Sunday, August 3, 2014

How to get your children’s book illustrated for $5 at fiverr.

a great children's-book artist at work

(I got royally flamed for this post on various children’s book writer and illustrator message boards.  Once you’re finished reading, whether you agree or disagree, read my response, Why hiring a fiverr artist for your kids’ book WON’T destroy the universe.)

UPDATE #2:  A third-world fiverr artist speaks up.  An important post for anyone looking to have their book illustrated, whether through fiverr or not.

Written a book and now you need pictures?

Some of us have the artistic talent to illustrate our own books.

Some don’t have to think about pictures because they’re hoping to snag a traditional publishing contract (don’t even think about submitting a manuscript with pictures unless you’ve drawn them yourself).

For the rest of us… there’s shelling out for illustrations.  And one popular way to do that is through fiverr.

I’ve ordered and received literally hundreds of illustrations through fiverr now – and had mainly good experiences. 

Are you truly going to get away with spending only $5 per picture? Probably not… but that $5 price tag is going to help you out in a few ways, so keep reading.


Fiverr illustrations… step by step.

Here’s how I get my pictures done through fiverr:

1) Write a great book. I don’t even think about pictures until the book is just about perfect. Typos, maybe. But the plot and scenes should be finished.

2) Divide your book into pages. Don’t leave this to chance. You wouldn’t walk into a housewares store and say, “I need… some plates.” No, you need 8, or 12, or however many. So don’t wander onto fiverr with the vague idea that you need “some” pictures.

3) Decide how many pictures you need. If it’s a 32-page picture book, you’ll need 14-16 illustrations. At $5 per picture, you’re going to be paying $80, but it’ll probably be closer to $200-300 by the time you’re done. Can you afford it?

4) Make illustration notes for every single picture. What will it show? I know, in the traditional author/illustrator relationship, you send your manuscript to the illustrator, who uses artistic judgment to create beautiful pictures. Often with very little guidance. You may find a fiverr artist who works this way, but most just do your pictures as a series of one-offs. Many don’t speak English well, so make sure your notes are very clear. If your character is wearing a hat, or is blue and fuzzy, you must mention it, or you’ll get pictures that don’t match your text. And you’ll have to pay anyway, because it’s your fault for not mentioning it.

5) Search for “illustrators” or “children’s book illustrations” or something similar on fiverr.

6) Inspect each gig you find listed. What is the artist offering for $5? Usually, it’s a preliminary sketch only. Look at the gig extras for things like high quality (you need this for print books!). Many will give a tiny 72dpi illustration for the basic $5 but if you want a full-page, 300dpi illustration (yes, you do), you’ll have to pay an extra $10, $20 or more.

7) Ask yourself: do I like this illustrator’s style? Don’t look only at the “samples,” but scroll through actual finished work and client reviews. If no client work is shown, or no reviews listed, be very, very hesitant. Fiverr lets you “collect” gigs you like, so you can come back and decide later. Or you can just bookmark them in your browser.

8) Choose 3-5 illustrators, then buy samples from each. Buy ONLY ONE. Spend only $5. (If they have nothing available for $5, report them to fiverr; this is a violation of fiverr’s terms.) Don’t pay for colour or anything else at this point. You just want to make sure this artist can follow directions and create an image you like.

9) Wait. Wait for ALL the samples you’ve ordered before making a decision, if you can. Some artists turn over a quick request like this in a day or two; others take up to 21 days. Be patient (published children’s books take months and months to illustrate; think of this as a natural part of the process). If you tell them up front that this is a trial for a series of illustrations, they may do it quicker because they want the work, even if the time shown is relatively long.

10) If any artist misses the deadline, fire them and return to Step 5. No second chances at this stage.

11) When the artists deliver, make sure that what they’ve sent matches what you’ve requested exactly. Do you love one particular style? Can you picture their images inside your children’s book, with your name plastered on the cover? If so, you have struck gold. (If not, return to Step 5.)

12) Ask the artist you’ve picked whether they want you to order all at once, or divide your illustration orders into 2, 3 or more groups, spread out over a number of days or weeks. Fiverr is relatively stupid about deadlines, and might give the illustrator the same 3 days to finish your pictures whether you are ordering one or fifteen. If they don’t deliver on time, it may affect their stats, so most want you to check before placing large orders.

13) Place your order exactly as they have advised you to. Be clear. Be polite. Be grateful.

14) Some artists may send you sketches before they finalize your images. I love when this happens, because it gives an extra layer of security and comfort to both you and your illustrator. But many don’t do this. If you want preliminary sketches, try to specify it up front when you order.

15) As each illustration is delivered, inspect it carefully right away. You only have 3 days to request changes if there’s a problem. Check the actual size in a paint program like PaintShop to make sure it is 300dpi and the right dimensions. If you don’t know how, ask someone who does. You can’t tell just by looking: on screen, a 2” 72dpi illustration looks fantastic, but in your book, it’ll look awful if you blow it up to 6”. (Some programs let you get around this, with fancy algorithms to scale up pictures – even though everyone tells you you can’t. I used IrfanView, a free program, to scale up a whole bunch of pictures from 3” to 7” with no noticeable deterioration of quality. Really – I ordered a printed proof and the pictures are truly beautiful.)

16) If there’s a problem, request a modification. You only have 3 days to do this, so be quick. Do NOT add information – like, “oh, yeah, they were supposed to have blue hair and baseball hats and a lake in the background.” It was your job to say this up front. If it’s a small, honest mistake, as part of a big series of pictures, many artists will correct it free. But for huge changes, you’ll probably have to order a new gig.

17) Leave feedback. This helps them find work. Be brief, but be honest so you don’t lead others astray. If they were slow but the art was fantastic, say that. Fiverr defaults to sharing the image you’re leaving feedback on. This helps grow the artist’s portfolio, but I always uncheck this option anyway, so that only my comment is visible. I’m just paranoid: I don’t want other people seeing and stealing my art.

All told, this process could take a month or two (my longest through fiverr). Try to remember, however long it feels at the time, that this is still lightning-fast compared to the traditional publishing model.

Once you have all your pictures, you’re ready to put your book together. To me, this is the most exciting stage, seeing your picture book coming together.


Quick fiverr pros and cons:

PRO: It’s only five bucks!
CON: Usually it will cost you more. Sometimes, much more. But getting a sample from each artist you’re considering for only $5 will probably save you a ton of money down the line.

PRO: You have a set deadline when you can expect your art.
CON: Artists can miss your deadline and there really isn’t any consequence. You can cancel your order and start from scratch with a new artist. I once tried promise+ng to pay a tip if the artist delivered on time, which I thought would get her attention and circumvent this problem. It didn’t. She was busy and didn’t really care about an extra $5, $10 or $20. But you might want to try it… I still think it could work with the right person.

PRO: Since fiverr is a “work for hire” site, you own any illustrations you purchase through fiverr’s regular terms and conditions.  They’re yours, just as if you’d drawn them yourself.
CON: Many artists know this and will give you a drawing cheap but then charge $40-50 or more for copyright. Check each gig carefully before buying for any wording that involves copyright or rights in general. Some also charge extra to “remove their signature,” ie not mess up every single page of your book with their name up in lights.

PRO: You have unprecedented access to a huge global marketplace of artists and illustrators. This truly is amazing.
CON: Fiverr is almost completely anonymous. You may not even know your artist’s first name, or whether they’re male or female. You can’t generally contact them directly, even once you’re working with them, and there’s nothing stopping them from dropping off the face of the earth. Also, you’re one of hundreds of clients, and $5 or even $10 isn’t a lot of money, so not a huge incentive for them to work hard to make your book great.

Since you own the illustrations outright, you generally don’t have to list fiverr artists on the cover of your book. But since some buyers may see that as “weird,” since they know most illustrators get credited for their work, some people do work out terms with their fiverr artists where they list the illustrator’s name but he/she receives no further payment.


The biggest fiverr mistake.

Whatever you do, don’t complicate your life and theirs by promising a share of sales. By the way, some fiverr artists don’t want their names on your book and may not be flattered that you asked. If your book is “a guide to big, smelly, juicy farts,” they may not want their name on that project. They may want to preserve their name, and brand, for projects that are truly important to them.

(And chances are, your book isn’t it.)

Fiverr isn’t the only way I’ve hired illustrators. I hope to tell you how to find an illustrator through odesk and elance. But a lot of the process is the same, especially when it comes to copyright and the specifications for the art you need.

Whether you’ve found a traditional publisher and they’re taking care of the pictures for you, or you’re self-publishing your children’s book and have to buy the pictures yourself, it’s always tons of fun watching the illustrations coming together. Seeing your story coming to life at last is terrific, and if you’re open-minded, you’ll probably get even more than your fiver’s worth.

Like I said, I have bought hundreds of pictures through fiverr.  Those have been mainly good experiences, though there have been a couple of bad apples, like the “artist” whose knack was mainly with copy and pasting the same main character onto different (illegally copied) backgrounds.  Yuck. 

That’s not typical.  Most of my fiverr encounters have gone way better than I hoped.

And I feel so lucky that I’ve been able to connect with great artists from all around the world, telling stories with words and the kind of pictures I’d be totally unable to create on my own.

A great illustrator, even through fiverr, may even surprise you by discovering a side to your story that you didn’t even know was there – making it even greater than you imagined it could be.

Have you hired fiverr artists? Was it a great experience… or a nightmare?


  1. Jennifer,

    This looks like a wonderful resource. Thank you for sharing the "how-to" details. I plan to check it out.


  2. If this is the future for illustration, then a lot of illustrators who are currently living in the US, UK, Europe or anywhere else on this planet where the populace is shackled to high living costs are going to have to go and find other sources of employment.

    1. Peter, I've heard this a lot but I really think a lot of artists and illustrators are holding up a false dichotomy. It's not either/or, ie either high-quality high-priced art or nothing. I hope you'll read my follow-up post in response to objections like yours, about why fiverr art won't destroy the universe as we know it. :-)

    2. For some reason, the link wasn't clickable so here is that follow-up post. Check it out!

  3. Do your authors accept potato printing?

  4. The more I read this posting the more I begin to question the assumptions behind some of these declarations. Aside from the fact that you are expecting people to work for an hourly rate which would see you and your family out on the street, should you work for such returns, I really have to question some of the motivations behind your statements.
    Why for example do you say that, as the artwork created via Fiverr is on a work for hire basis, you are entitled as commissioner to ownership of the artwork?
    It doesn't, it does entitle you to ownership of the artwork for the purpose for which you have commissioned it—in this case appearing within the pages of your book, but that is as far as it goes.
    You do not have the right to physical ownership of the artwork (should it exist beyond a digital iteration), nor does it entitle you to sell reproduction rights on to a third party. Not that I am suggesting that you would be so underhand, but complete ownership of all intellectual rights to an artwork (that you had sourced from someone prepared to work for sweatshop rates) would allow such a transaction.
    If you check out the artists offering their services on Fiverr, even those artists working in countries where the cost of living is considerably lower than those you have to accommodate, will often have their own terms and conditions and a carefully structured approach to their pricing.
    Illustration is a great art and its practitioners are worthy of respect and a decent level of compensation for their labors, a sentiment that does need voicing in response to some of the cavalier assumptions that appear to inform this posting.

    1. In terms of ownership, according to fiverr's terms and conditions, "Buyers are granted all rights for the delivered work, unless otherwise specified by the seller in the Gig description." In other words (as I say here), writers must check the description carefully. If the seller hasn't said anything about copyright, then they do indeed own the illustrations in every way, just as if they had created them themselves. Buyers may do whatever they like with artwork that they have purchased, including reproduce it, put it on t-shirts, or whatever else they like.

      I do say unless they specify otherwise. Many artists have wised up to this and either explicitly in their gig say they retain copyright OR make it available for a premium rate. Without copyright, all a writer can do is use the art one time in a very limited way, generally not for sale.

  5. This comment has been removed by the author.

  6. Hi Jennifer—hah!
    Just read your response to my posting—like ships crossing in the night.
    Good to know your husband also has an informed view of animation and illustration and yes knowing that he shares some of my concerns and having seen some of the points you have raised my blood pressure is returning to at least a tolerable level.
    But issues of copyright are something to be considered carefully and I am still concerned that you haven't addressed these issues in your subsequent posting.
    It comes down to showing respect to someone who is probably putting as much time and effort into building their career as I expect you are.
    Thanks for the response!
    Best Wishes,

  7. So fiverr are playing as fast and loose with creator's rights as every other giant corporation seems to be doing.
    I am sure that the other authors who you are inviting to undermine illustrators rights would be pretty peeved if, as part of an arrangement to disseminate their works they were subject to the same treatment.
    And actually, if you do talk to published authors (as I am sure you do) you will know that this is a real and growing concern as giant corporates play fast and loose with creators rights, including authors (yes that means you and the demographic that you are addressing) because most of them do not have the resources to challenge practices which are as contentious as the one you have just outlined in a court of law.
    But most illustrators with any degree of common sense will have "wised up" to the potential for the sort of shoddy practices you have just outlined and the ones that haven't will be the ones who will probably be equally dilatory in terms of workmanship and delivering your artwork on time—if at all.
    Ultimately in terms of quality and professionalism, you get what you pay for.

    1. copyright is a basis for negotiation of usage rights and payment. It is not a money printing press for artists. It is not a given right to get paid huge amounts of money.

      It is contract law.

      It is also not shady business to ask for full rights it is just business. Don't want to work for that? Great, dont sell on a platform (and if you do, do read the t&c). Want to get more money? Do offer better gigs and for example use sites like peopleperhour.

      As a buyer I do not mind higher prices, quite the opposite. Platforms like fiver offer me a way to doe a quick check on portfolios - where is the illustration I like? After that I want a proper product and execution and do not want any kind of hassle in regards to royalty splitting or other things which is why I want the full rights. As the law allows me to have - again negotiation. If I pay peanuts, I will get peanuts. If peanuts is all I want, I am fine.

      Artist does not want to part with that? Great, no problem. it is funny though how artist always want to participate on success - which usually happens because in case of a book somebody worked their asses of in writing, marketing, etc - because it was of "their art". if there is however a failure, they do not want to chip in because clearly that was then the buyers fault ...

      And yes please, if you believe that the earth should be worshipped because you walk on it aka "never ever ask me to give full rights!!!!" - PLEASE so say so prominently, early on. Honestly I appreciate it, because it means that you are an artist - and not a business person. Copyright was build in a time where it make sense to have the usual regional, time, print amount, medium of choice differentation, but today if you buy illustrations you need and want to have something which is used in the highest class possible - worldwide distribution, unlimited etc. Because that is what Internet is qualified at.

      At which point I like people to remember that many of what we know as great artists today where indeed work for hire, just in a different time.

      As a buyer I want a reliable person to work with - and if that is not a one of relationship over time the seller will also be able to rise prices or walk away. Or decline the work from the get go.

      Thanks for the article, while I knew most it had the great point in it to space out the orders to allow for delivery, did not think about that.

    2. Nicole, it's nice to know that somebody gets it and doesn't think I'm the devil personified for suggesting this... this blog is here to help writers. That doesn't mean I don't care about artists. But it does mean I will share things I know to help other writers get started.
      Thanks for helping me do that!

    3. A legal contract regarding copyrights is whatever both participating parties agree to. I am a writer, and I have hired illustrators on other platforms for considerably more money per illustration, and I always require a signed, written agreement regarding "rights". My illustrators agree that the fee I paid them is fair compensation for their time and effort.

      Once the work is paid for, the illustrators agree that their interest in the product is done. It's a legally-binding agreement that we both honor. (But for the record, I always credit my illustrators- with their permission.) The key to avoiding misunderstandings of the law, in my opinon, is open, honest communication from the onset. It's like any other legally-bound working relationship. Handled with integrity and graciousness, there should be no reason for legal repercussions.

  8. I need several children's books illustrated and have no idea where to begin to get them done.

  9. Thank you for being a part of the growing problem of "People who treat artists like crap and expect them to work for less than a kid in a Chinese Sweat Shop"

    I hope you get screwed over time and time again, and wind up in a horrible legal lawsuit that costs you hundreds of thousands of dollars because you clearly don't care at ALL about the livelihood of that's really making your book sell (the art).

    Yes, this is legal. Yes this is also super underhanded and shady as hell. You sharing it with the world just shows that you think this is OK! FINE!

    No. It's not.

    I work as a professional illustrator, which means, YES, art is my livlihood. I just illustrated a children's book professionally and was compensated in the thousands of dollars. I'm also working on a children's book for a guy who really doesn't have a lot of money, but I liked his idea, so we negotiated a very low price, but I'm still being paid in the thousands, because it's a good 30+ illustrations. Even so, in that contract we negotiated a very strict contract about compensation just in case his book takes off and he makes millions. He was super happy to grant this, because he respected me as an illustrator, and I'm going to return that respect by doing the best job I can.

    You clearly have no respect for illustrators.

    $5 per illustration. Let's pretend $5 per sketch and $5 per illustration. 32 pages for a children's book, and a cover. double this to include sketches and we're at 66. That's $330. If you double this, just for shits and giggles, it's $660.

    You know how much my rent is for the month? $850. You know how much my insurance is, which is legally required by law? $300/mo since I'm self employed. let's pretend I don't drive, but I still pay utilities because I shower and use my computer to draw for you. Another $100. Let's pretend that I eat more than once a month. $300 for monthly groceries, because I'm careful. Oh, and let's talk about my student loans from going to art school to get an education so I could actually create great artworks for people... $500/mo in student loans.

    Yep. realize what you're actually offering to an artist.

    If you have no money, and I mean NONE, you should be offering at a minimum 1.5 to 3 thousand dollars to STUDENTS for your children's book, while granting them full rights to the artwork, royalties, and having the contract grant them additional rights if the book takes off.

    Unfortunately, you don't give a crap about the artist.

    1. I'm going to assume you read this post AND the follow-up, where I deal with some of the objections I received from artists and others. Still, you really shouldn't make assumptions about who gives a whatever about whoever. It's just not healthy.

      You're absolutely right, by the way. As a relatively new and independent writer, I really can't support an illustrator, all on my ownsome, for an entire month. I can't pay her rent, her insurance, feed her husband, kids and phone company.

      Then again, I write freelance and I haven't found any clients yet who are willing to bankroll ME and my family. It would be sweet if I could, but that's not how the freelance writing business works. Until you hit the big time (if and when), then the work is piecemeal, and you just have to slave away - sometimes taking jobs you don't love - to make sure your ends meet by the end of the month.

      That's my job, not my clients'. Similarly, that's the responsibility of any artist I work with - to make sure they're pricing themselves in a way that makes their work viable. Because I can't bankroll an artist, she will probably have to work on other projects even while she's working on my art.

      That's one reason I am generally okay with waiting a looooong time; it gives artists freedom to take on other jobs.

      Still - it is always valuable to hear and learn from another perspective, so I thank you for sharing yours.

      As for your hope that really, really bad things happen to me and my family... well, your art is lovely, I must admit. But as a writer, I find that words speak volumes about a person's true character.

  10. @Demetrio, If you had refrained from using "adult" language, I would have left your comment as-is. I have no problem with criticism, but want to keep the blog family-friendly.

  11. Hi Jennifer-
    I noticed on Amazon that your books are for sale. Can you suggest a company or method to self-publish children's books so they can be sold on Amazon?

  12. hello Jennifer,
    I read this post and all the others and all the comments. Thank you for the clear and helpful post with a great step by step guide. I am very sorry for the trolls giving you a bad rap for something where you were clearly trying to help people. I am at the beginning stages of self-publishing a children's picture book and will definitely be looking at Fiverr as well as Upwork and many other online places to try and find an illustrator. I would like to spend thousands but simply cannot see an ROI doing that, but am determined to enjoy the journey and have fun regardless.


As always, I love to hear from you.