You have written your story. The manuscript is ready and you will self-publish it. Brilliant! Now it’s time to get it illustrated. Besides all the aesthetic-related brainstorms, as a human being you have that inevitable question in your mind: How much will it cost? The only way to find out is to get quotes from different illustrators. And then you’ll have follow-up questions: Why there is such a huge difference between the quotes? Are they trying to rip me off? No. Quotes are based on some aspects that must be balanced by each illustrator individually:
Experience usually means better understanding, fewer technical mistakes, more reliable results, efficiency, and maybe better-looking illustrations. Many new illustrators work for free (or almost free) on projects just to gain experience. But it doesn’t mean an inexperienced illustrator shouldn’t be paid well. This is simply an element for which each illustrator must determine their own value.
Each illustrator spends a different amount of time on producing an illustration. Some of them are faster than others naturally. As time means money, this may affect their quote a lot. More time = More dimes.
Some illustrators are capable of working in more than one style. And some styles require more time than others. The same illustrator may charge different amounts for different projects, just because they think a different visual approach will suit a particular project better. The illustration style should be decided before anything else.
Art supplies cost a lot. Computers, drawing tablets, and applications are not easily affordable either. So when you ask for a price for an illustration, illustrators base their quotes on the supplies they will need. They would ask more for a metal gravure than a watercolour.
People have different essential expenses depending on where they live. While $10 means only one day’s public transportation in some countries, it may cover a home’s monthly electricity bill in others. So it’s possible to find an affordable illustrator who’s right for you just by looking at professionals from other countries. Of course, pricing still depends on how each illustrator balances their geographical situation with the other elements affecting their work. Living in an expensive country doesn’t necessarily mean charging more for your work, and vice versa.
Illustrators may charge less when they want badly to work on a project. Or they may charge more when they don’t really want or need a particular job. Someone who needs experience and doesn’t want to miss an opportunity may give a tiny quote. Someone else may find a project unbearable unless the payment is worth it.
Illustration quantity of the project also may affect the quote. A single illustration is always more expensive than the individual price of each illustration in a series. More is usually easier for illustrators. They already know what character they are working on, they’ve decided the style, they have a colour palette to work with, and so on. Oh, and more illustrations means a longer-term income for them.
If your project is super-urgent, you may need to pay more. Think of it like buying a plane ticket to the other end of the world at the last minute. The airline has some reserved seats for last-minute customers like you. They sell the tickets at very high prices most of the time. Illustrators have some “reserved time” for themselves, or their family, or, you know, sleep. If you want to hire that reserved time, they may ask for more bucks, and that’s totally understandable.
Rare talent means higher price. Simple. Here, the talent-seeker may be lucky if the talent isn’t aware of their rarity.
All those elements are obviously connected to each other and there is a balance among them. The balance will change for each project and for each illustrator. All of these factors can help explain the gaps between the quotes.
A final note and request to self-publishers
After you have chosen your illustrator, never forget to send a last email to the eliminated candidates. Thank them and acknowledge the time they took to give you a quote. It’s much more work than telling the price of a fruit in the market. They deserve that simple “Thank you.”
And most importantly, before thinking about the money, choose your illustrator considering their artistic skills and the value they would possibly add to your story. The illustration itself is much more important than what it costs. (This may be the subject for another post. It’s very, very important.)
Bonus: See what Will Terry thinks about pricing.