The way to Illustrate Your Youngsters’s E book, Even If You’re Not an Artist

One of the questions a new children’s picture book author often asks is, “What do I do about pictures? Do I have illustrate my children’s book myself? If not, how do I find someone to help?”

If you’re asking these questions, you aren’t alone! Today let’s look at what to do about illustration for your children’s book.

This is a part of our popular series, How to Write a Children’s Book, and you can check out all the posts here. Today, let’s dive into illustrations!

Three reasons book illustrations are so important

In the world of children’s picture books, the illustrations are just as important (if not more so) than the text. Think especially of the very youngest reader. They may not be able to read yet, but they can certainly look at pictures. Following are three compelling reasons to ensure you are offering colorful and engaging art alongside your words:

  1. Illustrations bring to life a story in a multi-sensory way, imagining the sights, smells, weather and geography of a particular tale.
  2. Illustrations offer additional connection and learning points to a story. For example, let’s imagine an illustration features squirrels and bunnies. How many squirrels do you see?  What color are they?  What’s the biggest difference between these two animals?  Where do you think they live? So much additional learning can take place throughout the story in addition to enjoyment of the story itself.
  3. If children have difficulty with the words, the illustrations can help them figure out the story and improve their comprehension.

How do I know if I need illustrations?

The answer to this question depends on how you are choosing to publish your story, either through self-publishing or traditional publishing.

  • Self publishing: If you are choosing to self-publish either through Amazon’s KDP, Ingram Spark or any of the many hybrid publishers,  you will need to supply your own illustrations. I’ll give you ideas in the next section of where you might find an illustrator if that is not within your own area of expertise!
  • Traditional publishing: If you have been given a contract by one of the many traditional book publishers, they will be the ones pairing up your story with a professional illustrator.
    Often a publisher works with agencies like The Bright Agency, for example, that represent a myriad of book illustrators in various styles. Your publisher will choose an artist that reflects the tone of your story, age range of target market, type of book (board book, picture book) and where the book will sell. There’s often a difference between the picture book art you see at a big-box retailer versus an independent gift shop and this ties back to where the publisher sees the biggest opportunity for your product.
    I’m often asked if the author gets to help choose the illustrator. In most cases, no. This is done by the Art Director and/or book designer at a publishing house. If, however, you and/or your book agent have worked with the same publisher for a long time, you often develop a more collaborative relationship around your book where your input is sought and valued.

How can I find a professional illustrator?

If you’re on the self-publishing path and you need an illustration, you might feel confused where and how to find one. Here are several suggestions of where you might look!

  1. Yourself. Now, I only recommend this if you have a talent and expertise in this area. While it may be tempting to save money and time doing it yourself, I assure you that a poorly illustrated book is a disservice to your story and readers. Grown ups and kids are choosing your book to have a pleasant reading experience, and you don’t want to distract from that with unprofessional art.
  2. A local artist. Perhaps you know someone in your personal or professional circle who is an accomplished illustrator.
  3. A student at a local art/design school. I’ve known several authors who have sought an illustrator through a local college in their community. Students are eager for the experience and you may be able to negotiate a more affordable rate.
  4. The local chapter of the The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. SCBWI is a trade association for authors and artists and a fantastic resource to make contacts for illustrators. This group can be very helpful in guiding you as to fair pricing and agreements.
  5. Online groups. This Facebook group is a group independent authors and illustrators (and editors, rhyme experts, etc.) who freely share how they’ve found illustrators for their work.

The importance of expectations

Regardless of where and how you find an illustrator, you’ll want to establish clear expectations for the illustration process with this valuable partner in the book making journey! For example:

  • Compensation:  Will you pay per page or project? Is it a flat fee or a royalty arrangement?
  • Drafts and revisions: It is customary to receive initial pencil sketches for your book so you can see how the illustrator is planning to depict your story. Are you okay receiving these digitally or do you want to see actual print outs?
  • How many rounds of changes does your price cover? You’ll want to establish this up front as this can lead to frustration for both parties!
  • Will this illustrator be doing your entire book including the cover, too?  Book Cover Design is its own speciality and you’ll want to ensure your illustrator has experience designing covers or will you need to collaborate with a book cover expert and/or graphic designer who is adept with font choice and placement. If you recall from earlier posts in this series, I can’t overemphasize how important the cover is!

How to illustrate your children’s book: take your time

As you can see, the illustrator is an exceptionally important part of your children’s book writing process, and you’ll want to ensure you take the time to make the right choice for how to illustrate your children’s book!

I want to especially encourage you to pay attention to how you want your readers to feel when reading your story and enjoying is accompanying art. Do you want a bright, laugh-out-loud experience? A quieter, more tender nighttime wind down?  How about a multi-cultural explosion of color and diversity?

In children’s books, illustrations reflect how you want young readers to feel as they read.

Keep revisiting your Story Intention that we talked about very early on to help guide you through this important process.  And even if you’re working with a traditional publisher who is bringing your vision to life, be sure to speak up when your vision is not being realized. While you may not have the final say in such a decision, your heart for your project is an essential guiding light for all involved.

I’d love to hear what type of children’s picture book art you are most drawn to. And if you’ve worked with illustrators before, where did you find them? Please share in the comments anything that most helped you in your process


It’s your turn!

Take 15 minutes. If you’ve already started writing your book, think about the heart of the story. How do you want your readers to feel when they read it? Take fifteen minutes to describe your story intention and the feeling you want them to take away. Imagine what types of images might best capture those feelings. Share in the practice box.

If you haven’t started your book yet, consider writing down the first lines of an idea today. You can use the ideas here, or think about the character, message, and/or feeling you’d like to convey. List or free write those ideas and share in the practice box below. Be sure to leave feedback for other writers.

Enter your practice here: