Finding an Illustrator

A Written Remains Guest Post by Marcella Harte, Illustrator of THE MERMAID IN REHOBOTH BAY

Do you have an amazing book idea? Are you unsure whether or not it needs the perfect illustrator to make it complete?

The first thing that you’ll need to ask yourself is whether you plan on self publishing or if traditional publication would be a better fit. If traditional seems to be the most beneficial than look no further! While there can be exceptions, the chances of publication with any attached artwork are extremely slim. Editors have to like your manuscript, the illustrations, and the two paired together. It’s a combination that almost always stacks the odds against you. Self publication, however, is a perfect match for collaboration! Illustrations are critical promotional tools that will enhance your words, improve understanding of the ideas being communicated, and drive home an emotional impact.

When looking for an illustrator to collaborate with always be sure to ask yourself the following questions;
– What is the subject matter and the basic plot of your story?
– What is the intended audience?
– What is your book’s physical size and its page count?
– Will you need color or black and white illustrations?
– Why would you prefer a particular artist to illustrate your manuscript?
– Where will the book be distributed?
– How will the book be marketed?
– What is your experience and reason for self publishing?
– What is your budget?
– What is your production schedule and when will completed illustrations be needed?

Ask yourself these questions before contacting an artist. Thorough research and planning will show a potential artist that you are a professional that takes their work seriously. It also provides an illustrator with information that they need to make a decision on whether they may wish to work with you or not. This research is critical to the negotiation of a contract, as well as necessary for the completion of potential artwork.

Artists can be found through a variety of different routes. The internet is an excellent starting point, as any illustrator worth their salt will have their own website or be attached to an agent’s site. There is an immense variety to choose from, and information about the individual artists with their contact preferences is all laid out for you. Don’t be afraid to check out group websites such as those for the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators or the Graphic Artists Guild. Not only can you view many different professionals all together in one place, but they are extremely valuable sources for information and insight into the industry. Should you have trouble locating the right artist for your book online, than there are other avenues worth exploring. Try networking at book and art festivals. Peruse local book stores and libraries for illustrations that catch your eye. You can attend museums and art galleries, or contact a local writers group such as the Written Remains Writers Guild – you never know whom you might connect with!

Once you’ve decided on an artist, take a moment to be sure the following things are in order and close at hand;
– Your finances/budget
– Complete answers for the questions listed above
– A template for a legal contract
– Your final edited manuscript

Be certain to check the illustrator’s or agent’s website to see if they have any preferences for how best to contact them. If no preferences are mentioned, then I would recommend a brief, but professional email. Some information you may want to include in an initial inquiry would be;
– Subject matter & basic plot summary of your book
– The intended audience
– The budget
– Where your book will be distributed
– Your experience & reason for self publishing
– Why you want them to be the illustrator for your book

Should an illustrator be interested enough to follow up with a request for further details and a copy of your manuscript, always allow the story to speak for itself! Avoid boasting about how much others love your work, which will make both of you rich and/or famous, and the amazing exposure that it will provide. A well executed, polished manuscript is all that’s needed.

When all of your hard work pays off and an illustrator has decided to work with you, be sure not to celebrate too soon. There’s still one very important arrangement to be negotiated, the contract!
Everything has gone well so far, however, there’s always the possibility of things going south in the future. It is immeasurably important to negotiate a legally binding agreement outlining your working relationship.

A contract should provide the following assurances;
– A complete understanding of your business relationship, covering the full scope of work to avoid misunderstandings
– A precise record of which rights are being purchased & which rights you retain
– The language should be binding & legally enforceable
– It should provide protections for both you & your illustrator
– It should stipulate how & when payments are to be made
– It should stipulate what will happen if either party fails to follow through with their side of the agreement
– It should minimize risk

If your experience with contracts is minimal, I would highly recommend purchasing or borrowing a copy of the Graphic Artists Guild Handbook, which can be found at the GAG website. Additional contract information and advice can also be located online at such resources as the SCBWI website.
Another important point in working with an illustrator is flexibility. You’ve lived and worked with your story for a long time. You probably have very definitive ideas on how it should look. However, it’s far more beneficial for your book to avoid the temptation of micromanagement. Let your artist know what it is that you’re looking for, but also remember to offer a measure of trust and a reason for them to be invested. Illustrators who are respected as partners and are given the freedom to make decisions adding depth and dimension to a story, can elevate a book to an entirely new level.

We are all passionate about what we do. We love to tell stories, regardless of whether it’s through words or images. So let’s have fun! The more fun we have in creating together, the more it will reflect in our books!


Marcella Harte (Conlon) has been fascinated with art and illustration since childhood. The same passion and attention to detail that won her school a sizable arts scholarship followed her to the University of the Arts, where she earned her Bachelor of Fine Arts in Illustration.

Though currently working on a children’s literature project her portfolio is diverse, with pieces intended towards a variety of readers. Her publishing credits include the anthology The Stories in Between by Fantasist Press, a collection of science fiction and fantasy stories published in 2009; cover art for the All-Out Monster Revolt Magazine in 2015; and most notably The Mermaid in Rehoboth Bay, a national award winning children’s book published in 2016. The themes that run deepest in her work include fantasy and science fiction, with a special affinity for old folk tales and the supernatural.

Marcella currently lives in northern Delaware, positioned nicely between Baltimore and Philadelphia, with her loving husband and mounting piles of books, paintings, and sketches.

Her clients Include: Between Books (Claymont, DE), Muralistick (Devon, PA),  The All-Out Monster Revolt (Wilmington, DE),  and Cat & Mouse Press (Lewes, DE)

 

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