Key Items in an Author Illustrator Contract

Author-Illustrator Contracts

Most people who write a book that requires illustrations (such as children’s or botanical books) aren’t artists. When self-publishing their book, these authors will need to hire someone themselves to create the necessary artwork. They may hire the artist just to design the cover, or they may ask for illustrations for every page. Either way, it’s a good idea to have a contract spelling out exactly what the artist will produce and how much they will be paid.

There are many examples of author-illustrator contracts, and they can vary widely, but here are the key things to look for when you hire an illustrator:

  1. Who owns the copyright? This is extremely important, as the copyright owner has all the rights to the work, and the other person only has the rights the owner chooses to give them. If you hire someone for just one project, then under copyright law the illustrator will own the copyright. If you want to be the copyright owner, then the words “work for hire” must appear in the contract (see my previous article on the work for hire doctrine). This is the only way you can be considered the owner when you hire someone to create something for you. It is also helpful to explicitly state the name of the owner. For example, “’X’ is considered the author and owner of the copyright under copyright law.” While this level of detail isn’t required, it does make it very clear what the intentions of the parties are.
  2. What rights does the other party have? No matter who owns the copyright, the contract should state what the other party can and cannot do with the artwork. If the illustrator is the owner, then the author must be able to use the artwork in their book, marketing, advertising, etc. If the author is the owner, then the illustrator doesn’t need to have any rights per se, but they often like to have the artwork in their portfolio as examples of their prior work. You should discuss the various scenarios with your illustrator and decide together what works best for both parties. Then make sure the final decision is incorporated into the contract.
  3. How will the illustrator be paid? If you hire the illustrator just to do the cover, or a few illustrated pages here and there, you will likely pay them a flat or hourly fee, worked out in advance. If they’re doing a lot of artwork (such as illustrating a picture book for children), then you can either pay them a fee or give them a percentage of your royalties. Most of the time, the illustrator will want the fee so they can get paid and move on to the next project. Either way, you want the contract to state how and when the illustrator will be paid so there’s no confusion in the future.
  4. What is the timeline for the illustrator to complete the work? Clear communication is essential to ensure that expectations are met, and the project is completed on a timely basis. Even if you aren’t in a hurry, it’s still a good idea to have a due date, so you’re not wondering in six months what’s going on with that book project (or on the flip side, you won’t feel the need to nag the illustrator every five minutes if you know it’s not due for another week).
  5. Will the work be original? In most cases, if you’re hiring an illustrator then you want them to make something new for you; you don’t want them to recycle content they made for someone else (and you don’t want them to use your content for someone else either). While this shouldn’t have to be stated, it’s not a perfect world and it’s better to simply have it spelled out. While you’re at it, the illustrator should also promise that what they create won’t infringe on anyone’s copyright or otherwise cause people to sue you.

The contract can certainly cover more than these five points, but it shouldn’t cover less. If you have questions about your contract, or you want some help putting a contract together, please feel free to email me at kaway@kawaylaw.com.

Kelly Way Attorney pic and bio Kelley Way was born and raised in Walnut Creek, California. She graduated from UC Davis with a B.A. in English, followed by a Juris Doctorate. Kelley is a member of the California Bar and an aspiring writer of young adult fantasy novels.

Subscribe to Kelley's newsletter

* indicates required