How To Handle Art When You’re Self-Publishing Your Children’s Book

by Lisa Balthazar

If you’ve taken on the role of the self-publisher and are working on an illustrated children’s book, consider the following tips:

Find an illustration style to match your story. There are as many ways to illustrate a book as there are to write it. Look at already published books and see how various illustrators realize their styles. Decide on a few that you like.

Find an illustrator. If you have ample resources, you can track down the exact illustrator whose style you like and inquire as to her interest, price, and availability. In the event your funds aren’t overflowing, you can take the example of a style you love and use it to find other, hungrier illustrators who create art in a similar style. (Note: Several children’s book designers are affiliated with Book Editing Associates.)

Research. Go to both online and real-world venues where children’s book artists hang out and promote their wares. If you can’t find anyone through the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, you can check out art colleges, book conferences, or the annual comic book convention in San Diego.

Put together a written agreement. Before contacting the illustrator, decide whether you want to pay the illustrator a flat fee or partner with him, sharing in the proceeds (and hope that he is amenable or willing to negotiate).

After you agree on fees and basic scheduling, you both should sign and date a contract, which usually involves hiring an entertainment or publishing attorney and should cover, at minimum, the scope and quantity of illustrations to be produced (how many sketches, pencils, pieces of color art, and corrections will be considered reasonable); formatting instructions, including size, black-and-white versus color, and so on; any pre-production preparation of art; the book design and layout fee (if both parties are splitting the cost, irrelevant if not); the total amount to be paid the illustrator (for example, a flat fee or an advance against a portion of the book’s royalties); a schedule for payment; whether the illustrator will transfer or retain rights to the illustrations — and be specific regarding which rights; and a schedule for delivery of sketches, pencil illustrations , final color art, and any corrections.

An element that’s just as important as a contractual agreement is the feel-good mojo between you and anyone you work with — especially someone with whom you partner to realize your lifelong dream in book form. Get references and ask pertinent questions about working with that person before you hire him or her.

Establish open communication. Open communication between the two of you about what you both expect in terms of your involvement in the illustration process and its details ensures you start off on the right foot — and stay there. One way to make sure you’re on the same page is to create a sample page together — another reason spending time on sketches up front will save time and heartache later in the illustrating process.

Pay attention to the details. Here’s a checklist for what makes good art great:

The images not only complement the text, but also provide spark and personality, earning their space on the page. Some illustrations may replace text; others may add an all-important layer of deeper meaning. Regardless, each page or spread has to come alive with an exceptional interpretation of an active part of the story.

The images employ different perspectives from page to page, focusing on different aspects of the main character and taking place in different parts of the scene or context of the story.

There’s consistency from page to page, spread to spread, regarding characters and backgrounds (if a shoelace is untied on the first page, it should remain so throughout; if your main character’s eyes are hazel, better make sure they don’t turn blue all of a sudden).

The images also incorporate variety. There is nothing more boring than viewing inherently the same illustrations throughout an entire book. Intersperse spot art against a white background with a spread of full-bleed art here and there.

Give readers the world as it appears from a short person’s point of view (POV) looking up instead of always looking down at them. Give readers three-quarter views and aerial perspectives instead of just front and side views.

Although different illustration styles require different focal characteristics, all must have that little something that appeals to children — be it charm, personality, simplicity, sweetness, humor, quirkiness, or plain old goofiness. Good illustrators (and good publishers) pay attention to all of these issues as well as to each and every minuscule detail.

Lisa Balthazar is an award-winning and bestselling writer and editor of books for children and adults.

She is affiliated with Book Editing Associates and

About the Author

childrens book editing services by Lisa BLISA BALTHAZAR is a publishing executive and book editor with over 20 years’ experience in the industry. She currently works with writers who intend to self-publish as well as writers who are preparing query letters and book proposals for literary agents and traditional publishers.

Lisa was Editorial/Publishing Director for Golden Books, Price Stern Sloan-Penguin Random House, Intervisual Books, Gateway Learning Corp (Hooked on Phonics), and other established publishing houses.

As an editor, Lisa has helped hundreds of published authors hone their skills as writers. She is always a writer’s toughest critic but biggest cheerleader.

Lisa's critique letter and developmental editing includes character development and character arc, storyline and plot points, drama and conflict, pacing, dialogue, writing style, effective transitions and chapter breaks, grammar, formatting, PLUS any issues with your novel you might not be aware of.

"Lisa is an excellent editor. She has edited several manuscripts for me that were sent to my agent who accepted them without change and sent them on to various publishing houses. They were published with a minimum of editing, thanks to Lisa's insightful and enlightened work. I highly recommend her." —Ellen Jones

Quick tips for children's book writers:

  • If your character hasn't changed at the end of your story, chances are he isn't yet fully fleshed out.

  • If your character talks to himself or does a lot of wondering aloud, he needs a friend to talk to.

  • Don't create main characters who have a problem they don't solve themselves or who don't change throughout the course of the story.
  • Don't talk down to children as if they're small, idiotic adults.

FREEBIE: Lisa's clients receive her Manuscript Formatting and Grammar Guide.

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