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How to Illustrate a Children's Book When You're Not an Artist

Updated: Sep 20, 2023

When you've decided to write a children's book, it's easy to wonder how to actually get the art for the book.

How to Illustrate a Children's Book | Write Kids Books

If you're an artist, then this might not be a concern at all but lots of picture book authors are not.

So how do you get your picture book illustrated when you can barely draw a stick figure yourself?

It's actually easier than you'd think! In this post, I've broken it down into two easy steps.

1 - Include art notes in your manuscript

Start with incorporating art notes in your manuscript wherever necessary. It's important to find the balance here because you want to give the illustrator (we'll cover how to get one in a bit!) some creative freedom to bring the book to life...but there will be times when the text doesn't give them all the necessary information.

To see what I mean, take a look at the video below. ⬇️ Don't keep reading until AFTER you've watched the whole thing!

You'll notice that Chelsea does not include art notes for every page or for anything that isn't crucial to the understanding of the book.

The purpose of art notes is to communicate what the finished book will look like to a reader without the actual art being there.

2 - Decide on your publishing route

Wait...what? What does this have to do with getting your children's book illustrated?

Well...EVERYTHING. Let me explain.

If you want to be traditionally published, you do NOT hire an illustrator at all because the publisher handles (and pays for!) that for you. When you self-publish, you are the publisher and therefore, you'll need to hire a freelancer but there are a ton of steps that come first.

To break it down further...

📚 Traditional publishing

Birdseye view:

You do NOT hire an illustrator. Instead, you query agents with your text-only manuscript. Once you have an agent, they'll pitch it to traditional publishers. A traditional publisher will completely handle the production of the book, including illustrations, and it won't cost you anything.

Detailed breakdown:

Step 1: Write the first draft of your children's book.

Step 2: Self-edit until it's as polished as possible.

Step 3: Get outside feedback from beta readers, critique partners, or friends/family who will be brutally honest with you.

➡️ Optional step: Consider a developmental edit from a freelancer who specializes in kidlit. Their professional feedback can greatly speed up the traditional publishing process for you.

Step 4: Make changes based on the feedback you receive. Repeat as necessary.

Step 5: Research literary agents and query them. Your query and pitch can make all the difference so make sure you get feedback on those as well! This takes time so be patient and be willing to make changes.

Step 6: Once an agent extends representation and you accept, they'll start pitching your book to publishers until (hopefully!) one says yes. The agent will help negotiate your contract and then the production process will begin.

Step 7: You'll work with your agent and the editor from the publishing house on any changes until the book is ready for illustration. The publisher will hire an illustrator for you, and get the book formatted, printed, etc in time for the publication date.

📚 Self Publishing

Birdseye view:

With this route, you ARE the publisher so after your book has been professionally edited (more than once!), you'll hire a freelance illustrator to bring your book to life. Before you do, make sure you've decided how you're planning on printing and distributing because it will impact the illustrations and formatting.

Detailed breakdown:

Phase 1: Write your first draft and self-edit until you can't improve it anymore on your own.

Phase 2: Start the editing process. You'll need 2-3+ developmental edits (from a professional - not a friend), 1-2+ copyedits, and 1+ proofread.

Phase 3: After the editing phase, you'll hire a freelance illustrator to bring your book to life. (And a formatter, if needed)

Phase 4: Get your book printed and distributed!

Really, that's all there is to it! If you're planning on self publishing, keep reading below for even MORE information on how to find an freelance illustrator and bring your book to life.

If you've decided the traditional publishing route is right for you, check out these resources instead:


How do I find a freelance illustrator for self publishing?

When you’re looking for an illustrator, it’s important to find someone who is well-suited to your project, your expectations, and your budget. After all, illustrations are a huge part of a children's picture book, both for the reader's experience and the book's overall success.

Here are three easy ways to find a children's book illustrator:

  1. Ask around - see who other authors have loved working with

  2. Websites like Upwork, Fiverr, or Caterpillar Collective

  3. This downloadable list of illustrators

Here's how the illustration process usually works:

  1. Look for an illustrator whose style you like and contact them to order a sample. This will give you a test run to see if their style is a good fit for your book and also to get a feel for how well you'll work together.

  2. After you've found an illustrator you like, book the artist and sign the contract. If there's anything in it that doesn't feel right to you or if there are any parts of it you don't understand, ask for clarification before signing.

  3. The illustrator will begin working on your project. You will receive sketches or storyboards for approval before they begin coloring the images. Once your illustration is colored, it's harder to alter so if you have any revisions requests, be sure to let the illustrator know at this stage of the process.

  4. You'll receive final, full-color illustrations.

Of course, each illustrator will have his or her own timeline and methods; this is just an overview. I strongly recommend ordering a sample illustration from your chosen illustrator before booking the full project so that you get to test run for what it would be like working with them.


Be careful with a site like Fiverr - There are some amazing illustrators on that site, but there are also many scammers who use clip art and pass it off as original art.

Why shouldn't I use clip art in my children's book?

Using clip art in a children's picture book can be a problem for a variety of reasons:

Reason #1 - Copyright concerns

Most clip art images are not free to use and require permission from the copyright holder in order to use them. But you may notice that a single piece of clip art can be found on hundreds of different websites! This means that finding the actual copyright owner so you can actually obtain the commercial usage rights you need to sell that image in a book becomes near impossible. And yes, not having the proper rights can get you sued.

Reason #2 - It looks unprofessional

Clip art often looks generic and impersonal, which can take away from the story. If you walk into any bookstore and pick up any well-loved children's book, you'll see the character from different angles with various body language and facial expressions that support what is occurring throughout the story.

But if you use clip art? It will end up looking like characters just cut and pasted onto a background. By using real illustrations, you can create a more engaging and visually appealing book that will draw in readers.

How can I tell if the illustration is hand-drawn?

The easiest way to tell if the art is custom-made is to order a sample sketch: If you never see an uncolored sketch or if it looks like they just uploaded stock images into their "art" program rather than drawing something new each time—then it's highly unlikely that the "illustrator" created any of these themselves.

Writing course for picture book authors

What does hiring an illustrator cost?

The cost for children's book illustrations varies widely depending on the illustrator's style, experience level, and availability.

You can spend anywhere from $1,500 - $6,000 or more. Most illustrators break this into 2-3 payments throughout the course of the project so it's unlikely you'll pay the full amount upfront. It is an investment but it's important that your book has high quality illustrations because...people really do judge a book by its cover.

Note: Most freelance illustrators will not agree to a royalty split because the average self published author never makes more than $250 in a book's lifetime. 😳 That means that there's no guarantee they'd ever be paid fairly for months of hard work. (Surprised by that statistic? Check out our programs if you'd like to surpass those numbers!)

I have my finished do I turn it into a children's book?

You'll need to get the book formatted! This is the process of actually putting your files together according to printing specs. Your formatter will place the text on your illustrations and make sure that the files meet all the technical requirements of the printer you've chosen (i.e. proper font height, bleed, distance from the gutter, etc).

If your illustrator is also a graphic designer, this may be something included in your contract with them. But most illustrators are just artists, so you'll have to hire a specific person (a formatter) for this part of the process.

Then it's time to get your book printed and distributed! Click here for more details on your options.


Creating a book takes a lot of imagination! In order to write a successful children's book, it is important to create characters the reader can connect with and that the illustrations bring them to life. After all, the text and pictures go hand in hand in a children's book! I hope that this post has helped you understand this part of the publishing process!

Need more guidance? Join our coaching program:

Profitable Picture Books Course | At Home Author

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Great tips! Thanks for sharing!

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