Monday, August 4, 2014

Why hiring a fiverr artist for your kids’ book WON’T destroy the universe.


Since I posted about how to get your children’s book illustrated for $5 at fiverr, many, many people have raised some pretty strong objections.

If you listen to these people, you might justifiably believe the world as we know it would come to an end if we buy illustrations through fiverr and similar sites.

But I’m here to assure you that it won’t.

Here are a few of their objections (some of which I share – read on):

“As a reader, I object”

I agree.

I read books, too. I hate poorly-illustrated books, and refuse to share them with my children. Bad illustrations are offensive.

And so many self-published books look terrible.

But if you read through my original post on hiring an illustrator through fiverr, you’ll see that I’ve given you a built-in way to avoid finding a terrible illustrator – although, of course, there’s always the chance that a good illustrator will draw bad pictures for you.

Still. This could happen through any type of hiring arrangement. You could place an ad in Craigslist, meet a local illustrator in a coffee shop, get along great, peruse his portfolio and love his stuff and still end up with bad illustrations.

But I think it’s actually tougher that way. Think about it. In fact, if you have a personal relationship with your illustrator, you’d be more hesitant to speak up if you think his art sucks.


“As an artist, I object”

There’s this idea out there that’s simply wrong.

Illustrators believe that writers are either going to hire them… or they’re going to go hire somebody working for pennies in an art sweatshop in some humid country with palm trees.

(Don’t get me wrong, by the way; I currently live in a humid country with palm trees and like it very much.)

Those artists are wrong.

Global vs local? A false dichotomy.

Before fiverr, before the internet, did children’s-book writers hire local artists to illustrate their stories and self-publish them? No, by and large they didn’t. By and large, their stories sat in drawers or on their hard drive and never saw the light of day.

Who can afford to have a book illustrated? Only the most wealthy writers.

If they were brave and sent their manuscript around, and if they were lucky and it got accepted, did their newly-acquired editor tell them to pick a local illustrator to get the pictures done? No way. By and large, editors worked with illustrators they knew and trusted to do a good job (they still do, by the way).

What editor in her right mind would take a chance on an unknown? Only a crazy editor would do that.

That’s why those artists are mistaken. It’s a false dichotomy. It’s not either/or. There was NEVER the huge marketplace for independent story-book illustrators that they imagine before fiverr et al began horning in on their business.

Opening up opportunities.

But wait a minute – “taking a chance on an unknown”? That’s basically what fiverr is about. The deal is, “I don’t know you, so here’s not much money. Make me a picture.” Anybody can do it, and even though they’re making pennies, they’re gaining experience, building a portfolio, and gaining a number of other intangibles that may or may not pay off someday.

Sites like fiverr, elance, odesk… They don’t undermine the local marketplace – they CREATE it. Far more (I believe) than local sites like Craigslist and your local newspaper’s classified ads. Never before could you, an artist, sit home and make pictures for people around the world, picking and choosing the contracts you want for the money you want.

Artists, you were NOT thriving before fiverr. Fiverr artists aren’t stealing your business. There WAS no business before these sites came along. Not really. Maybe you’d have ended up working full-time as a graphic designer, making pamphlets, logos, corporate motivational posters.

And by the way, this isn’t just theoretical; it’s personal. That’s what my husband, a trained animator, used to do for a living.

When the videogame company we both worked at tanked (he did game design; I wrote documentation and also did QA/testing), he went to work for a corporate behemoth. Doing graphic stuff, but also, let’s see… converting Excel spreadsheets. Generating PDFs. Formatting Word documents. Yuck.

These days, he works online through elance, and despite global competition, is starting to make actual money and build up his reputation there.

But it’s your choice… if you don’t like “competing in the global marketplace,” go back to Craigslist and Kajiji and see how you do.

(My husband did have more to say though… I’ve moved his comments to the end, so keep reading.)

Two more objections also often come up among writers:


“I worry about my story”

This comes from writers worried about handing over their manuscript to “just anybody,” presumably some poor person in a graphics sweatshop in a palm-tree country, who may turn around and sell it (or to an unscrupulous fellow American, I suppose).

This really isn’t a reasonable objection. One thing we really must stop worrying about (and here’s why writers should stop worrying) is manuscript theft. Anyway, what are they going to do once they’ve stolen your brilliant story? Spend thousands to have it illustrated? Illustrate it themselves and put it out under their name?

That’s a ton of work or money… with very little chance of striking it rich on that one book. (Sorry; even if it’s the best book, having just one of it probably won’t make you rich.) They’re probably going to make more money, even on fiverr, just shutting up and drawing the pictures you asked for.

Anyway, the biggest reason you can relax is: you’re not giving them your story.

If you read my original how-to about having your children’s book illustrated on fiverr, you'll see that I never once mention handing over the manuscript... except to say that I don't do it. Not because I'm worried about theft, but because a) many fiverr illustrators don't know English well enough to even read a kids'-book manuscript, and b) whoever you hire probably doesn't care much about your story.


“$5? It’s too good to be true”

I agree. Often, it is.

That’s why, in my original how-to about having your children’s book illustrated on fiverr, I suggested that you hire not one but three illustrators to do a test-run with your concepts and see how well you work together.

There’s a decent chance, if you’ve selected your “test artists” carefully, that you’ll get something you like on the first trial run… but I suppose if none of the three artists produce work that meets your standards, you can either shift your standards downward or give up on the fiverr model and look for a more professional artist who will charge more money.

Or stick your manuscript back in a drawer.

That choice is up to you. I’m not here to take away your choices… but to offer some that you might not have considered.

My own positive experience.

However, I also wrote my post based on personal experience, and my experiences have been overwhelmingly positive. I’m not going to plug individual books here, but all of my books are available on with “Look Inside” enabled.

Click through and take a look at the illustrations. You’ll probably see some you like, some you don’t like. With only three exceptions (Maple Leaf Forever, Penguin Rosh Hashanah, The Family Torah), they were all illustrated by fiverr artists.

An artist’s opinion.

Since my husband is an artist and graphic artist, I asked him briefly to be very, very honest about the type of pictures he’s seen in my books (yeah, I never asked him before; I’m arrogant that way).

He said, “The artwork is getting better and better; it seems to be maybe you’re directing it better or something… I feel like more textured work would be more personal somehow. The artwork you have… it’s a little like tailor-made clip art, instead of a vision that the artist would have.”

I really appreciate his honesty, and I almost completely agree. I do believe that if I had more to spend, I would get more. But I don’t believe that just because I have less to spend, I can’t publish my books at all.

So I asked him that, too. I explained everything I’ve said here, about writers who can’t afford to hire a full, professional illustrator. And I asked him which he thought was better, to leave the story in a drawer and never have it published, or to pay for the best illustrations you can afford.

His response: “Yeah, do it. Get it out there. Better to do that than not do it at all.”

Better out than in (a drawer).

Maybe he’s biased because he’s seen how much I enjoy being able to publish my own work… but he hasn’t lost his own artistic judgment along the way.

He says, “It’s great that you can get the story that you want done at a reasonable price. It’s just the level of art that you’re getting. You’re getting an inexpensive level of art, as opposed to someone who might do some amazing artwork with more depth to it.”

One suggestion he made: “I would do it… but I would consider the book as being not the final result of what you want the book to be. Maybe it’s a working copy.”

In other words, if you do find the money somewhere and feel you still love your story and want to do right by it, you should consider plopping down a bit more and finding a higher-end illustrator you can work with together to craft a book you can be even prouder of.

I don’t mind that idea, but for many of us, that windfall will never come. And in the meantime, finding an artist who can work for $10 or $20 or $40 (or even, rarely, $5) per page has such a liberating experience that I needed to share it with you here.

I’d love to hear your stories about finding and hiring illustrators. What sites or networks have worked best, or have you been lucky enough to connect with a local illustrator you love?

Please let me know (nicely!) in the Comments section.


  1. I totally disagree with pretty much every one of your statements here Jennifer, any designer worth their weight would too. What you seem to neglect is the fact that the design process is a cerebral one where much work is done to get to the end result in order to achieve high quality result, asking a designer to produce something that will often take a few hours for less than one hours minimum wage is an insult. There will always be designers out there that will populate these sites but the arrangement is not mutually beneficial , it never will be, you fail to see that you simply shoudln't be advocating it!

    1. I don't understand. Why would the designers and illustrators work on these sites if the work wasn't, as you say, "mutually beneficial"? There are a number of reasons I can think of why they do, and it seems to me that many are doing very well, financially. There are a few legitimate arguments against using these sites, but paying a grown-up what he or she asks to be paid doesn't seem like one to me at all. Why would they line up to be "insulted" in this way?

    2. You want to offer full meal service, decoration included. I want to buy a desert to add to my own menu. Full service does work when needed, but is not required nor wanted every time.

      Is anybody forcing you to work there or work for those rates? Especially for authors they will have an interest to build up a relationship to an illustrator for example to have a series of books in reliable quality and so on. Execution, deadlines, etc. And a professional on that side very easily can deal with those requests and has proper answers.

      The reality however is, that many people are angry that the buyer has a choice now - and is not forced into accepting just anything. The seller has to put in more effort than just being there.
      If you can do that you will not have a problem. And should be thankful for those sites, since they only should take away the requests from you which you did not want in the first place - because of low payment etc.

    3. Nicole, this is an articulate way to present it. Thanks!

  2. No Jennifer you dont understand at all. It because they have no skill or self worth or business accumen in order to dechipher what is a mutually beneficial project. No clue in telling you where to get off with slave labor rates and being underappreciated perhaps. the deal on these sites is of massive benefit to you as you are getting the project at 5-10 % of its real value and why would you ever question that. There will always be those out there that don't get it and you are just capitalising on that and being blissfully unaware of the damage its doing. After if rates rise your profit decreases right? Your argument that there are tons of designers out there willing to work for next to nothing does not make a strong case for it being mutually beneficial.

    1. No skill, self-worth or business acument? Most of the artists I've worked with - yeah, even through fiverr - are university or art college-educated, living in Europe and working for themselves. I suppose eventually they'd go under if what you said was true... but from emails back and forth and the fact that they stick around, I think they're doing fine despite your defense.

    2. After reading this post and the previous one, as one of freelance illustrator in fiverr, I can't stand not to post a comment to show you my perspective.

      Before selling my service on that $5 marketplace, I was a full-time book cover designer, illustrator, and lay-outer in a national level publishing company, right here in a 3rd world country (before that, I studied in one of the most respected art institute here).
      You know how much they paid us for 48 hours work per week? $35.00!
      That means us - me and hundreds other - professional art workers must survive with 5 bucks per day, while doing exactly same work (probably more) with illustrators from wealthy countries.

      Another example from publishing service in my area: for a full color illustration + adding texts, logos, etc for book cover + layout of 100 more pages, we only get paid $30. And we have to spend about one week or more from building concept until client said no more revision.

      By selling my skill on fiverr, I can deliver 3-5 illustrations per day (equal to $12 - $20).
      Do you see how much it differs from real situations above?

      Some of you said we don't have skill or professional experience. Some of you said we don't have enough capacity to understand "a mutually beneficial project". That's alright. We're getting used to be underestimated because of our wage. And we will always work hard to prove that those statements are wrong.

      Hereby, I want to say thank you for Mrs. MacLeod for inviting other authors to use our services. You people give us opportunity to risen up our life quality.

      Just remember to stay careful while picking illustrators in fiverr, since there are some fake artists indeed.

    3. @Eka, I am so, so happy you came by to share your point of view. I'd like to share this as a post in itself, because you've obviously put a ton of thought into it. Thank you for letting us know. Your fiverr gigs look great, too! (hint to readers: click through to take a look for yourself...)

  3. I'm a US illustrator on Fiverr. Pay isn't great, but my main reason for it was to get my name out there as an author/illustrator. I've illustrated several books since opening shop, and people have been really happy with my work, and I've had at least one person see my work on Amazon and hunt me down to draw a book for them. I love Fiverr. :) Will I raise my prices in the future? Porbably (and I've since added gig extras), but I'm okay with where I'm at, right now.

    1. KBoo, I'm so happy you stopped in here to share this, because everybody's saying it's all about third-world artists and slave labour. I love the idea of gig extras, and upping the rates as you become better established. I have a few artists I'm still working with who are now making hundreds per book. Still not a fortune, but enough to get by if you have a bunch of gigs on the go.
      Thank you for sharing this! (Also, take a look at Carrie's great summary down below your comment.)

  4. So many guided self publishing platforms charge authors thousands of dollars to publish, I know this money is what covers the cost of the illustrator. Authors end up with a basement full of books that many bookstores won't carry. I know it seems like a crazy thought but as an author I'd like to make money with my craft as well. I'm using fiverr to promote my copywriting, proofreading, and critique services and I really enjoy it. I'm building my portfolio in this area and actually getting paid. Much better than writing for free. I feel like $5 is the introduction price for something small like a sketch, a 500 word email, a product description. Most people are making more money than that. Illustrators I looked at were charging more for backgrounds and additional characters. I would think an enterprising author who wanted wanted to pay an illustrator more could use one of the test illustrations and hire one of the people offering video production services on fiverr to create a crowd funding video. The money from crowd funding could then be used to pay the illustrator a more livable rate. I think fiverr is about connecting people who are entrepreneurs and want to make money doing what they love.

    1. Carrie, this is a terrific summary. Yes! And see the previous comment from KBoo... you CAN make more, as you become better established, with extras etc. Thanks for sharing.

  5. Just saw this and couldn't stop myself to tell Jennifer: you're a REAL idiot. Not an insult.. Just the naked truth.

    1. Wow? Seriously? Do you do that with all your friends, too? "Not an insult, but you're a REAL idiot." With great big capital letters. (Hmm, I bet you have millions of friends.) Wish you'd shared something thoughtful so I could thank you for stopping by and we could maybe have a conversation.


As always, I love to hear from you.