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The Ultimate Guide to Illustrators for KidLit Writers

Are you trying to create a kid’s book, but don’t have an artistic bone in your body? Worried that you’ll need to illustrate your book or have to find an illustrator to get published? This guide to illustrators will help put all those concerns to rest.

When the two work together, authors and illustrators create some FANTASTIC books. And the best part is, neither has to be good at the other’s job to make it work. Read this article to learn what I mean.

The ultimate guide to illustrators for your kid's book | Children's book illustrator

The Ultimate Guide to Illustrators for KidLit Writers:

Like many new writers, I thought about illustrating my own kids’ books when I first thought about publishing. (I was a decent enough artist and I wouldn’t have to split the royalties. It made sense to me!)

However, I was very wrong in thinking I could be an illustrator. Illustrating for kids’ books is more than just drawing something decent. You have to be a storyteller but with pictures. And you have to do it well.

Not something I could do without lots and lots of practice. And I know it’s also not realistic for a lot of other writers. (It’s why we write — we’re good with words!) This is why you need an illustrator.

What’s the role of an illustrator?

Illustrators are obviously the people that draw and create the beautiful art to compliment the words in stories. Sometimes the same person will both create the words and the art. In this case, they’re called the author/illustrator. And in other cases, the illustrator is completely separate from the author.

Who’s job is it to find the illustrator?

With traditionally published books, the publisher will find the illustrator. And a lot of the time, the author won’t have much say in who they choose. (I have had a couple of friends who’ve been able to say yes or no, but not nearly as many as my friends who’ve had zero say.)

Once they choose an illustrator, the author and illustrator will typically never communicate either. This is to help protect the creative energy the illustrator brings to the story — you may have thought your character would do something VERY specific only for the illustrator to come up with a COMPLETELY different idea. And even if that bothers you, most of the time the illustrator’s idea is better.

For instance, in my picture book Pirates Stuck at ‘C‘, my illustrator came up with WAY different pirates than I would’ve ever thought of! (And she knew some of the vocabulary words better than I did. 😉) But I’m so glad she doesn’t think the same way as me. It’s how we were able to create a better book!

Kidlit Writer's Starter Kit | Your guide to help you write a children's book

But what if you self-publish?

When you self-publish, you act like the publisher, which means it’s your job to find the illustrator. But you don’t have to worry about knowing someone in the industry or paying heaps of money to do this.

Instead, you can search work-for-hire websites like Upwork and Fiverr for freelancers. I would highly recommend you have the potential illustrator create a sample of their art specific to your book to make sure they’re a good fit before you hire them. This way you aren’t disappointed halfway through the production time and ultimately end up unhappy with how your story turned out.

What’s your role with illustrations if you’re only a writer?

This may be a guide to illustrators, but it doesn’t mean all writers are off the hook entirely. You still need to be able to visualize your story and make sure to note important artistic elements in the story.

For instance, with my picture book Humans In-Training, the story is written in 1st person from the dog’s POV. Which means unless I tell the reader (Which in the beginning stages is the editor) upfront who my main character is, they could read over half the book before they understand it’s a dog.

But you DO NOT and SHOULD NOT put this information in the text. This would be considered adding unnecessary description and should be left to the illustrations. Instead, you need to add illustrator notes.

What is an illustrator note?

Illustrator notes are comments from the author to the illustrator about what they need to visualize. They are NOT, however, a direction for how to draw it.

For instance, in the case of my book Humans In-Training, I couldn’t have said: “This is a golden retriever puppy with crimped ears in a yellow hue.” All I could (and did say!) was “From a dog’s POV”. That way it’s just a quick note to put a visual in someone’s head as they read my manuscript. But THEY get to choose the type of dog.

These notes are normally aligned to the right and in either a lighter text color, smaller font size, or italicized to separate them from the real text, which is 12pt Times New Roman font.

Here are some quick pointers to illustrator notes:

  • Do include them when what you wrote can’t be visualized without explanation.
  • Don’t use them as a way to describe exactly what you picture.
  • Do leave room for the illustrator to interpret their own ideas.
  • Don’t put the descriptions in the story to help the illustrations make sense.
  • Do use them as many times as needed, so long as you’re following the other rules.

I hope this guide to illustrators has helped you better understand the role of the illustrator for your story! Remember, illustrated children’s books are a collaborative piece of art. Which means they’re only there to help you create the best book possible.

Even if the art isn’t exactly as you pictured, it will probably be a better story! So give your illustrator some love when you get one. They’re just another important piece to your publishing journey.😚

And for more helpful articles around the blog, read these:

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