Writers’ Blokke
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Writers’ Blokke

Thinking of getting your book illustrated? Some tips for authors

Vikas Prakash Joshi

From my childhood days, I always loved illustrated books. I remember reading Sherlock Holmes stories, and spending hours just gazing at the black and white illustrations, which have all the illustrations done by the legendary Sidney Paget. Illustrations make a book come alive, in a way that photos simply do not.

When I wrote my first book (My Name is Cinnamon-Hay House 2022), I obviously wanted to have it illustrated and have no regrets in doing so. I had many experiences in this process, both great, good and some not so good, and hence wanted to pass it on to any reader, thinking of getting their book illustrated.

Photo by Boston Public Library on Unsplash

The kind of illustrations

Be sure, before you start, that your manuscript is mostly done; an illustrator cannot make illustrations if the manuscript is still incomplete or may change substantially.

The first thing is to assess what sort of illustrations you want for your book. For that you can go through different kinds of books, in your genre, and material to assess the kind of illustration you want for your book and what is most appropriate for this particular book. This will be most likely in black and white; because color illustrations are very expensive to print on a four colour basis if you wish to print at scale. Otherwise, you need to subsidize its production or sell at that scale that it makes up for it or charge a very high price for the book. So take a call. If you are traditionally published, then check with the publisher whether they are picking up the tab or not. Generally, if the publisher commissions the illustrations, they bear all the costs.

Photo by Jerry Wang on Unsplash

Assuming you have got a sense of the kind of illustrations that you want for the book, then you need to identify the illustrators who have done those illustrations and contacting them if available and getting their reactions. I believe that before you decide on your own, it is a good idea to make a list of the illustrations you want in your book and making a detailed list of the same. Also hand over the book to the illustrator and ask her or him to go through it and mark out whatever scenes she chooses to illustrate. Trust me, an experienced illustrator has his or her own perspectives on illustration, and things will jump out at her which will never occur to you.

Scenes to illustrate

Once she identifies the scenes she wishes to illustrate, you can then compare it with your own list. Then you discuss with her and identify the scenes you want. When your book finds a publisher, you will need to share the rough sketches with her. On the other hand, if you want more control, you can also identify the scenes on your own and simply tell her to illustrate in exactly the way you want. Both work. Some authors are comfortable giving the manuscript; others aren’t.

When giving directions, don’t be vague. Make the descriptions as detailed as possible, while also giving the illustrator space to interpret things in their own way, and bring their own perspective.

Photo by pmv chamara on Unsplash

I use her a lot as you may have noticed, because this industry has a lot of women. Once that is done, you will need to draw up a payment schedule and the schedule of the accomplishments or milestones that have to be achieved before this or that payment is released as the next step. I suggest you draw up a contract for the record; don’t skip this step under ANY circumstances. It may take time, it may cost some money, but you need it to protect yourself and her. Please also ascertain the copyright of the book and its illustrations and the cover art; who has the copyright of the book, is it you or someone else? Do you have the right to use them in different places, like book swag, notebooks, book marks and so on? All this should be clearly established beforehand.


Illustrations have to be distributed roughly evenly through the book; you can’t have many in one place and nothing at all for many pages. It looks odd and disturbs the smooth reading experience. Illustrations can also be of different kinds; half page, full page, quarter page, small illustrations here and there. These can be laid out as it makes it much more entertaining than merely one page vertical or horizontal illustrations which can be boring.

Once these illustrations are made, they then have to flowed into the book itself, as low res images for the pagination team to take over from there. So mark which illustration goes where.

Where to find an illustrator?

As far as where to find illustrators, there are countless options. You can consult websites like Behance, Fiverr, SCBWI, Instagram, Facebook, you can consult other authors, ask a literary agent but one of the best ways is simply to find out the illustrators who have done for books for the people you admire or the books you admire and see if you can hire them, budget and time permitting. These are all busy people and you will find that they may take time for you to get your work done but then you get the chance to work with an experienced person. If you are working with a publisher, ask them to recommend someone; any publisher worth his salt will definitely know some good illustrators.

Photo by Clem Onojeghuo on Unsplash

A few final points

There are a few more points that have to be discussed before you sign the contract. First, does the illustrator get a few complimentary copies? Second, have a proper system of giving feedback at regular intervals to avoid any needless time and error later on. Have a date by which the files are ‘frozen’. Third, ascertain how the final files are going to be handed over? Are they to be handed over in JPEG or PNG or mailed to ? Will they email the final files to you after the payment is over, or will they hand over the files first, and then clear the payment? Finalize all these first.

Go slow to go fast

Illustrating your book, like all aspects of writing a book, is truly an adventure. But, as the saying goes “Go slow to go fast.”

Do as much as research as you can, be as clear as you can be about what you want, go through different mock ups, be thorough about who you want to choose, and then make sure to hammer out all the details with the graphic designer prior to framing and signing the contract. Don’t consider any detail to be too small. You will save time later on, during the execution phase. Have fun and happy illustrating!




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Vikas Prakash Joshi

Vikas Prakash Joshi

A writer, a traveller, a public speaker, a culinary enthusiast and more...stories and articles translated in 20 languages

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