Episode 07: 10 Reasons I Won't Illustrate Your Children’s Book

Download the episode via Simplecast. Need help?

 Art by Tanner Garlick

Art by Tanner Garlick

Every time we get an offer to do a book we feel super grateful and flattered that someone would want one of us to illustrate a book for them, but for many reasons we can’t say yes.

In this episode we get into the details of book publishing, including the economic, social, and career building reasons we take on certain book projects, and why we say no to others.

Here are Will’s 10 Reasons for why “I can’t illustrate your children’s book.” Some of them deal more with submitting a book with an author to a publisher or self publishing; they are all things to consider and reasons for why you may want to second guess saying yes to that lady you know who wants you to illustrate her book.

1. Bad Protocol [5:40]
This question, about, how to deal with people asking you to do their children’s book, is talked about often at SCWI.
The Most Asked Question: how do I find an illustrator?
Editor will tell the writer, you don’t need to find the illustrator, that’s our job.
They take pride in this, one of the publisher’s major roles is to find the right illustrator and match them with the right manuscript. They have resources and lots of connections to find the best match.

Some people jump to conclusions and think that just because someone can draw and someone has a children’s book idea that they should be paired to work together, without doing research beforehand to see if they would be a good match. You wouldn’t go around prescribing medication to people before learning what their symptoms are and so is the same with writing and illustrating children’s books.

Publishers don’t want to be in an awkward situation where they love the manuscript but they hate the art, then they have to tell you and it can be something they just would rather avoid.

They have more art and manuscripts than they can publish.

They oft times will dismiss you, just because you are filing jointly, and the art is already done. As with everything, there are exceptions.

There are many other reasons as to why they want to personally pair their artists and illustrators. They have marketing purposes, often they like to pair a more veteran author or illustrator with a newer author or illustrator. A new author with a new illustrator, or vice versa, is too much of a financial gamble.

As you have more experience and  become more well known you may have more power and influence on who you are paired up with.

The Little Snowplow

2. Industry Perception [13:35]
Another reason Will would be hesitant to file jointly with an amateur is that it may look bad or affect publishers’ perception of him.

Even doing lots of things on Kickstarter can look amateur.
This is something that may be frowned upon merely because it’s a little more new.

Sometimes there are books that get picked up by publishers that started on Kickstarter.

Even your online followers on social media has an influence on how much of an advance you are allotted.

One book that may be an exception to this :

Frankenstein: A Monstrous Parody

They filed their book jointly and then 3 different publishers got into a bidding war over it. However, this is different, because they were two pros working together. So it’s not really an exception. They can’t think of an example of two amateurs who got a book published together that did super well.

3. I Don’t Know You [19:10]
When an illustrator gets contacted to help with a book, the manuscript has gone through a lot of rewrites. This is hard work and takes a thick skin.

However, if you contact Will, he doesn’t know who you are and what you are like.
Manuscripts always have rewrites and iterations.

It often is a big task and can be tricky to figure out how to make edits and changes. And if they don’t know you, they don’t know if you are up to that task.

4. Award Submissions [22:32]
This is not super well known:
Publishers, at their own cost submit books for awards. I.e. the Caldecott, the Dr. Suess award, state awards, etc.

It is a lot of work, they have to fill out all of the paper work and ship a couple hundred books to the right person at the right time.

Getting these awards is what helps the book take off. It gets more publicity, and starts to get bought and recommended by librarians.
This is more for self publishing but is another reason that Will wouldn’t want to illustrate a book with an amateur.

Will has received 5-6 state awards. Jake has received a state reward. Lee received an ALA Award for a "I Lived On Butterfly Hill." And it made a huge difference.

I Lived On Butterfly Hill

5. Reviews [27:06]
Publishers have connections to get books reviewed. Which gets it on people’s radar.
This is why I wouldn’t want to illustrate someone’s self published book. This doesn’t mean that a self published book can’t

6. Opportunity Cost [28:13]
If you say yes to this children’s book is saying no to something else.
It takes months to finish a children’s book and in the end there might not be much
Average time to complete a children’s book: 6 Months. Jake, Lee, and Will can get a book done in less time but this is a good place to start.

If You’re Going to Partner or Work With Anyone, Be Clear About Who Owns the Rights to the Work. [33:16]

You need to go in with your eyes wide open.
Lee had an idea for a book that he brought an author on to help him write the story. He knew what the story was and was struggling with the words. So he brought this very very well known artist on. His assumption was that they would co-write the book and he would do the artwork. Her assumption, however, was that she was now the author and owned all the content, and that he was someone now illustrating her story. Long story short, It didn’t work out.

For any joint venture: have a clear expectation and maybe even a conference maybe even for a critique group. To protect yourself and them as well.

Ideas are not “copyright able.”

Be careful and go in with your eyes wide open.

7. Professional Production [38:24]
Honestly, if it’s the authors first time doing this, they don’t know what they are doing. And that can be another red flag as to why you shouldn’t do their children’s book.

Authors usually don’t know how to art direct and don’t have the skills to give art direction.

Lee’s Story:
Lee decided to help illustrate a self published book and he did some character sketches and showed them to the author. One of them was a anthropomorphic cow, and the lady said, “My mom would never wear that.” And then got into how the cow represented her mom and how it needed to look like her. Lee saw that there was all sorts of subtle things things like this and took it as a warning to get out of there and not do the book. Because it would be very hard to work with this author as an art director when they didn’t know what was important or how to art direct.

Then there are a whole bunch of things in the production side of things. Margins and type, etc.

Will will get these short emails from people telling him that they like his work and asking him if he will illustrate their book for them. And he wonders where their business proposal is.

8. Royalties [43:13]
In creating all the art for the book, the author and illustrator are creating intellectual property (IP.) And if the book takes off and becomes a big selling book, or a TV show, or a cartoon, or a movie, then the illustrator wants to go along for the ride and make money off of all of the things their IP is used for.

It’s hard to have a long career as an illustrator living off of just the advances received, you want to be getting royalties as well. You want to see books stick and generate royalties and income for the long term.

Lee was complaining about his small royalty check ($13), hoping to have company in misery. Then David Hohn told him how much his check was (4-5 figures) and Lee was blown away by how much he had made.

God Gave Us Christmas

Then there are the Brett Helquists who have funded their own retirement and their kids retirement off of all he royalties he’s made through the A Series of Unfortunate Events books.

With self publishing there is a trust issue as to, how are you going to track sales and royalties. The publishers now have an online portal where you can login and monitor your book’s sales.

9. Distribution [46:53]
This is a lot of work and for Will, Lee, and Jake something they have all dealt with doing their Kickstarters.
Thousands of books take up space. They have had their basements and garages filled with books. Lee’s shipment of books was 2500 pounds, he literally had a ton of books. Now Lee and Jake have storage units to keep all their books. And 2-3 thousand books isn’t even a huge amount.

Jeff Smith, while self publishing “Bone”, ended up buying the house next door to house all of his book inventory.

Distribution is a ton of work! (no pun intended.)

Self Publishing authors are not distributors. They don’t have relationships with distributors. And so that’s one more downside.

One other side note:
Foreign rights. Lee has had books go into Korean, Japanese, and Chinese. Publishers know how to distribute in those markets.

10. Money [49:50]
People may think, “oh it’s just $500,” and don’t realize how much an illustrator needs to make from illustrating a book.

Will asks Lee and Jake to name their price, to do a self published book with a terrible manuscript.

Lee often gets 30K+ advances, Will is a little under that, and Jake has gotten both under and higher than that.

An advance is money publishers pay you in advance against the royalties. So you get money when you sign the contract, and then when you turn in sketches, and then when you submit the final work (1/3, 1/3, 1/3; or 1/2, 1/2). Then you don’t get money on royalties until that amount is reached, on what you would have got?from royalties if there wasn’t an advance, then once you reach that point, you start to make money off of royalties.

And Lee said he would do a self published book for $50,000 (and that is if he liked he book). Lee would charge this much because of opportunity costs, where
If he didn’t like it, they would have to pay up in the 6-figures range.

This conversation could be misconstrued to be three ar

Part of the problem is perpetuated with the publisher. Because there are some books like “Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus” that are super successful with very simple drawings, and so people think that anyone could do something like that and it would be easy.

What about for a family friend?

Jake might help illustrate a book for a family friend, but it wouldn’t be as detailed or
Will and Lee are against illustrating for a family member or friend.
You should love the project, and really like it.
When you set up your agreement, because you will set up a contract of course, make sure you don’t
They probably won’t pay you a ton. Go ahead and set up a big royalty. Do

How to answer this question, “Can you recommend someone?” [1:00:06]

That’s a hard question because you might not know what they want, or what they

Lee has a new technique for saying no to these offers. And one of the things he has learned is that you don’t always have to respond to every email.
Maybe for a high school student it could work out.

Neil Gaiman graduation commencement

He sees his goals and aspirations as a mountain in the distance, and as long as your going there then you are doing something good.
Make great art.
It might be different if you are in college or based on your circumstances.

Honestly, it comes down to: does it fit your needs, or does it point you in the right direction. Another thing is if you really feel that this will be something that will help someone, you can.

The reason creating art you don’t want to make is because your mind can’t escape it.


 Jake Parker: Instagram: @jakeparker, Youtube: JakeParker44

 Will Terry: Instagram: @willterryart, Youtube: WillTerryArt

 Lee White: Instagram: @leewhiteillo

 If you like this episode, please share it, subscribe, and we’d love it if you left a review! These podcasts live and die on reviews.

If you want to join in on this discussion log onto, there is a forum for this episode you can comment on.

Episode 04: Our Most Embarrassing Stories in Illustration

Download the episode via Simplecast. Get help.

In this episode we swallow some pride and take a look at some of our less stellar moments. These are the times we wish we had a rewind button for life and could do things over.

We have take away points from each story so you don’t have to make our mistakes. Hopefully, none of you are as dumb as us!


 Artwork by  Tanner Garlick

Artwork by Tanner Garlick

Story 1: Will’s Phallic Tortoise [01:31]

Take away: When you’re learning how to draw it’s a lot like a golf swing. To do a golf swing right there’s 50 things you’ve got to know how to do and you can’t be thinking about them all at the same time. They have to flow naturally. And so you can concentrate on 5 of them at the same time.

As an illustrator there’s 50 things you’ve got to know how to do to make an illustration, and one of them is composition. Make sure you’re composition isn’t set up in a way that it compromises the entire piece.

Story 2: Lee’s Name Critique [7:45]

Take away: Do your homework on who you’re meeting with. Take some time to understand what they are about, what they do, and why they want to meet with you. Don’t advise them to change the name of their company!

Story 3: Jake’s Edgy Style vs All-Ages Style [11:43]

Take away: Take a long look at your work and see how it might influence others around you. If you’re not happy with what your work is doing for the world see how you can change it for the better.

Story 4: Will’s Feminine Hygiene Job [16:14]

Take away: Just...don’t be a Will. Be happy you don’t have to be tied to a phone any more to get work. Also, you don’t have to take every job that comes your way.

Story 5: Lee’s Alphabet Book Debacle [21:14]

Take away: If you’re hired to do a job specifically for your style, maybe don’t subcontract someone else to do it for you.

Before you commit to do a job, take a good look at how much work needs to be done and see if your schedule can handle the workload. You want to avoid opting out of the job after contracts have been signed and money’s been paid.

Ask questions up front about what exactly is needed for the job. Get all the facts and cross check them with other professionals to make sure you’re not getting into something that you won’t be able to finish on time.

Be willing to say no to a high paying job if you don’t think it benefit your career. There are more important things than a paycheck if the job you take doesn’t really further your career.

Story 6: Will’s Fax Machine [29:00]

Take away: Get all the information BEFORE the fax comes in :P

Make sure you get all the information on the job that you need in order to finish your job. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, and take good notes on your calls.

Story 7: Lee Unknowingly Rips on the Boss’s Daughter [36:15]

Take away: Remember names! Do your homework and know who you’re talking to.

Story 8: Jake’s Big Meeting [40:20]

Take away: Don’t waste an important meeting. If you’re in the position to meet with an important editor or client do whatever you need to to have a killer pitch, presentation, or idea to share with them. Be prepared!

Story 9: Will Zones Out [46:16]

Take away: Be present and paying attention when you’re talking to a client or editor

Story 10: Lee’s bike ride [49:00]

Take away: Plan your day. Make sure you have time to do everything you’ve set out to do. You don’t have to do everything. Look at ways that you’re making you job harder than it actually has to be.


Jake Parker: Instagram: @jakeparker, Youtube: JakeParker44

Will Terry: Instagram: @willterryart, Youtube: WillTerryArt

Lee White: Instagram: @leewhiteillo

If you like this episode, please share it, subscribe, and we’d love it if you left a review! These podcasts live and die on reviews.

If you want to join in on this discussion log onto, there is a forum for this episode you can comment on.


Episode 01: My Art is Great, Why Won't Anyone Hire Me?

Download the episode via Simplecast. Get help.

  Artwork by  Tanner Garlick

Artwork by Tanner Garlick

Many artists work hard and try to get there their work out there, hoping to break into the illustration world and then...nothing happens. No clients offering work. No e-mails. No phone calls. And they wonder why no one wants to hire them.

We offer our perspective on why you might not be getting hired (yet), and then go into great detail on strategies and give practical advice on overcoming that hurdle and really standing out.

We discuss:

-what might be missing in your work, and how to not miss the mark

-how to give yourself a self-audit and honestly judge your work, using Will’s 9-Square approach

-discovering specific principles to improve from looking at your heroes work

-why you should be copying and absorbing masters’ work

-getting feedback from a professional and creating a feedback loop

-the need for interest and storytelling in your work

-how to handle critique and the proper attitude to have

-how to be a more interesting person

All that and much more!


Jake Parker: Instagram: @jakeparker, Youtube: JakeParker44

Will Terry: Instagram: @willterryart, Youtube: WillTerryArt

Lee White: Instagram: @leewhiteillo

The SVS forums:

Bart Forbes:

Chris Applehans:

Skottie Young:

Podcast production and editing by Aaron Dowd.

Show notes by Tanner Garlick

My Work is Great, Why Won't Anyone Hire Me?

Will got a long letter from an artist who felt that they had done everything they were supposed to, they felt that their work was great, and they were frustrated that they still weren’t getting work.

Jake and Will looked over this artist’s work and felt that the work was pretty good but not great. It was missing the style that fit the market that the artist wanted to go into. The style didn’t match the genre. You can’t do characters that look like they belong in World of Warcraft for a children's book.

Often, it’s not that you can’t draw or paint, but that you are missing the mark of where you need to go. Your style isn’t hitting the mark with what you want to go into. Your style needs to match the intended audience.

Work on Your Craft

Sometimes we feel that when we can render something nice, we have arrived, and we feel really good about ourselves. While that’s a great start, and an important step, this is really “fool’s gold.” There is a lot more to good illustration than just drawing well, and making things look 3-dimensional.

You never “arrive.” There is always an area to further grow or to better master.

Never convince yourself that there is nowhere else to grow.

There is a difference between drawing well, and creating a very engaging product.

The first step in getting professional work is to work on your craft: develop good drawing skills, good perspective, shadows, and light and color.

After mastering your craft, the second step is discretion. To not over render things, to not add too many highlights. You need to learn what to leave out. You need to learn what to illustrate and add. The artistry is figuring out what to put down, and what to leave out.

Conduct a Self-Audit

You need a combination of a self audit, and a professional audit.

You need to conduct a Self-Audit, as outlined below:

*You need go through this honestly, it will take some time.

- Study the published things in the realm that you want to go in, and have the “right heroes”

- pick 8 top illustrators, who are getting their work published, by the big publishers, i.e. Harper Collins, Random House, Scholastic, etc.

- make a 9 Square grid. Put your best piece in the middle and surround it with a piece from those 8 illustrators that you admire

- Then identify what you like about it, Don’t just say, “I love this!”, you need to verbalize specific things that you love about their work, create a specific list, and write it down. These are the things that you need to work on incorporating into your work.

- Hang the list by your desk in order to remember these principles and to try to incorporate them, hang the list by your desk.

Bart Forbes,

When you have an image that you really like, really analyze it, and dissect it. Don’t just say, “I like this image,” And then move on. Really dissect it and look for specific things that are working well for you. What am I responding to?

Copy, Copy, Copy

Many people have the attitude of: “I don’t want to look at other people’s work because I want to be original, I don’t want to copy.” There is a false idea about originality; it says you shouldn’t look at others people’s work, or that you shouldn’t copy or take inspiration from them.

Jake still looks at others work for inspiration. All great artists do.

You really don’t need to make it as hard as you’re making it! You say it comes from within, but really it comes from without and you process it and make it your own thing. Find the right artists to look at and let them flow through you. There is no way you can perfectly copy all things all the time, at some point you’re gonna mix something with something else, and with a little bit of yourself and a little bit of this other person, and you’re going to find your own style that fits into this world that you want to get into.

When you are at the level that you want to be at, then find the right people for your work. I.e. Landscape painters will find the right gallery, not a children’s book publisher.

Do you know anyone who is going through med school? What is their total work hours per week? Basically, if you are in med school and are doing well, you pretty much have zero life, and have tons of focus, attention to detail, etc. And if you do well in school, you most likely have a good job waiting for you with a good salary.

Illustration is every bit as hard, to develop a unique style and a product to beat out other artists for jobs, and there is not a guaranteed job waiting for you. You should be treating it like you’re in med school.  

You won’t get paid to learn and do research. You need to find the motivation within. No one will tell you everything you need to do. You need to make a schedule yourself and be self motivated.

After you develop the skills it becomes more and more about making an interesting image, something that people grab onto. That extra element of storytelling creates interest, the idea behind it. Am I bringing something new to this subject matter, some new idea, some kind of unique viewpoint, or perspective?

Chris Applehans,

Add Interest to Your Life

There is nothing interesting there? It may be because you aren’t an interesting person.

But you can become more interesting, you need to have a rich life outside of art. Art is just a way to express the interestingness that’s inherently inside of you.

If your work’s not interesting: go out and do something, talk to somebody, travel, go to the other side of town. You need to fill your creative bank account. You have gotta have creative capital. If you’re dry and empty, you are just going to have dry and empty work.

The lazy man doesn’t get too far, the perpetually busy man doesn’t get much farther.

Some people are just drawing, drawing, drawing, without much giving it much thought.

Stop, what kind of images am I making? Is there something better or more interesting that I should be creating. Don’t just draw and draw without any direction, you need to be more deliberate.

You can’t just exhale, you need to inhale.

Quick Summary:

  1. Audit yourself, audit your work, evaluate your work based on others.

  2. Work on craft, do master studies, copy

  3. Add interest to your life.

  4. Find an outside source who can give you some honest critique and create a feedback loop (get feedback, improve it, then get more feedback again.)

  5. You have to work towards getting your skin thick enough to beg for a really honest critique. A pat on the back is not a critique.

4 Step Process to Evaluate If You are Really Good?

  1. People naturally gravitate towards your work. When you put your work up, people naturally are drawn to it. Online, people naturally gather around it. Mom, or significant other don’t count.

  2. People start seeing your work and recommending you for something or to others.

  3. You’re going to start to win things: contests, scholarships, free classes, etc.

  4. People will start paying you.

Why Should I Copy?

Top art schools have there students create master copies. It’s a proven exercise.


  1. Create a master copy, the more exact the better.

  2. Then do a new original piece as if you were that artist. When you get stuck, look back at their work and try to figure out how they might solve the problem. What would ______ do?

Keep a copy sketchbook, this is a sketchbook that you can just throw away when your done. That’s it, don’t need to show it to anyone.

The most valuable thing from doing these master copies is what happens in your brain and your muscle memory. The most valuable thing is inside you.

When kids start to learn to play piano, the teachers don’t say, “Alright, just make a piece of music, just write whatever you want!” The kids start by playing other peoples music and learning to sight read other people music first. In other words, they copy.

The same goes with martial arts, and with sports. They teach you moves. They teach you what the greats before you did.

Story Time

Jake was working on an illustration of Santa’s sleigh being pulled by a bunch of different animals. He got an honest critique from Skottie Young, and Skottie told him that it looked like the stock-image version of what Jake was trying to do.

Jake went to Pinterest and started looking up cartoon animals, made a Pinterest board with cartoon animals and saw, “oh this is how you would do a killer whale… oh this is how you would do a llama… I wouldn’t have thought to do that..” Then took a little bit of this guy, and then took a little bit of what they did in this drawing, etc, and mashed it together and made it his own. But really it was from absorbing from all of those different artists.

There are pinnacle and milestone pieces where you have breakthroughs. Eventually you get to where you can focus a lot more on the creative and imaginative side of things because you don’t have to worry so much about how to actually create it.

Eventually you’ll get to where you don’t have so much hurt from something not working out. You need to learn to not take it personally, or take an emotional hit; to be able to say: don’t mind looking at something and saying, “Ahh, that’s not working out” and then you go back without taking an emotional hit, and say, “you know I can make this better.”

Sometimes you will ask, “Why am I not impressed with what I just did? If you yourself aren’t kind of impressed, then no one else will be. You should be stoked, not trying to convince yourself, “uh, it’s good, it’s good..”

There are times where Jake has worked on a piece for a few hours and then had to scrap it because it just wasn’t up to par.

You need to get to the point where if your dog chewed up your piece, you don’t mind because you know you can create it again or maybe even do something better.

A Word to the Pros

If there is a professional illustrator out there, or close to professional who has great work and you are saying, “I’ve done this, guys.” Then maybe your problem isn’t your craft, but your network. If you don’t know people in the field you want to go in, then you need to find mentors, get your work out there online, and up your game.

Current Projects

Jake: Skyheart, finishing things up there.

Will: A reading book, about a bunny that out foxes a wolf, and is about to start the sequel to Bonnepart Falls Apart.

Lee: Writing a children’s book about natural disasters, and just came up with a dummy, and is learning a lot.


Jake Parker: Instagram: @jakeparker, Youtube: JakeParker44

Will Terry: Instagram: @willterryart, Youtube: WillTerryArt

Lee White: Instagram: @leewhiteillo

If you like this episode, please share it, subscribe, and we’d love it if you left a review! These podcasts live and die on reviews.

If you want to join in on this discussion log onto, there is a forum for this episode you can comment on.