As self-employed freelancers, illustrators need to pay particularly close attention to how they manage their…
Book Royalty Rates for Illustrators
Congratulations, you got your first book deal! Now you’re probably wondering, “What royalties will I be getting?” Well, it varies. Let’s break down some areas:
Book cover art
Typically, there are no royalties on book cover work—it’s a flat fee. It may be exciting to illustrate the cover of what will be the next Harry Potter, but, sadly, you won’t see a dime in royalties. So negotiate for as much as you can!
Illustrated young adult and middle grade novels
If you’re the author or author/illustrator, you’ll get the full royalty rate. This is typically 10% but could be lower or higher depending on the publisher and negotiations. There may even be a step clause in the contract where the royalty amount gets higher when you hit certain benchmarks. (i.e. 10% first 25,000 copies sold, 12.5% for 25,000–100,000 copies, and 15% for all copies afterward.)
If you’re only the illustrator on the project, the royalties will be much smaller—if there are even any at all. Most books in these categories tend to fall under a flat fee payment so there won’t be royalties. However, some projects do have them. If you can snag royalties on a young adult or middle grade book, the rates will be around 2%–2.5%.
Children’s picture books
If you’re the author and illustrator, you’ll get to keep the full royalty rate, which would be similar to above: around 10% with possible benchmarks that will raise it to around 15%. If you’re only the illustrator, the royalties will be split equally between you and the author. So that would be around 5% with benchmarks that raise it to around 7.5% when you hit them.
Children’s board books
Board books carry a much smaller royalty rate than traditional picture books. These books tend to be around 2.5% royalties.
Most of the numbers I’m quoting are from major publishers and are fairly industry standard. However, every contract is different and every publisher is different. You may find smaller publishers who offer far less of an advance but much higher royalties than a traditional publisher. Likewise, you may find the reverse.
One thing worth considering is that most books do not earn out their advances to even pay royalties. So, whatever the royalty rate is, it’s usually in your best interest to negotiate the highest advance possible. That’s my 2 cents (or 2.5%) anyway!
This Post Has 29 Comments
Thanks for another great post. I have really enjoyed reading your articles and find them very helpful. Thank you very much.
Thanks, Brodie. Glad you found it helpful!
What percentage do I give an illustrator friend of mine? I’m writing a book about the chromosome-related depression, that I was born with and suffer from, as well as the numerous health issues it has caused me to be required to endure. Thank you!
That’s entirely dependent on you and what you want. It could be a flat fee or it could be a royalty. And it depends on how integral the illustrations are and what kind of book it is. (i.e. picture book or novel, etc.)
It seems like I’ve managed to get a deal with a children’s picture book I wrote and illustrated (contract not yet signed so fingers crossed). Your tips on percentage rates and advances have come in handy in discussing terms with publisher so I’m very grateful to you. If the publisher decides to have it translated, am I to assume that I get the same percentage rate or should I expect the rate to be divided between me and the translator?
That’s great that you got a deal. Congrats! There’s usually a clause in the contract that stipulates foreign rights. It’s far less of a royalty than the regular book royalty because it’s a sub right. Your translator’s deal is completely separate than yours.
You could also retain foreign rights if you negotiate keeping them, and shop them on your own as well. That’s a fairly common practice.
When splitting royalties between author and illustrator via traditional publishing (non-fiction humour book), and the illustrator has done, say, 15 drawings in a book of circa 300 pages of text, would the split reflect that? Or is it always 50:50.
Am I also allowed to suggest an illustrator to an agent/publisher?
Traditionally, those kind of books are flat fees, not royalty-based. If there were to be a flat fee, it would be small, like 2%. But, usually it would be flat fee.
Sure, you can suggest an illustrator. It doesn’t mean they’ll hire that person, but there’s nothing wrong with making a suggestion.
Hi. I’ve just gotten commissioned to do a watercolor painting cover for a e-book about a woman’s path from satanic worship and self harm to finding God and Jesus. What would be a good pricing for my work? My internet search has said $250-$500 flat rate and 7% for a royalty fee but your article says different. It’s supposed to be her 2nd book about her journey.
I don’t give individual pricing help, but you can read my article about pricing for more information.
Hi. I am illustrating a children’s book for a friend who is the author. I am spending a lot of time illustrating and he says he will pay me a percentage of royalties from this self published book. I feel i should be charging per drawing as I am using all my spare time. There is also no guarantee the book will sell! Thanks. Kelly
That’s correct. You’ll most likely never see royalties. Charge what the project is worth to you.
What if you’r licensing art from an existing property (well known, but not exactly famous) for a book series? What royalty percent would you expect to pay for use of existing art for covers (and use of titles as well). Can’t find any good information online.
Since this is for a cover and not a full book, I think a one-time fee would apply and not a royalty.
Hello – Is it common for Artist Rep Agencies to also require a royalty percentage from the one you receive as an illustrator if the work has been generated by them? If so, should this % be perpetual? Any standards or best practice on this? Thanks!
Yes, this is common. If your rep takes 25% commission, for instance, and you’re receiving a 5% royalty, your agent would take 25% of that. This is in perpetuity. Another reason to think about whether an agent makes sense for you if you don’t absolutely need one.
Hello, I’m about to begin a second children’s book for the same author, the first book I illustrated for free with an agreement of 50/50 royalties. The books are about 27 pages, full colour, have drawn digitally and very detailed.
This time I’ve asked for a small free plus the same royalty agreement. This did not go down well, I’m now being asked to sell the rights and everything for that small fee and no royalties. Am I being unreasonable? Thank you.
No, you’re not being unreasonable.
Thank you so much for this article.. May i ask what about Poetry Books? I’m planning to release a poetry ebook, and I asked someone to do 5 illustrations for the book. She wants royalties for her work because she believes the drawings will be there forever in the book. But I think a flat rate would be more meaningful. Please kindly advise on what would be fair for both of us.
Flat rate would typical for something like that.
I was given advances royalties of $3000 for illustrations in a youth aged book on residential school. The books release date was Mar. 24th 2020. The publishers fiscal year ended on Nov. 30th, 2020. It appears that by the contract, it will be in print for at least 2 years.
So, the book was only on the market for 8 months (during Covid ).
Payments and statements of accounts is sent on Feb.1st, 2021. The way I read the royalty statement: the total royalties earned was $1,365.84. Then less advances paid ($3000). Then TOTAL PAYABLE: ($1634.16)
Am I being asked to pay back $1634.16??
Thanks I look forward to your reply.
No, it means that you still have $1,634.16 left until you’ve earned out your advance and receive any royalties.
Oh phew!!! Thank-you, I was hoping that was what it meant!
This was the first time I have illustrated for royalties, it has always been a flat rate so I wasn’t sure about that ‘balance’. Yaay, now I can rest tonite!
Thanks again for your quick reply.
My situation is very similar to a previous comment named by Kelly, dated on Sept 21, 2020. My only difference is, I feel, I will receive those royalties from my author. However, I am “charging her per drawing as I am using all my spare time. There is also no guarantee the book will sell, because this is her “Pet Project.” I don’t want my time or her time to go to waste. How do you think I should approach her about royalties and flat fee?
Get an advance against royalties, typical of how most book publishing works. If your fee is $100/drawing, and you’re doing 20 drawings, then ask for an advance of $2,000. Then, when you make past $2,000 and earn out your advance, you’ll start getting additional royalty payments. And, on a side note, what makes you so sure you will receive those royalties from the author? You have absolutely no guarantee that this book will sell enough to earn out an advance. Most self-published books do not turn a profit.
Do illustrators who design card decks typically receive royalties? Or is it flat fee only?
Thank you for the great post, it really helped.
I am about to negotiate a contract and trying to figure out what sort of issues to anticipate. It is the authors first book and it will be an academic book with 20 full page illustrations along with the cover. She doesn’t have a publishing deal yet, but is wanting to get started on the illustrations now. I am thinking a flat rate would be best, maybe around $100 for each drawing, a little more if she wants a full spread for the cover. Since this is her first time working with an illustrator, and my first time illustrating a book, I want to know what is standard practice with contracts as far as usage rights goes. Can she use these images for other stuff? Do I have any usage rights for these images? How does that work?
I’m currently illustrating a children’s book. The author and I agreed to a set fee for the illustration work and then we will split any profits from the finished book, 50/50, once it’s published.
I have someone else who is interested in me illustrating a book for them after I finish this one, but I’d like to know if there’s a typical standard way of getting paid. Is the above method typical or is there a particular usual way most illustrators have it set up (only paid for illustrations/combo of payment for illustrations and split of royalties/only split of royalties, etc.)?
Are there any related contracts you can link me to, and/or specific legal issues to have covered?