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The Value of Professional Illustration

Most writers would agree that an engaging first sentence is key to capturing a reader’s interest and enticing them to read further, but what if that potential reader never picks up your book? Most self-publishers can’t rely on their name to attract an audience. If they could, they would’t be self-publishing, they’d be under contract with Random House and appearing on Oprah. However, a self-publisher can enhance the appeal and marketability of their book with professional illustration.

The illustrator’s job is to catch the eye of the web site browser or attract that bookstore browser to pick up your book and open it to read your evocative first lines. If your book is visually appealing, the chances of that happy circumstance occurring are greatly increased -- which translates into an equally increased potential for SALES!

Yes, illustrators charge for their services, and yes, most self-publishers are not rich, but if you want to compete with other professional products on the store shelves, yours must also look like a professional product. If you are not interested in selling your book, then by all means find the least expensive publication route possible and save your money. Aunt Jane will still cherish the generic tome you send her for Christmas.

As in any field, the big names fetch big money, but there are less well-known illustrators and graphic designers in every community who provide competent services at a reasonable cost. We’re talking the same rates you’d expect to pay a plumber, electrician, or carpenter to work on your home, or a mechanic to work on your car. You can sometimes find a talented neophyte with skills mature enough for the marketplace, but the most reliable option will always be a professional with a track record.

6 Tips on how to deal with an illustrator and what to expect

1. It's a good idea to first research publishing and printing services that cater to the self-publisher. There are many of them on the internet, but Amazon's self-publishing service Createspace is one of the oldest and best. They will have options for kinds of bindings, book sizes, number of pages allowed, and other specifications that the illustrator will need to know before beginning your project.

2. Visit the illustrator's web site, look at samples of their work and read their FAQ's. Does their style appeal to you and seem appropriate for your content? Don’t expect an illustrator to do work that looks like someone else’s work that you really like. Instead, go to that someone else. Also, don't expect an illustrator to match the style of another artist who may have left your project uncompleted.

3. If you like what you see, make contact—usually email is best. Send your inquiry as the illustrator has asked to receive it. (Did you read their FAQ's first?) That might mean including your manuscript and book dimensions, as well as any specifics about the illustrations you want, so the illustrator can offer suggestions, determine what they can or cannot provide, quote a price, and put your project on a mutually agreeable schedule.

4. Some illustrators want their fee up front. Some will ask for a deposit to begin work, with the balance due midway through the project or promptly upon completion. You are entering into a relationship that involves trust. That is why you seek a pro. Don't expect a professional illustrator to work on speculation or create illustrations for your book before you pay.

5. You will have the opportunity to approve the work or make suggestions or corrections before the project is finalized. Reasonable revisions are a part of the process—but if you change the scope of the project in midstream or request endless revisions because you, Aunt Jane, and all the other relatives can’t agree on some detail, expect extra fees and extended deadlines. Most illustrators will bend over backwards to try to meet your expectations, but there are limits.

6. Finally, copyrights belong to the creator unless negotiated away, but the client has the right to use the artwork for marketing their book and for promotional purposes in catalogs, ads, reviews, etc., without incurring extra fees. I also make clear to my clients that the artwork I create for their book is for their book only. However, unrelated commercial use of the work would be a separate deal. You should let the illustrator know if you intend to use the art for something other than the book so they can set the proper rate or royalty for those other uses. Many illustrators give self-publishers a break and don't ask for a royalty arrangement like they would routinely negotiate with a traditional publishing house.

In closing, it’s worth mentioning that no illustrator can guarantee that your book will fly off the shelves—the appeal of its content and the marketing effort behind it will ultimately determine how it sells. However, a unique, eye-grabbing cover and attractive page art are important components to an effective marketing strategy and should be a serious consideration when planning your self-publishing project.

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