of what my characters look like.

How to Find an Illustrator

Once you decide you are ready to find an illustrator there are many places where you can begin your search.

* Referrals. Ask other authors for the names of illustrators they have worked with. If you belong to an author or writer e-group post a message that you are looking for an illustrator. Chances are you’ll have many responses.
* Google. I found my illustrator by doing a Google search. I was referred to a web site called There. I found dozens of experienced, professional illustrators listed with their portfolios posted.
* Friends. Just about everyone knows someone who’s ‘an artist,’ and ‘who would just love to illustrate your book.’ But a word of caution here. Before accepting their offer, find out if your friend’s friend is a professional artist, and then review his or her artwork carefully, especially if your book is going to be their first paying job. I know a few folks who are budding artists, and while they have a genuine talent they lack formal training. Their artwork shows potential but doesn’t have the finesse of a professional illustrator. If that’s the look you want then by all means go for it. If not, find a way to politely turn down their offer.
* Art schools. If you are on a tight budget you may want to consider contacting the art department of your local college or university. Better yet, if there is an art college in your community, contact them. Art students, particularly those who are getting ready to graduate, will jump at the chance to have a paid commission in their portfolio. Oftentimes their work is as good of quality as a professional but they mostly likely will not charge as high of a fee.

How to Hire an Illustrator

Now comes the fun part – reviewing their portfolios. I had a unique challenge because I’m writing a series of juvenile novels, and I want the covers of all my books to look consistent. With the illustrator of my first book no longer available to I had to find someone with a similar style. The Internet made the process much easier as many illustrators now have their portfolios on-line. After doing my Google search I spent several days going through portfolios until I found what I was looking for. You may find the following suggestions helpful in your search for an illustrator.

* Review the portfolios. This can be a time consuming process so plan accordingly. Your book cover is an investment of time and money that you could be living with for some time to come, so choose wisely. As you look at different portfolios make a list of those whose work comes the closest to what you had in mind. Once you have your list compete you may want to look over the portfolios again so you can begin narrowing down your search.

* Contact the prospective illustrator(s). This can be done either by phone or by e-mail. Politely introduce yourself and let them know what you are looking for. Also let them know what your budget is. In the world of professional illustrators, $1000 to $2000 for a color rendering for a book cover is a reasonable fee. Some artists may charge more; others may charge less. Some may want you pay a portion of the fee up front, while others may not bill you until the job is complete. No two people work the same, so be sure you have an agreement you are comfortable with before you go any further. If something doesn’t feel right move on. There is no shortage of talented people out there.

How to Work with an Illustrator

The thing I hated the most when I was a graphic designer was the prospective client who didn’t have a clue as to what he or she wanted, but told me once they saw it they would know it. As soon as they said that I knew I was in a no-win scenario because no matter what I did for them it would never be what they wanted. Please do not do this! Graphic designers and illustrators are not mind readers.

* Provide much information as you can. This will go a long way to make their job easier, as well as help create a better working experience both of you. Go back and review those notes or stick-figure sketches you made while you were working on your manuscript. By the time I hired my illustrator I had a pretty good idea of what I wanted. My book was a juvenile novel about Billy the Kid, and I wanted my lead characters in the front of the picture looking at the viewer while an ambush took place in the background. This gave my illustrator an excellent starting point.
* Offer him or her the opportunity to read your manuscript. (But do not ask him or her to write a review – that is not their job.)
* Have a fair and reasonable deadline. Creating an illustration is a time consuming process. You will not get a good result if the job is rushed.
* Remember that no one can crawl into your head and see exactly what your mind’s eye sees. The artwork will be his or her interpretation of your idea.
* Rough layouts are just that. They are an indicator of the final artwork, but they are not the finished product. Don’t fret if they lack polish.
* Be clear and upfront about who owns the rights. As a general rule of thumb you will have the rights to use their artwork for your book cover and book promotional materials, such as postcards or bookmarks. But should you decide to use the art for something other than your book you may need to get the artist’s permission.

Take your time and do your research. Find the right illustrator and cultivate a solid, professional relationship with him or her. I found the right artist for my book cover and when the job was done I had a cover illustration that was far better than I expected. Your book’s cover far is too important for anything less.

About Gayle Martin

Gayle Martin is a speaker and author of Gunfight at the O.K. Corral: Luke and Jenny Visit Tombstone, the first in a series of historical novels for young readers. She is a member of Toastmasters International, a Candidate member of the Arizona Chapter of the National Speakers Association, the Arizona Author’s Association and Arizona Small Business Association Authors and Speakers Roundtable.