Shop Forum More Submit  Join Login


When you're a self-published author, you have to wear a lot of hats - editor, designer, marketer - sometimes 
all the hats! That includes being your own art director and communicating with illustrators. As an illustrator, sometimes emails from self-published authors can be, at best clueless, at worst downright insulting. If you want to work with a professional illustrator, sending a solid inquiry email is essential. Here's how to increase your chances of making a good first impression.

  1. Don't begin by talking about how tight your budget is. Imagine if someone burst into your office and the first words out of their mouth were, "I can't pay you very much!" Would your response be "tell me more!"? Illustrators receive a lot of requests for cheap or even free artwork. We don't expect everyone to be made of money, especially self-publishers, but nothing will elicit an eyeroll more than bringing up a lack of funds right off the bat.
  2. Don't try to downplay the amount of artwork. Illustrators understand the phrase "just a few quick sketches" to be code language for "I can't pay you very much and I want you to feel ok about that."
  3. Don't gush about how your project is exciting, special, a guaranteed bestseller, an instant classic, or a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. You don't have to "pitch" the illustrator your concept like you would with an editor. The artist's first concerns are the type of artwork involved, the deadline and the budget. You don't have to convince them that your project is the next big thing, and you only risk coming off as pretentious and possibly delusional.
  4. Don't ask the illustrator to imitate another artist's style. What the illustrator hears is "I want to hire this other illustrator but I couldn't afford them, so I'm using you as a cheap knockoff." What you see in the illustrator's portfolio is what you're going to get - so if that's not what you want, don't hire them.
  5. Don't mention "exposure." People bring this up so often, illustrators like to joke that "you can die of exposure." To us it's another coded message meaning "I'm trying to make up for the fact that I can't pay you very much." An illustrator can judge from the type of project you're proposing how much exposure they're likely to receive. You don't need to bring it up.
  1. Start the email with a compliment, a mention of how you found the artist, and which of their images made you think they would be a good fit for your project. A little flattery never hurts, and being specific distinguishes your email from a generic spam message sent to hundreds of other artists. Also, use their name.
  2. Describe your project succinctly and simply. For example, "I'm writing a collection of poems about California wildlife," or "I'm working on a middle-grade novel about a boy who goes on a mission trip to Mexico." You're a writer, you can do this. I believe in you.
  3. Describe exactly the amount and type of artwork you will need: the number and size of the pieces, color or black-and-white, what it will be used for. For example, "I need 12 black-and-white spot illustrations of California plants and animals, for use as chapter headers," or "I need a color cover featuring the main character standing outside a small church in Mexico." If you don't know how to describe what you need, try asking other authors for some basic illustration terminology.
  4. Mention the deadline. Asking the artist if they are "available" means nothing without some sort of time frame. If you're flexible on the deadline, ask the artist how much time they think they would need. The more time you can give them, the better. Remember that many illustrators work on multiple projects; if you need your art in a hurry then they may have to turn down other paying work in order to get it done on time. But if you have a long deadline, they can work on your project around other paying work.
  5. If you have a pre-determined budget, say it without apologies or excuses. If not, ask the illustrator how much they would charge for this project, or if they need more information in order to make that determination.

Here's an example of a fictional, well-written inquiry to an illustrator:
Hello Kelley,
I found your portfolio on Deviantart and really enjoy your use of color and sense of humor, especially the piece "Dragonflower." I am looking for an illustrator to create a cover and fifteen b&w interior spot illustrations for my self-published middle-grade novel about a lobster who becomes a famous K-POP star. I would need this cover by mid-August. As far as budget goes, I'm not sure what the going rate is for something like this, so I am open to suggestions for a fair price for a project of this size. Please let me know if you have any questions. Thanks for your time!
It's short, polite, and hits all the major points: type of artwork, budget, deadline. There's no excessive flattery or groveling, or promises of "exposure" and future riches from this "guaranteed bestseller." (By the way, feel free to steal my lobster idea, and please send me a copy of the book once you've written it.)

Many illustrators are happy to hear from self-published authors who can communicate clearly and respectfully. Now that you have this information, go and approach illustrators with confidence!
Add a Comment:
 
:icon914four:
914four Featured By Owner Apr 21, 2015  Hobbyist General Artist
Thank you for this, I wish I had been able to read it when I first joined dA.
In my first attempts at contacting illustrators I was more concerned about publication rights, and led the discussion with that. As an amateur motorsports photographer who has had a couple of images published, I recalled the release forms I had to sign and how much time I spent trying to figure them out. This caused confusion my initial negotiations and made me doubt my own requirements (I was asking for perpetual shared rights to the images because I didn't want to have multiple different covers for eBook, hardcopy etc). Thankfully, the cover artist I eventually went with was experienced and provided the agreement terms I needed, no questions asked.
Reply
:iconkelleybean86:
kelleybean86 Featured By Owner Apr 21, 2015  Professional Digital Artist
I'm glad it worked out for you in the end!
Reply
:icon914four:
914four Featured By Owner Apr 22, 2015  Hobbyist General Artist
It did, and I even got to keep the originals, which now hang framed in my office :-)
Reply
:iconjakerrundle:
jakerrundle Featured By Owner Apr 11, 2015  Hobbyist General Artist
An excellent journal article. 
This is surely one that I would love to link to from time-to-time as well. It spells it all out very punctually and clearly. 
Cheers! :) 
Reply
:iconkelleybean86:
kelleybean86 Featured By Owner Apr 12, 2015  Professional Digital Artist
Great! I'm glad you liked it.
Reply
:iconpsychopyro813:
PsychoPyro813 Featured By Owner Apr 10, 2015  Hobbyist General Artist
Hi, I know you have no idea who I am, but I just want to say, you are an inspiration. I love your style, and I think it's fantastic that you are able to make a living doing something this cool! I'm just a psychology student auditing a class on Illustration for funsies, and I was doing some research for a fairy tale assignment (which I didn't finish because my supplies went missing and have yet to turn up) when I stumbled across your art. Anyway, this is very useful information (even though I'm not actually aspiring to be a freelance illustrator). :)
Reply
:iconkelleybean86:
kelleybean86 Featured By Owner Apr 11, 2015  Professional Digital Artist
Thank you very much! I really appreciate it.
Reply
:iconnova-rose14:
Nova-Rose14 Featured By Owner Apr 8, 2015  Hobbyist General Artist
This is so helpful! Thanks
Reply
:iconkelleybean86:
kelleybean86 Featured By Owner Apr 8, 2015  Professional Digital Artist
You're welcome!
Reply
:iconthiamor:
Thiamor Featured By Owner Apr 8, 2015  Hobbyist General Artist
You dont's  only apply to some, not all. It never actually hurts to be straight forward and you're playing it off like some "disrespectful thing" to bring up at all times. It really depends.
Reply
:iconkelleybean86:
kelleybean86 Featured By Owner Apr 8, 2015  Professional Digital Artist
I don't think you read the article very carefully. I said, very clearly, that it IS good to be straightforward. However it's also possible to be straightforward without being rude.
Reply
:iconthiamor:
Thiamor Featured By Owner Apr 8, 2015  Hobbyist General Artist
I am sorry for overlooking that.
Reply
:iconkelleybean86:
kelleybean86 Featured By Owner Apr 9, 2015  Professional Digital Artist
It's ok :)
Reply
:icondkillustrations:
DKillustrations Featured By Owner Apr 8, 2015  Professional Digital Artist
This is so great! I wish more authors/clients/reps could read this article!
Reply
:iconkelleybean86:
kelleybean86 Featured By Owner Apr 8, 2015  Professional Digital Artist
Feel free to share it around! Let's get this information out there to as many authors as possible!
Reply
:iconcreationtakesun:
creationtakesun Featured By Owner Apr 8, 2015  Hobbyist General Artist
thank you :)
Reply
:iconsakuchu:
Sakuchu Featured By Owner Apr 8, 2015  Hobbyist General Artist
Great tips! :D
Now I want to read the story with the lobster, who becomes a k-pop star xD
Reply
:iconkelleybean86:
kelleybean86 Featured By Owner Apr 8, 2015  Professional Digital Artist
I want to read it too!
Reply
:iconerinclaireb:
erinclaireb Featured By Owner Apr 7, 2015
This is great, thankyou for writing it! Do you mind if I link authors to it in future?!
Reply
:iconkelleybean86:
kelleybean86 Featured By Owner Apr 8, 2015  Professional Digital Artist
Please do! I want this information to get around. It might be better if you used the version on my blog, though: kmcmorris.blogspot.com.au/2015…
Reply
:iconerinclaireb:
erinclaireb Featured By Owner Apr 8, 2015
Thankyou, I will do :-)
Reply
Add a Comment:
 
×

:iconkelleybean86: More from kelleybean86


Featured in Collections

Journals and Literature by AsymptoticWay

tutorials by darkone4587


More from DeviantArt



Details

Submitted on
April 7, 2015
Link
Thumb

Stats

Views
5,659
Favourites
83 (who?)
Comments
21
×