Will you illustrate my book?

I get asked multiple times a month, in one form or another, the following question...


The short and truthful answer is usually, "I'm sorry. I can't."

But you probably want the long answer. So here it is (condensed to basics). There are a couple of options if you have a picture book you want published. You can go the traditional route or the self publishing route (and I'll add a third option too...non-traditional).  Here is an explanation of what those options entail and why I end up saying, I can't.

1. TRADITIONAL ROUTE:  Publishers choose the illustrator. The author has no say. The publisher is the one footing the bill, who’s experienced in the industry, and who organizes the whole shebang. They know what sells and who is professional enough to illustrate a book. A book is a collaboration. Your part is the manuscript. And then you give up control over the rest. The illustrator makes it even better by adding subplot and nuances you’d never imagine through the pictures alone. Then the publisher’s graphic designer chooses the appropriate font, places the type and lays out the whole book for the printer. The marketing team develops a plan and begins selling your book to buyers before it’s even printed and getting it on the book buyers lists (retail shelves). They give the author and the illustrator an advance against the future royalties and then when the book starts selling (a year or two after acceptance by publisher), you start earning a 5% royalty on the retail price of the book. Once the $0.75 of each book sold adds up to equal what the publisher gave you initially, you start seeing a paycheck from the publisher. That’s called earning out your advance. If your book never sells enough to make you money above the advance, you don’t have to give any of that advance back to the publisher. That’s the risk they take…putting up all the money. They also only make a small profit on the book themselves (if any at all). Their take home after all the expenses of marketing, printing, overhead etc. is only about 10% of the retail price of a book.  "Who makes all the money?" you ask. The book resale companies. Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Walmart, etc. They mark up a picture book by about 50%. They get all that markup (minus their shipping, overhead etc.) But even after all this is said, the traditional route is usually by far the most lucrative way to publish a book.

2. SELF PUBLISHING ROUTE: You choose the illustrator and negotiate terms. Terms of payment, royalties, contracts etc. It's a big headache and you can get into a lot of legal trouble down the line if you or they don't know how to legally work all that out up front. You also have to oversee all print press readiness, (file format, pre-press layout, etc.), find a printer, and attempt to hire a distributor. Unfortunately, there are VERY FEW reputable distributors if any who take on self-published works. If you don’t have a distributor, you cannot get into bookstores and onto shelves. You may be able to do a signing at a Costco or get it in some boutiques, but not into actual bookstores or even large chain stores like Walmart and ToysRus (which actually sell a lot of children's books). But if you want to sell books out of your garage, hand peddle them to boutiques, set up an online store for them…by all means…self publish. It’s a grueling and difficult task to do it all but some people make it work. And there are even a few success stories. But personally, it’s far too risky and too much work with little return on the investment for me to go that route personally. And overall, the sales of a book really really depend on marketing. If you already have a huge following of people in a certain community (5K plus) who would definitely buy your book, then maybe you could make this route work. I'm personally not that popular so...My answer is still, "I can't" self-publish.

You could make your book into an ebook and sell it online via Amazon Kindle, the Nook store, as a downloadable PDF file on your own site or various others. Doing this gets rid of any printing costs and shipping costs and a lot of distribution problems. However there are issues with ebooks too. 
- You have to get your book formatted correctly for a WIDE range of devices which is really really difficult. So you have to pay a tech head to do it or try an learn yourself.
-You may have to pay a fee or a commission to have your book on sites like Amazon, Barnes&Noble, or iBooks. 
- You are not given preferential billing as a self-published person on the ebook sites. Usually publishers get their books to the top or their are special sections dividing the two "classes" of books, self-published vs publisher. 
- You still have to market the heck out of a book to get it to sell.
-I've tried this route. It didn't work for me. But the costs are low out of pocket. But high time and expertise.
KICKSTARTER: is another avenue of publishing that's close to the idea of print on demand. Check out books on their site and you'll see what I'm talking about. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. If you have a big following already in the social media world, it may work. Or if you are producing something for a niche market. It worked WONDERFULLY for my friend, but it was really hard work. So much packing and shipping and printing to figure out. 
APPS: These are definitely not the way to do a book. Too many apps out there and books are not games. If you want to make a game, go ahead. But I'm not an app illustrator. So I don't do these. So much technology goes into creating and the marketing of them is completely hit and miss.
SO OVERALL in the non-traditional route, I say "I can't." I've learned it takes too much time doing what I don't want to be doing to go this route.

Here’s a great website to read through to determine your course of action…

Also, if you are serious about writing children’s books beyond just this one, I highly suggest joining the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. I learned sooooo much from them and also was given lists of publishers to submit my work to. http://www.SCWBI.org  Check them out.

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I'm a freelance illustrator working in the children's book industry. I love kids and raising my own 4 children. They are the inspiration and the passion behind all I do in art and in life. See my website at JulieOlsonbooks.com

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