“With books it’s likely to take a number of years before you have a liveable income – based on doing two or three books a year, and illustrators should know it’s likely a two-year lead time between signing and a project coming out,” says illustrator agent Jodie Hodges. Illustrators do receive royalties, but it can take some time for those to come in.
Make sure the publisher is being open and honest at every stage of the process. At the consideration point, publishers may ask illustrators to do sample work for them, but this should be paid. “If they are a serious publisher, and you’re a serious contender, that shouldn’t be a problem,” says Nadia.
Ben says samples are usually sought for a big project where a publishing team is undecided on the artist they want to approach. "We will always offer a small fee for the work - but have to be careful in doing so as it eats out of a limited art budget. When dealing with pitches we are always very transparent.”
Sarah Horne says persistence is key, "If you keep going for long enough, put in the hours, there’s a day that sort of sneaks up on you... Suddenly work is regular, it’s fulfilling creatively, you are earning a living from it, and there is recognition of your skill and hard graft.
Yet so much of the outward success is a result of what happens below the water level, below the tip of the iceberg. Practice as an illustrator is always in development, times change and tastes change… I think it’s healthy creatively to be looking at what’s next, experimenting and honing what you know to do. Creatively, I don’t think we ever really stop."
Nadia agrees, “If you can focus on developing your own visual language, it will be authentic and hopefully chime with other people.”
Now you know what it's like to be a book illustrator, read more about perfecting your portfolio and how to get an illustration agent.
Illustration: Mike Ellis for Penguin