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Writing Author-Illustrator Contracts

I'll start off by saying that I'm not a legal professional, and I don't exactly recommend doing what I did to put together a contract. You should probably always seek legal advice from a professional when drafting a legally binding document such as a contract. 

BUT, if you are interested in reading about what I did to write the contract for myself and my illustrator, then read on! 

how to write an author illustrator contract

My Steps:

  1. Looked at sample contracts between authors and illustrators
  2. Generated a contract as a freelance artist through Hello Bonsai
  3. Modified the contract to make myself the commissioner of the project instead of the artist
  4. Deleted parts of the contract that I did not need or want
  5. Added specific sections to the contract that I thought would be necessary
  6. Added protections to certain sections of the contract to ensure that I wouldn't be "ghosted"

What I think you should include in your contract:

  • Project Details (be clear, explicit, and precise about the project)

For example: 32 paged illustrated picture book, 15 spreads, cover and back cover

  • Deadlines (make them realistic)

I suggest that you have a deadline for initial sketches and a deadline for the final illustrations. Pick some dates and when your illustrator looks over the contract, they'll let you know if it's feasible.

  • Payment and Installments

You always have to pay upon signing. How much you pay is up to you and what your illustrator agrees to. Remember, your illustrator needs to pay the bills!

My breakdown: 40% upon signing, 20% upon approval of initial sketches, and 40% upon delivery of final sketches. Some people do 25%, 25%, 50% or 50% upon signing and 50% upon receipt of final product. 

  • "Penalty" Clause (I put this beneath the payments section)

Since you don't know your illustrator, you may want to have something in place in case your illustrator continuously delays the art pieces. I wrote something along the lines of, for every month that the art pieces are delayed, there will be a penalty in payment. Commissioner may choose to not penalize the artist if extensions were communicated beforehand.

You also want something in place in case they decide to terminate the contract and not complete the final product. I wrote that if the final art pieces were not delivered, my initial payments would be returned to me.

And, in order to protect the artist, if I decided to terminate the contract, the artist would be able to keep all of the initial payments. I would also pay a late fee if I were late to completing payments. 

  • Ownership and Licenses

This is to ensure that you are granted exclusive rights to the art. It allows you to use the art for self promotion for anything related to the book. You just need to credit the artist. 

  • Independent Contractor

This section states that you and the artist do not have an employer-employee relationship, so you are not able to dictate their work day/schedule. But also, then the artist is responsible for their own taxes, health benefits, etc. 

  • Confidential Information

This ensures that the illustrations won't be released by the artist/illustrator publicly until you are ready for them to do so.

  • Indemnity

This section exempts you and the artist from any legal liability for the other's actions. 


That's pretty much it! There are, of course, many more parts to the contract. As mentioned earlier, I highly recommend you confer with a legal professional about your contract. I honestly got really lucky that the contract happened to work out and that everything went smoothly. 

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