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How much does it cost to hire a children's book illustrator?

I'M BACK, BABY! (In the office, that is.)

Let's kick this year off with a bang and answer the question everyone wants to know, but no one likes to ask; how much does it cost to illustrate a children's picture book?

As with most things, pricing in the industry often comes down to a case of how long is a piece of string? But that's not very helpful, is it? The thing is, there isn't exactly a children's book illustrator minimum wage, and every illustrator will charge differently, depending on a number of factors.

Traditional Publishing vs Self-Publishing

If you've written a story and you're hoping to get a traditional publisher to take your manuscript on, then I recommend you don't worry too much about what it costs to hire an illustrator - your publisher will sort that out for you. There's generally no point commissioning artwork yourself unless you are planning to self-publish.

That being said, if you're a curious cat, and you'd like to know what publishing houses are paying for illustrators, you can check out LiteBox's rate finder where artists can anonymously submit a few details about projects they've been commissioned for.

Before you can commission an illustrator for your self-published children's book, you'll have to consider your own budget. If the budget for your whole book is $5000, you won't be able to commission an iconic Kiwi illustrator like Gavin Bishop, and honestly, most well-established and highly sought-after illustrators don't take on self-publishing projects anyway.

If you've decided to self-publish and you're ready to commission an illustrator, there are plenty of incredible, talented and knowledgeable illustrators out there who might not be as far along in their career yet, but they'll still do a stunning job of bringing your story to life!

Royalties vs Fixed Fee

Generally speaking, when you self-publish, your illustrator will charge you a fixed price for the work. They may charge this fixed fee in instalments, and they also may charge extra if the scope of your projects extends, but there is usually no expectation of royalties.

Illustrators may have a limited licensing agreement that they work under, so be sure to read the fine print of their terms, and ask lots of questions if you're unsure about anything so that you know exactly what is included in their price!

Getting the best bang for your buck!

Illustrating a picture book should take your illustrator at least a few months, depending on how long your book is and how detailed the artwork is. Your illustrator should be charging enough to make at least minimum wage after they pay all of their expenses related to running their business and creating your illustrations.

The cost of living being what it is, this means that, if your illustrator spends eight hours on a piece of artwork, that's already $181.60 they need to charge you, plus they'll need to factor in costs for subscriptions like Adobe Creative Cloud, data storage, website hosting and other subscriptions (all of which could easily cost close to $150 each month), their equipment and materials, plus their expertise. That doesn't even factor in the time it takes to do things like their marketing and accounts, or the cost of outsourcing those tasks.

I mention this to say that, depending on your budget, and your personal preferences, you may choose to look for an illustrator living overseas, where the cost of living is lower than here in New Zealand.

I won't be going into detail about what I charge my clients because that information is sensitive, and also, I don't exactly have set rates since it is impacted so much by the details of each individual project. However, as I've been researching this blog I am feeling like I'm probably undercharging - whoops!

Anyway, if you're a numbers person, here it is; Reedsy, a one-stop marketplace for finding the right professionals to bring books to life, states that the average cost to have a children's book illustrated is somewhere in the realm of $2000-10,000 USD. With today's exchange rate, that works out to be around $3000-16,000 NZD, while that is annoying broad, self-publishing is definitely an investment and you do get what you pay for.

To sum it all up, every illustrator will charge differently, so I personally think it's best to have a clear idea of your own budget and then look for an illustrator whose art you love, who can complete your project at a price that suits you.

For more information and self-publishing resources, I recommend checking out SCBWI, and if you'd like to talk with me about the process of illustrating your book, or the costs involved - I'd love to chat, simply book a time to Zoom, or reach out via my contact form below!

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