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Building a Good Author/ Illustrator Relationship

Building a Good Author/ Illustrator Relationship

Nov 17, 2014

Whether you are an author looking for an illustrator or an illustrator hoping to draw someone’s newest book, the last thing either of you want is for the project to end with stress, resentment, or more problems than it’s worth. Having a good author/illustrator relationship is important, especially if you’re creating a series and want to keep the same look. Spending time with each new book trying to find an artist to replicate the original style because the relationship fell apart isn’t a good use of time or resources!

So how can you start a relationship off right? Here are some things to keep in mind:

The contract is CRUCIAL. Always have a contract. Always. Even if the artist is your friend, a contract is the only thing that will protect you in case things go wrong. A good contract should detail the scope of the work, how the work is going to be used, who owns the rights, and deadlines for both the work and payment—and also what happens if one party cancels the project, fails to complete the project, or fails to pay. Remember that the contract is intended to protect BOTH parties. The author is worried about getting what they paid for and having their expectations met, while the artist worries about getting paid and receiving credit.

If the contract is written solely in the interest of one party at the start, this lopsided favoritism will inevitably create friction with the other involved. Don’t be afraid to negotiate and explain why you feel changes to the contract should be made. If the other party isn’t willing to compromise or even discuss the issue, that’s a good indicator that they may not be someone you want to work with.

No payments should be sent and no work should be started until a contract is signed.

Remember respect. If your artist doesn’t feel like you value or respect them or their work, it’s going to affect how they work with you. Likewise, an author who doesn’t feel respected will begin to resent the artist.

It is extremely easy to forget how much of a skill illustration is. It took the artist years and years to get to the point they are now. You are hiring them because they are bringing something to your project you can’t do yourself. Please be sure that what you pay reflects the ability they’re offering you. Keep this in mind with artists fresh out of school, too—you may be tempted to use them because they will offer a lower price, but remember their inexperience. They might have no idea how much work a children’s book is until they do it and only at the end realize they should have been paid more and feel undervalued. So if they offer you an extremely low price, make sure you communicate clearly and the artist understands what they’re getting into before either of you begin.

Set clear expectations. If your artist does not explain their process, make sure you ask them to. When do you get to request changes—before a page is finished, after the initial sketch, or at the very end? What kind of changes might incur an extra cost? How long will each page take them? How often will the artist keep you updated on progress—every week? Once a month? Are they okay with you asking for an update? How much are they expecting you to be involved? Some artists prefer to get all the information in the beginning and then be left to their own devices, while others like to get continuous feedback from the author as they go. Knowing what your artist prefers—and what wayyou prefer—is important to working together successfully. Also, what kind of feedback are they expecting from you? All of these questions should be addressed before either of you sign a contract.

The clearer both of you are with how you anticipate and explain how the relationship will work, the better off you will be. Maintaining professionalism is also a key aspect of keeping the project going strong. This doesn’t mean that you can’t be friendly, just that neither party should let themselves be walked over by the other. An author should feel comfortable enough to tell the artist they got something wrong or don’t like something. Likewise, an artist should feel comfortable enough to tell the author when they don’t think a change is a good idea and why. Both should go in having the correct expectation for collaboration.

Remember the project! At the end of it all, you’re both in it for the project. Both of you are bringing it to life, adding what skills you have to offer to create something great. As always, communication is everything, but don’t let personal feelings distract you from doing your best.

Authors, your artist may be as nervous to work with you as you may be with them.

Artists, the author is worried about whether or not you’ll take good care of their “baby”!

You’re both creative people, but your skill sets are different. That’s what can make an author/illustrator relationship great! Stay on the same page, communicate, look out for each other’s best interests…and do the best you can. With a little bit of teamwork, you’ll do just fine and come out with a great book. And, hopefully, a relationship that’s solid for the next one!


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