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Choosing an Illustrator
(When Self-Publishing)

by Stan Jaskiel

Note from Harold Underdown--Stan Jaskiel is an unusual illustrator. He wants to work with writers who are self-publishing. Why might illustrators not want to work with self-publishers? Self-publishers may have limited budgets, and may want to tell the illustrator what to do. Of course, this is not the way things are done in traditional publishing, where the publisher matches an illustrator with a manuscript, and illustrators expect to be able to develop their illustrations and the flow of the book on their own, or with the help of an art director. This can result in a book the writer didn't expect, and that may not be what a self-publisher wants. Stan is OK with giving self-publishers what they want. Here, he talks about some things to keep in mind when choosing an illustrator.


So, you've trawled through local bookshops, examined artist website after artist website and have more questions now than you did at the start. Who's the best illustrator for me? What art style should I use? What about the cost? Hardcover or soft cover? Do I self-publish? How do I find a printer? Well, I've drawn artwork for over 20 children's books and have some information here that I hope can help.

1. I Like Your Style

The cool thing about children's book art is that anything goes stylistically. Whimsical styles, cartoon-y styles, computer images, realistic paintings, semi-stick figures, even collages of colored paper all work successfully in telling children's stories. One big challenge is in finding just the right style.

But this wide range of options doesn't just impact the visuals you choose for your story. That's because each style comes with its own unique completion time--which can impact the artwork's price. So costs can vary quite a bit from illustrator to illustrator, depending on how complicated and time-intensive their specific style is. And this means that when you choose your illustrator, you also are choosing your style, which means you are selecting your price.

Now, most illustrators typically offer one specific style of art. It usually is what they're known for and they are very good at it. There are a few illustrators, like myself, who are comfortable working in many different styles and media. I do nearly a dozen different ones, which makes me more viable to more authors and helps me fit nearly anyone's price range by offering several styles that are budget-friendly.

2. Oops. . .!

Once you are working with an illustrator, the process typically starts with sketches. This allows you to ask for adjustments to these drawings, which can still be made easily and quickly at this stage. This is not true later on when the art is completed. These early pencil stages are when you should concentrate on changes you'd like to make to the drawings before the process gets too far along.

Once the final art is done, any adjusting, even if the art was produced on computer, can be time consuming and therefore costly to do. It may even require an entire page to be redone. To avoid this problem, your illustrator should provide you with pencil sketches to review, followed by a final pencil layout incorporating your changes, showing how the final art will look.

Now, no illustrator should have any issue with refining sketches at the sketch stage. It's all part of the process and very common. Most will include up to two revisions as part of their total artwork price. But you should ask if there's any additional cost if you want more than just two opportunities to make changes.

If there's any resistance to include what you want to see in the art that is telling your story, you might want to think about finding a new illustrator. You should never find yourself in the position of having to argue or beg to ensure your book's images will tell your story the way you want. I always feel my role is to help the authors present the story as they envision it and I never try to impose my thoughts if they are contrary in any way. In self-publishing, I feel that the illustrator should act as sort of a cinematographer. His role is to help the writer visualize the story she sees in her mind and help relay it to the reader.

3. And a Cast of Thousands

As part of the process of sketching and laying out the book, I suggest you try and edit the scope of what you'd like each page to show. “Less is more” are words to live by.

A good illustrator can visually suggest lots of information about the action and setting by creatively limiting the page's composition and carefully choosing the camera angle. A reader will often complete the full scope of a scene in their mind's eye if this is done properly.

Again, this is my cinematographer analogy at work. Whether you call it staging, layout or composition, feel free to ask your illustrator to take the reins and try some sketches of the scene that will be clear to young readers while still suggesting the amount of detail you originally sought. This path can also be more budget-friendly because there's less to draw and, therefore, faster to complete.

4. Can I Have a Word?

There's also the matter of the text itself. These are the words you sweated and agonized over, polished and refined until they were as perfect as you could make them. They'll need some special consideration and your illustrator can help you here, as well.

Some books are laid out with a page of art next to a page of text. If this is your plan you're good to go. But if the art and text will live together on the same page, some special consideration will be needed. That's because the text must be easy to see and not be placed where it will conflict with the background details.

The best way is to plan its location while the sketches for the art are being composed. Nearly all illustrators can do this with minimal fuss. Some may even find fun ways to incorporate text and picture that can add extra enjoyment for young readers.

5. One Last Step (and It's a Doozy)

So, you've got a great manuscript, great art, and eager readers you can't wait to entertain.

Putting it all together for printing or ebook setup is the last, big step. If you're with a publishing company you're all set. They will format the pages and cover so they're ready for printing, put the text and art in place, and give you samples to review before the presses roll. And, back in the day, this was the only path open to you. It was left to the publisher to decide if and when you would fulfill your dream as an author. Happily, today you have another way available and that is self-publishing.

During my career, I primarily have worked with authors who've gone this route and I've learned lots about ways to help them get their books into print. Most illustrators usually produce just your artwork and will deliver it to you in a format that's suitable for most publishers and that's fine as far as it goes. But if you don't have a publisher you're forced to go forward on your own without a designer or production manager.

Illustrators like me can help you here. We are able to deliver art in a publishable format, with the text placed properly on the page, that's ready for printing. We've also worked with printers as a liaison for the author to make sure the final book looks as good as it can when it rolls off the presses.

6. And the Winner Is. . . .

So, how do you know who's the right illustrator for you? There are many working today with varying degrees of experience, each with a different style and price range. It can be unsettling to commit financially to an illustrator to tell the story that's so important to you without knowing for sure how he will work out.

I've developed the practice of offering to do a sketch or two, at no cost, of a page from your manuscript to help you decide if I would be a good fit. This typically works out well for everyone involved. Authors are less apprehensive to hire an illustrator who does this because they're able to review a “free sample” of their art, while the illustrator gets a sense of the design and style they'd like, which in turn helps the illustrator plan his or her workload.

Illustrators are very comfortable signing non-disclosure agreements prior to seeing your manuscript, by the way. This protects the author's ownership of her story and maintains confidentiality. Most illustrators can provide these forms, which may be amended to include any additional concerns you may have.

And in Conclusion

The bottom line is that selecting and working with an illustrator should be an enjoyable experience, since you're about to see your characters living out the story you've worked so hard to create. Understanding these few steps can smooth out any potential bumps in the road as you move toward publishing.

If you think you might like to talk to me about your book and discuss if I might be a good fit I'd love to hear from you at sjtoons@aol.com.

I wish you great success going forward!

Stan Jaskiel

Visit StanJaskielCartoons.com to see some of his work.

Comments? Questions that weren't answered? Contact Stan Jaskiel at sjtoons@aol.com.

This article is copyright © Stan Jaskiel 2013, and may not be reproduced without permission. Single copies may be printed out for personal, non-commercial use.

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