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3. What You Can And Can't DIY When Launching Your Book: Illustration

3. What You Can And Can't DIY When Launching Your Book: Illustration

3. What You Can And Can't DIY When Launching Your Book: Illustration

This is the last in a 3-part series on what you can - and can’t - do yourself as an indie author. Part 1 covered manuscript editing, part 2 covered book design, and this final article goes over how to approach illustration for the three main genres that use them.

This is the last in a 3-part series on what you can - and can’t - do yourself as an indie author. Part 1 covered manuscript editing, part 2 covered book design, and this final article goes over how to approach illustration for the three main genres that use them.

This is the last in a 3-part series on what you can - and can’t - do yourself as an indie author. Part 1 covered manuscript editing, part 2 covered book design, and this final article goes over how to approach illustration for the three main genres that use them.

Can I Do My Own Illustrations?

Are you a professional illustrator? If yes, then you can certainly do your own illustrations. For the rest of us, though, the answer is “most likely not, but maybe.”

Depending on what kinds of illustrations you need, you may or may not be able to do them yourself. But generally speaking, if you are not a professional illustrator, your book will suffer if you try to pull off complicated illustrations on your own.

Let’s take a quick look at the types of illustrations and how much DIY you can get away with for each:

Children’s Book Illustrations

Whether it’s for all the pages in a picture book, or for the line drawings that frequently accompany chapter books, these illustrations require the hand of a professional. Not going to lie, hiring and vetting illustrators is a major job. It’s one of the topics we cover in Frontlist.

Here’s a simplified summary about commissioning your artwork:

First, Find 2-3 illustrators whose style you like. Look on Instagram, or use a site like Dribbble. Have them quote you for a single illustration. Then, commission each of them to complete that as a paid project. You’re testing what it’s like to work with them. Never skip this step, even if you’re worried about budget! This is how you weed out the flakes.

At the end of this mini-project you should have identified an illustrator who you like, who communicated well, who you enjoyed working with, and who has given you complete confidence that they will finish the work, they way you want it, and on time (tall order, I know). If you haven’t identified this person, start over again until you do.

The full process with all its steps is too long to replicate here, but this should give you a sense of what you're up against. Alternatively, there are agencies that shortcut the process a bit because they handle the contracting with up front pricing, but you'll still want to make sure that you like the styles they offer.

Sidebar: If you enjoyed the simplicity and honestly of this advice, then you'll love Frontlist. It walks you through every task in the book production and book launch process, and even helps you find vetted vendors to work with (if you so choose).

Diagrams or Charts

Frequently found in non-fiction works, diagrams and charts are excellent contenders to do yourself. In this case, Canva is your friend. They have plenty of templates for common charts, diagrams and even infographics. You can choose one that either fits your needs, or comes close enough that you can modify it to work without compromising the visual quality.

A word to the wise, though. Canva has both a free and paid option. If you want to be able to use the work you produce for commercial purposes, you should create it using the paid version to ensure you have the proper usage licenses. Read more about usage licenses from Canva here.

Fantasy World Maps

Like children’s book illustrations, these will come out best if you have a professional do it (see the Children’s Book Illustrations section above). That said, if you have an artistic bent, or a graphic design background, then you might be able to pull it off on your own. You can also use rice to create a fantasy map, or at least the outline of one.

You’ll still need to digitize those illustrations, assuming you’ve done them on paper, and make them print-ready.

Can I Use AI To Illustrate My Book?

As of right now, I’d say no. There are a few reasons for this. 

Firstly, images generated by artificial intelligence are not copyrightable. That means anyone could feasibly take the illustrations from your book and use them as-is for their own purposes. Without a copyright, you can do nothing to stop this.

Secondly, AI has a very hard time with maintaining a consistent character across multiple illustrations. That means the adorable kiddo on page one of your book, may not look like the same character on page two, which is then different from the character on page three, etc. I’ve heard of some prompt engineers who have managed to overcome this limitation, but it is a special skill which takes much practice, and the right tools to accomplish.

Lastly, Amazon’s KDP now has a new disclosure policy for all AI-Generated content. It’s still not fully clear what Amazon is going to do with this data, or what kind of additional policies they may put in place around AI generated content in books. And it’s exactly because these waters are murky that I advise against AI generated illustrations.

We have no idea what the ramifications of that are going to be moving forward. Can you imagine putting in all the effort to create, launch and market a book only to have your sales tank later because Amazon decided to act against that AI content? There’s just too many unknowns, IMO.

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For indie authors, it's so important to figure out when it's best to tackling a task themselves (saving money!), and when enlisting professional assistance might be a better choice. I hope this short, three-part guide will help in making well-informed decisions.

To recap: in part one, we delved into various book editing options. In part two, we covered the different book and cover design options. And we're wrapping it up today with our discussion on DIY book illustrations.

About the Author

Tara Kelly left a cushy Silicon Valley job to pursue writing. Since then, she’s published a book on UX design, as well as seven children’s picture books under the pen name Kelly Tills where she tackles topics like neurodiversity, gender, and why you shouldn’t steal bananas from a monkey. Tara is the co-founder and CEO of Frontlist.io where she helps other indie authors launch their books on their own, and without falling prey to the predatory underbelly of the author services industry.

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