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Illustrator(s) Wanted for Children's Book Series

I'm looking for one or more illustrators for a new series of books for young children. A typical book will be 24 pages, with illustrations and a few sentences on every page. This series is designed for parents to read to 3-4 year olds, and for somewhat older children to read by themselves. In addition to an English-language book, I will produce bilingual editions (including ASL, American Sign Language). These may use the same illustrations or may be customized. Variations will also be used for coloring books and other items. The books will be supported with additional educational material (including for parents) on a companion website. In fact, the full text and illustrations may be available on the website.

The storyline for this series will come from the original Wizard of Oz books written by L. Frank Baum, which were quite popular nearly 40 years prior to the famous movie. (For the benefit of those who arrive directly at this page: these books and everything else published in the US prior to 1923 is now in the public domain and thus available for use in the US with no restrictions.) To a certain extent, each book in the series is "merely" a greatly abridged version of one or more chapters. The storylines in the original books are great; my goal is to bring them to a younger audience.

Look and Feel

I'm looking for fun and friendly, somewhat whimsical, and somewhat sparse. The obvious model is Dr. Seuss. I'd like illustrations that capture a similar spirit but that do not actually look like Dr. Seuss. A more direct model is the original Oz books. The first was illustrated by W. W. Denslow. The next 13 (and another 22 written after L. Frank Baum died) were illustrated by John R. Neill. I prefer the latter.

Conceptually, I'd like to use many of the original illustrations "as is" -- though even these will require some work. Many serve as backdrops to text that will be different in the new series. Others have backgrounds that are too "busy" and which I want knocked out. The Denslow illustrations can be used to set a scene, but I'd like the Neill characterizations to be used where they differ.

I'm also open to an artist's own style, or to something like manga -- as long as it meets my goals. (However, I'm reluctant to part with Neill's artwork.)

Here's an example (opens in new window) of what I'm looking for (from Neill's 3rd book in the Oz series). I like this Dorothy better than the 1939 movie's version. Cute and wholesome. I'm not particularly fond of the wizard here, but I'm content to accept Neill's characterization. (Additional book covers are linked below.)

Skills and Tools

  • Must be completely comfortable with computer-based graphics software. Creating by hand and scanning won't suffice.
  • I prefer vector to raster, e.g. Illustrator over Photoshop (unless you can convince me that raster is just as productive and flexible, and meets the technical considerations discussed below).
  • I prefer Macintosh, though PC versions of cross-platform tools should be fine.
  • Optional: Layout experience with QuarkXPress or InDesign would be nice, but is not required.

Market Considerations

I'm starting a new company to bring existing classics to a new audience of younger children. In addition, I want to target markets that I think are important and underserved by large publishers, e.g. bilingual books. These markets are unproven so it's prudent to avoid any unnecessary costs in the design and production of each book. And, to reach a "critical mass" of interest, I think it's best to publish multiple books prior to making a profit on the first book.

Technical Considerations

The above market issues suggest that books should initially be published using "print on demand" (POD) or very short run printing technology. However, existing color POD vendors typically require a retail price that I think will drastically reduce the potential market size (e.g. $16.95 for a full-color, 24-32 page paperback that can be sold thru resellers). After analyzing the underlying costs for color POD, it's clear that a major factor is the amount of color on each page. The "Dr. Seuss style" is a good fit here: lots of whitespace, clear black strokes (outlines?) that define every part of the image, with simple colors used as a fill. The Neill style is also fine (after dropping the background color).

Implications: no photographs, no richly detailed digital fine art, no 3D renderings with intricate surface textures.

Every illustration should look good on a color laser printer of recent vintage. That may or may not be the exact technology used for short run production, but it's a good approximation.

Copyright and Compensation

The illustrations will be done as a "work for hire", i.e. Classicosm will own the result and will be free to modify, re-use, sell, license, etc. (That's not typical of "trade publishing", i.e. the books that are in bookstores, but is common in educational publishing and other commercial sectors. These books will be available to the general public, but the publishing model is closer to the educational sector's.)

I can pay something up front, some on acceptance, and more over time. The advance will not come close to the standard advance paid by a large publisher to an experienced children's book illustrator. I'm starting this venture mostly from scratch, with no outside funding. However, to make up for deferring part of the payment, the total potential compensation can be somewhat higher than a typical work-for-hire. Payment will be an agreed upon fixed fee, with the deferred portion paid as a percent of net revenue (i.e. minus any reseller discounts and direct costs of printing and shipping, but before any marketing, salaries or overhead). The percentage is not an unlimited "royalty" that is common in trade publishing, it's just a way to defer some of the cost until there is revenue to cover it and ensure that if the company gets paid, the illustrator will get paid.

Who am I?

My qualification for creating children's books is that I'm a parent who knows something about writing and about education. Even better, I know people who know much more about both.

My qualification for starting a book publishing company is that I'm co-founder of a small software publishing company, which I've run since 1993. I know how to build a viable business with only modest investment.

Through my software products and consulting, I've learned a fair amount about the production side of graphics and publishing, especially workflow automation. Clients and customers include Disney, Dow Jones, Hallmark, Hasbro, Houghton Mifflin, TV Guide, and newspapers around the country. (I know less about the creation side, including current approaches to reusing shared elements.)


When hiring someone (whether full-time or contract), I think there are two parts to the interview process. First, I try to talk someone into joining. I list all the good things and share my vision of what could be great things.

Second, I try to talk someone out of joining. Really! There are downsides to any job or project, doubly so for startups. I want "win-win" situations. I want people who go in with their eyes open -- and who are sad but not mad if the business doesn't realize its potential. I've made money and lost money. I've created good jobs and I've laid people off (including myself), and learned plenty of lessons along the way.

I'm not a philanthropist who wants to enrich the world by unleashing your creativity. I'm starting a for-profit business that depends in part on a highly productive illustration process. I genuinely believe the project will be fun for the right person (and might eventually pay reasonably well). I'm also sure it would be miserable for the wrong person. My goal is to find the former.

I'm looking for someone who enjoys the challenge of imitating someone else's style (John R. Neill's), while modifying it to fit current tools and new constraints -- or perhaps branching off from it using an anime or custom look. I want someone who is really happy when a new illustration comes together lightning fast thanks to reusing visual components and an efficient process. It's important that I find someone who accepts that the conceptual integrity of the product is the responsibility of the business (i.e. me at the moment) and is willing to be overruled. There is certainly a place in this world for artists to create from the heart, free from outside pressure. I believe there's also an important place for adding beauty in the face of demands from the everyday world. The goal is not necessarily to create great art, it's just to bring a smile to a child's face.

I want to create lots of books that children enjoy. Every aspect of the business must balance those two goals: lots and enjoy.

What Next

Please look at some classic Oz books (links follow). Think about how long it would take you to grok Neill's style, select existing illustrations (I'll pay for a second set of books), adapt them (or recreate in a different style), and fill in any gaps (for the first 24-page book). Pick at least one item in your portfolio that suggests fun and friendly, and send me a link. (Please do not send an attachment. If the piece is not already visible to the public, I don't want to see it without a clear discussion of the legal implications -- which protect my rights at least as much as yours.) I don't mind if you spend a little time creating something from scratch or modifying an existing work, but please understand that I hope to get far more applicants than I can possibly work with, so that time investment may not yield a contract. Multiple links are fine, preferably in order of relevance. Do not just send a link to an entire gallery of work. If you're not willing to invest the time to understand what I'm looking for and suggest one or more specific pieces, that's a pretty good indication of the value you place on this particular opportunity.

  • Covers for the 40 "canonical" Oz books. Each cover is a link to a detail page which contains a larger image ... of a different cover!!! The books have been printed with various covers over the years; I have NOT traced the history of each.
  • Details of L. Frank Baum's life with a list of published books (that extends far beyond the Oz series).
  • An eBay search on "Wizard of Oz" will yield a diverse set of results; follow the "Antiquarian & Collectible" links within the "Books" category to see some originals and older reprints.


I don't mind working with new illustrators, but it's helpful to understand some of the realities of the business world. Here's a useful warning from an artist's perspective, though it only presents half of the story. There's some interesting discussion at this deviantART thread.

Here are a few articles that discuss advances, royalties, etc. for a children's picturebook:


Posted Nov. 27, 2004, updated Nov. 28

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Copyright 2004 by Scott S. Lawton. All Rights Reserved. "Classicosm" and "A world of timeless value" are service marks owned by Scott S. Lawton.



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