Sunday, February 10, 2013

What is the etiquette when approaching an artist for your book?

by Aidana WillowRaven

At one time, the only authors who would approach an artist to illustrate their book or cover art were indie authors, but more and more small publishers are permitting authors more creative control by allowing them to hire qualified artists on their own, as long as the work meets their standards. Of course, the majority of traditional publishers still choose the artist for your book without much say from the author, but that is not what this post is about. So let's pretend, for this post, that you are on a quest to find an artist for your book.

First, you need to determine what you can afford. If you can not afford to pay a professional standard rates, don't seek professional artists. It is not only a waste of time for both parties, but it's insulting to the publishing professional, and word like that gets around, especially with today's addiction to the internet.

You especially do not want to approach a professional artist via email with a lengthy description about your book, the characters, and an exhausting description of your mission, only to conclude with a requirement for free samples as well as a vague royalty-only arrangement for compensation with a publisher that they've likely never heard of and has an unknown track  record (at least as far as the artist is concerned). Even worse, upon looking up said publisher, all that can be found is an incomplete website/splash page announcing "Website coming soon" and "New independent publisher." This will not instill confidence  that the artist will ever see a penny of compensation for their work and experience.

If you are guilty of the above, than you more than likely got either a smug response or no response at all ... lol.

If you are on a limited budget, or no budget at all, then target artists that are new to the industry and need to build a professional portfolio, like students or hobbyists. They need the validation and exposure of published work as much as you need a good image. They also need to learn the ropes. College, no matter the degree, does not provide good ole experience. Rarely will you find an experienced artist willing or able to work for royalties with an unknown publisher.

If you can afford to hire the artist you want, then by all means do so. Make sure you ask a lot of questions: if they are knowledgeable of the field in general and their particular industry; if their rates are fair (meaning do research first as to what professionals of your particular genre charge); and if they have the experience to give you what you seek. Also make sure that the publisher approves their work or style before investing your money. Artists don't usually have a return policy. The cover artist and illustration industry has taken a huge hit in the last few years, just like every other industry, so hire when you can. Too many skilled artists are forced to work for beans (and not magic ones, either) or give in and get 'real jobs' outside their true field.

And no matter whether you are approaching a professional artist or a newbie, the first contact is not where you overload them with details about your marketing plans or certainties of a successful book. Just like in a cover letter to a publisher you want to read your manuscript, first contact should be simple and to the point. Let the artist tell you what he or she wants or needs to know before they make a decision. Some will want all of the details, many won't.

Good luck on your search finding the right artist, both for your book and your budget. :D

Art Director & VP of Operations
*All books featured in this post are available through the 4RV Publishing Bookstore. In addition, all of the covers were created by Aidana WillowRaven. 


  1. Aidana, good to know. I've heard about looking for a student or hobbyist if funds are limited.

    And, even as an editor some query emails give way too much and unnecessary information. :)

  2. Dear Aidana,
    Thanks for sharing your ideas about how much information to give an artist in a query letter. Awesome advice.

    Celebrate you and your artistic talents,
    Never Give Up
    Joan Y. Edwards

  3. Thanks for this excellent advice. This is something I've considered doing, but didn't even know how to approach it.