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From Blank Page to Published (Part 3): Getting it Illustrated

Updated: May 2, 2020

After I had sent the two versions to the editors, I needed to work on getting the picture book illustrated. I divided the text into roughly 18 pages and wrote what I wanted each illustration to look like (i.e. father and daughter reading together; mother and daughter in memorial garden and a butterfly in the air). I didn't want to be too specific as I also wanted to allow room for creativity and originality from the illustrator. But having an overall idea of what each page should look like is definitely necessary before hiring an illustrator.

After I got all my ideas and notes down, I searched for an illustrator online. Originally, I had a friend I wanted to ask but she was quite busy so I decided to search online. A few indie authors suggested to search on Fiverr. Another good marketplace to find freelancers is Upwork. I've heard good things about both of them. Fiverr seems easier to set up and send out requests. There are a lot of things to fill in and select on Upwork and sometimes, the categories are hard to navigate. I have also explored Reedsy, which is a marketplace for all professionals in the book writing and production industry. They are more experienced in working with authors. It is slightly more expensive though, since they are so specific and specialised. I finally decided on Fiverr.

So on all of these platforms, you send out a request and describe exactly what you need done in roughly 200 words. Include the number of pages and illustrations you need - whether you need single or double spreads, style of artwork you are looking for, an expected delivery time, your budget, and an excerpt from your book. After you send out the request, those interested in the project will send you an offer with a description of what they will do to fulfil the job requirements and a quote of their fee. It is a good idea to ask for sample sketches before accepting any offers, and most illustrators are willing to do them. Only two out of over 10 illustrators said they do not do samples, of the ones I had asked. There were also a few who did not read my brief carefully and offered something I didn't want. One insisted that I use digital illustrations even though I stated that I was looking for a watercolour style with softer tones. I ended up asking 10 illustrators for samples sketches and asked them to illustrate the last scene of my story which I had attached with a description of what I wanted it to look like. I told them all that I would decide within three days and if they were interested in the job, they would need to submit their sample within those three days to be considered. I received some real doozies! One of them completely misinterpreted my description when I told her that the characters were of Chinese background. She drew the mother and daughter in oriental clothing with a shrine and windmill in the background. They were also smiling and looking directly at you, which was unnatural and felt like something you'd see in a textbook rather than a picture book. Most of the samples couldn't quite capture the scene. There was really only one illustrator that was truly able to illustrate the scene perfectly and even went above and beyond what I expected from a sample sketch. She filled in the colours and even overlaid the text onto the illustration to show the layout! It was gorgeous and beautiful and made me so excited because I could finally see the story come to life! There was no question and no contest. I waited one more day for a few others to submit their samples but I really made up my mind already.

This is that sample sketch:

After I accepted the offer, she sent me the first round of illustrations within a week. I realised that some pages had too much text and needed to divide it up and add pages. I thought about cutting the words, but I just couldn't! I really tried! I gave some notes on what I wanted her to change as well as the new additional scenes and pages I wanted to add. Splitting up the pages more gave me more room and flexibility to add some extra details. I had sent the story to a few beta readers and they suggested to add a small part in the middle to help tie it together in the end. It really made it so much better! The illustrator was kind enough to give me a slight discount for the additional scenes requested (I had five more). They were absolutely amazing!

Here's an example of one of the additional scenes I added. Doesn't it just look magical?

She did one final round of revisions and a new cover design. Originally, I asked her to make the cover the same as the sample. But some friends suggested to have a slightly different look on the cover.

Here is the original cover design:

This is what the final cover looks like. I ended up changing the font myself to match the interior font as well. Since it's a collection of diary entries, this font looks more like they are written by a young girl.

I must say that working with an illustrator is the most exciting part of the book production process! I was so amazed at how words could turn into such beautiful illustrations and see the whole story come to life! I can't wait to write another one and do this again!

It is also the most expensive part of the book production process. So illustrating the whole book, including the cover and my additional scenes came to $680 USD. (This is not including the admin charge from Fiverr and tips though.) It is not cheap to self-publish your own picture book! Even though I would love to do another one soon, I will need to save a significant amount! I really hope this one will do well and make some sales so I can at least break even and hopefully afford to do another one! If you like the story and book, please help me to spread the word and share it with friends and family!

To be continued in the next post...


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