TZR Southombe Profile Photooday I have the lovely Z.R. Southcombe posting on the blog, with her experiences and advice on working with an illustrator. Take it away Zee!
I have the fortune of working with an illustrator who is also a good friend of mine, but we still do things by the books. We settled on a fair price, drew up a contract and set a time frame we were both happy with. In addition to all of that, we talked about future production schedules, so we’d be on the same page going forward.
As an author-publisher, I hold that the story is very much my own, and I am the one most invested – in every sense of the word – in my books. However, illustrations give a unique mood and flavour to the work. It is so important that illustrators are valued and respected for their talents.
My first book, What Stars Are Made Of was self-illustrated, and my next two books, The Caretaker of Imagination and Lucy’s Story (both chapter books) were both illustrated by fine artist, Jane Thorne.
I utilised the internet and found a few illustrator-publisher templates. One in particular was almost exactly what we needed, and all I had to do was tweak the numbers. Contact me if you would like a template copy.
The most important parts for us were making sure that she retained the rights, but that I was able to use them freely for book-related stuff. I also wanted to ensure that if anything happened to me, her rights were covered.
I’ve made this contract to cover all the books illustrated in 2015. Next year, we will draw up a new contract, bringing our first year’s experiences into consideration.
Price and payment
This was the most difficult. Jane hadn’t illustrated in a paid capacity before, and I had illustrated my previous book myself, so we weren’t entirely sure where to start. We both did some research, and settled on a price that was pretty much standard for spot illustrations – around $50 per drawing. (If this was a picture book the rate would be considerably higher). I give a 50% deposit at the start of the project, and the balance upon completion.
This price takes into account that Jane keeps the rights to the works (so they can be resold as prints) and she also keeps the original drawings. So, in addition to what I pay her, she can potentially earn more on her own. I have the licence to use the illustration in my books, and for promotional activities / merchandising directly related to the books.
We also introduced a royalty rate of 20% on profits for the standard books, and 50% on profits from the Illustrator’s Edition. It is my intention to scrap this going forward in 2016, and pay a higher rate instead – just because it’s extra paperwork!
Time frame
For the first and second books Jane illustrated, we were both on time. For the second book, I guess after the practice of the first one, Jane managed to get the illustrations to me a month early! This has turned out to be rather fortunate, as the book I’m on now is over a month late to her – and Jane still reckons she can churn it out on time.
Having said all of that, we only set the first timeline in stone, and had ‘ish’ timelines for the other books, keeping in mind that life might bring other things to the table. I set the timelines myself first, then asked Jane to look over them and see what changes needed to be made.
Creative freedom
I chose Jane not just because she’s a friend, but because I thought her deep characterisation, delicate handling and slight creepiness (uh, her paintings, not her!) would be perfect for my books. I gave her a LOT of creative freedom.
Both The Caretaker of Imagination and Lucy’s Story followed a similar process.
First, Jane reads the story, then comes up with 10-ish concept sketches. We go through these together, and make changes as necessary. For Lucy’s Story, there were almost no changes at all! For workflow, I requested that Jane did the cover art first, so I’d be able to send it to my cover designer to put together – this was something we’d learnt from doing the first book.
After that, Jane does the drawings, and usually updates me as she goes (mostly cause she’s a perfectionist and is nervous about them). In Lucy’s Story, there was only one illustration that required tweaks after it was completed.
Cover_LucyIllustrator’s Edition
All in all, my priority is to have a situation that respects both myself and the illustrator, and allows for some flexibility. I’ve made it a priority to ensure Jane is treated well throughout the project, and as part of that we have a super special Illustrator’s Edition.
This is a large, hardback edition of the book that is printed on 100% recycled paper, and features a foreword from Jane. It’s limited to 50 copies, and hand-numbered ‘x of 50’. It’s signed by both Jane and myself.
We had been leaning towards using the oak tree as the cover, but after consideration realised that the pirate, ship and chocolate cake would be a better reflection of the story and genre. Jane was really disappointed that her lovely oak tree wouldn’t make it to the cover, so we came up with a creative solution. We’re continuing to do this for the rest of the trilogy.
So the takeaway here? Choose an artist who works in a style you already love, and treat them well!
Z.R. Southcombe (Zee) is a writer and artist. Her books are written for children, but with their wild sense of imagination, rich vocabulary and emotional resonance they are loved by readers of all ages. Her paintings are surrealist and focus on the emotive self.
A true creative, Zee usually has a few creative projects on the go, but no matter what project she is currently working on – and is usually accompanied by a cup of tea.
Zee’s latest release is Lucy’s Story: The End of the World, a chapter book for 9-13yrs (ish) about young Lucy, who accidentally destroys the world… you can grab it off Amazon, iBooks & Kobo, or get a signed print book direct from the author herself at