I am a first time author looking to publish a children's book which I need to have illustrated.

I have a contract offer from a well-known vanity publisher, and they have offered to produce the illustrations. The contract states that they will own the copyright to the illustrations.

Is this something that should be a cause for concern, and does anyone have any experience in this matter?

  • If the publisher is creating the illustrations, then the publisher/artist owns the copyright, just as you should retain the copyright to your words. Why would you own the copyright to the illustrations, unless you buy them? Commented Apr 5, 2017 at 22:12
  • 4
    Are you paying them to do it, or are they providing the illustrations without charge to you, other than (I assume) a larger cut of the manufacturing costs? If you are paying them to do it, then I would be very skeptical of any contract whereby they own the copyrights. On the other hand, if they get their money back via a larger cut of sales, AND you do not have to pay them if sales are poor, AND you retain copyright to the text, AND you can re-publish your text elsewhere with different images (maybe after a year or so), then you can think about the money. Short answer: Maybe, maybe not.
    – user23046
    Commented Apr 5, 2017 at 22:53
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    I'm confused. Vanity publishers don't make contract offers. Vanity publishers provide a service for a fee. If they do work for you for a fee, you should own that work. If they are proposing that they do work for you, for a fee, and then own that work, run, don't walk, in the opposite direction. If you want to self publish and you want to own the pictures, pay and illustrator to create them for you. You own what you pay for.
    – user16226
    Commented Apr 5, 2017 at 23:11
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    @MarkBaker Yes, you own what you pay for, but sometimes what you pay for is a limited licence to use something. Though I absolutely agree with all your points about Vanity Publishing and concern that ioanimal should understand what he/she might be getting into.
    – Spagirl
    Commented Apr 6, 2017 at 9:33
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    Yes, but when you get a limited licence to use something it is because it was made for the public and is being sold many times. This should not apply to something that you commissioned for your personal use and for which you pay the full cost of development. Such a contract could only be meant to bind you to the vendor. Run, run, run.
    – user16226
    Commented Apr 6, 2017 at 11:47

4 Answers 4


You should be cautious about any dealings with a vanity publisher, they make all their profit by selling you overpriced services. In this case, you're essentially paying for the illustrations (perhaps not as a separate line item, but included in your contract), with no guarantee of quality, and no ownership of the finished images. It's even possible they may not create custom images for you, but draw from a library of stock images (which might be one reason they want to retain copyright).

You might want to look into submitting to a standard publisher. They usually prefer to find the illustrator themselves, so it is perfectly fine (and probably even better) to submit without illustrations included. You still end up not owning the illustrations, but at their cost, not yours. Also, they are likely to be able to afford/access much higher quality illustrations, as well as work with illustrators proven to have a good grasp of the market. Since they make their money off sales, not you, it is in their own interest to get the best possible illustrations, in a way that is not also true for the vanity press.

If you do want to self-publish, I would strongly advise commissioning your own illustrator. That way you get editorial oversight AND copyright. In general, if you're willing to do the legwork and research to find competent work, you can take care of all the services a vanity press does --not always at a lower cost, but with higher quality and more long-term control over the results.


I disagree somewhat with the rest of the answers. It's not uncommon for illustrators to seek copyright control over their work product.

There should be an agreement which specifies the royalties and duration of the collaboration and conditions of termination. It should also be stated whether the illustration can be used for digital publishing. (If digital publishing, then you need to be really clear about termination rights).

As long as you are not turning over exclusive use of your writing as a condition of publishing, you should be all right. On the other hand, if the publisher offers an advance or significant percent of royalties, I can envision an agreement where you do provide limited copyright transfer to the publishing house.

Everything is negotiable, and the main thing to keep in mind is that if you must give up something, you must gain something in return. If they are giving a "Take it or leave it" contract and giving you next to nothing, that is not really in your long term interests.


As a marketplace the web has no equal. Artists punt their services and provide gallery samples to entice and inspire. Fair and honourable agreements work for everyone. Find the work that flicks your switch and develop a sound working relationship with the artist.



Worst case scenario: You want to publish your book somewhere else. In that case you can not do that with those illustrations, unless the old publisher agrees (which they likely won't do, at least not for free).

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