– A detailed review for obtaining illustrations for you book

One of the first online freelancer communities I tried was, which is one of the largest of its kind in the world boasting over 21 million freelancers on the site. If you’re interested in trying it out, I’d appreciate if you would use my referral link, which gives both you and me $20 in credits once you’ve released at least $50 in milestones.

FEE STRUCTURE’s fee structure can be found here. Project fees are 3% for fixed projects (or $3, whichever is higher) and in the case of hourly projects 3% for each payment made to the freelancer. There are also some processing fees which seem to range from about 2.4% to 3.9%, and it seems that in order to get the lower processing fees it’s best to load up your account with some funds and then pay out from those funds rather than make a payment for each transaction. I put a snapshot of some of my transaction history below, where you can see a $0.74 processing fee was levied for an IP agreement I paid for with PayPal (3.89% charge) while the $500 deposit I made was charged $11.80 of processing fees (2.36%).


There are two ways to find freelancers on – posting a project (which you can then choose to pay for with a fixed price consisting of milestones) or posting a contest.

Normally I use fixed projects because my experience with contests (which I will post about at a later date) hasn’t given me great results and gives less flexibility in my opinion (ties you into a specific cost rather than allowing freelancers to bid, and there are also many freelancers who choose to never participate in contests as it’s too uncertain for them).

A project post consists of the following elements:

  • Project name: Choose something descriptive that’ll immediate tell freelancers what it is you’re looking for
  • Project details: In here I quickly let freelancers know what I’m writing and why (usually referencing my daughters’ inspiration), let them know some high level details of what the illustrations will be (I leave the full details for later once I’ve selected a designer), as well as provide guidelines of the number and format (sizes and file types) of the images. I also put in a line letting the freelancer know that I’ll be paying for the IP agreement upgrade which gives me commercial right to the work produced.
  • File uploads: Generally I like to put references to public works that resemble the sort of style I am looking for. It’s very important to ensure that you properly reference the work so as to not infringe on anybody else’s intellectual property.
  • Skills required: This is filled out automatically by the site, and although you can update the skills in this section I usually leave the default ones and have gotten good results.


  • Project type: This is where you select a regular project or a contest (detailed in separate post).
  • Payment type: Select a fixed price or hourly price. Personally I prefer the fixed price as the deliverable for the chosen price is defined, meaning there is less likelihood of surprises coming up along the way that end up costing you more.
  • Budget: Select the approximate budget (as a range) that you’re willing to pay. Note that bids can come outside of this range but this will give a guideline to freelancers about what you are willing to spend.
  • Standard vs. Recruiter project: I haven’t tried the “Recruiter” project which provides assistance for selecting a project. Doesn’t sound very appealing to me as I’m not sure how this “helping hand” would know exactly what I want, and I’m willing to take the time and do the research to find the right freelancer for me rather than outsource that to an assistant.

  • Advanced options: This lets you pay for upgrades, including:
    • Recruiter: same as above
    • Featured: higher visibility to freelancers, which I don’t think is necessary given I’ve gotten plenty of bids for every project I’ve posted
    • Urgent: let freelancers know time is of the essence, which presumably gets you more freelancers
    • Private: hides the project from search engines and logged out users; if there’s anything sensitive, private, or confidential in your project this is a good upgrade

There are other upgrades you can make later, such as the IP Agreement which is in my opinion a necessary upgrade for all projects.

Once you’ve made all your selection, it’s time to post your project.


Now that your project is live, you’ll almost instantly start receiving bids from freelancers. Here’s a sample of 3 out of the 60 bids that I received when I posted the project for my project Dreams of Monsters ABC which is now live on Amazon. Note that I’ve covered the images and names of the freelancers for their privacy.

You can see that this project, for which I put a budget of $250-750, received bids ranging from $250 to $3,888. The majority of bids were within the range I preselected, and the highest quality bids were in the $600-700 range. On the right side of the bids screen you’re able to filter down based on price, reviews the freelancer has gotten, their star rating, and the days they state they’ll complete the project in. Personally I’m not really on a timeline, so I don’t pay any attention to the “days to complete”. This is also because, from my experience, it can frequently take longer due to the back & forth conversation you’ll have with your freelancer to iron out all sorts of details. I don’t put pressure on my freelancers to finish quickly but rather opt for getting a good job done. Of course if they work quickly (because they want to get paid) then I reward that as well.

A handy way to keep track of your favorite bids for a project is to use the heart (which shortlists them) and to also use the trash to remove bids that don’t meet your requirements (sadly there will be lots of those, as some freelancers don’t quite read the project descriptions when submitting their bids).

In my experience it’s worth waiting 3-4 days before starting to evaluate bids, but better not to wait until the last minute, as you’ll want to start some discussions with your shortlisted bids. You can ask them for samples, or specific illustrations in their existing portfolio that match the quality of the output they expect to deliver based on their bid. I find this technique to be very effective in setting the right expectation with the designer.


Before awarding a project, make sure you discuss a few details with the designer, including:

  • Clear expectations on the quality of the output (particularly when you’re requesting many illustrations) as well as the style (best to have them point out something in their portfolio that’s close to what they’ll deliver for you)
  • Confirm the specs of your project (# of illustrations, file output required, file size required, etc.)
  • Reiterate that you’ll require them to sign the IP Agreement if you choose that upgrade
  • Clarify expected timelines (if any)
  • Decide how to set the milestones

Milestones were something I found a bit confusing at first, particularly because different freelancers think of them quite differently, which is why it’s good to clarify their expectations ahead of time and make sure you’re ok with how to structure the progress of the work (which is what the milestones are designed to do). Milestones basically break up the task in various steps so you can keep track of the progress of your project as well as pay your freelancer for the work they’ve completed along the way.

Suppose you have a $300 project consisting of 9 full page color illustrations. You may structure milestones in a few different ways (and freelancers will each have their own preferences as well). Here are examples of two ways that I’ve successfully structured similar project in the past:

  • Three milestones ($100 each) for (1) sketches of every image, (2) final designs, (3) final color renderings and source files (PSDs)
  • Three milestones ($100 each) consisting of the final output (full color renders and source files) for 3 images in your project

In theory you could do one milestone for the entire project, but I wouldn’t recommend it as you should strive to make measurable progress as you go along your project, and I also doubt any freelancers would accept this as they’ll prefer to be paid along the way (even though you’re an honest, trustworthy person, they don’t know that!).


While your project is live, here are a few recommendations to make sure things go smoothly:

  • Communicate frequently: it’s important to maintain a good communication rhythm with your freelancer. Don’t let them go dark for several days, and give them clear and honest expectations that’ll encourage them to do the work.
  • Set clear guidelines: make sure your initial guidelines are clear and as comprehensive as needed (I sometimes like to leave creative space to designs, in which case I tell them that deliberately, but for cases where I know exactly what I want I let them know as well). If something changes (you may always change your mind) be sure to be very clear about it (in some cases freelancers may ask for extra milestones in the case of a scope change, which shouldn’t come as a surprise, so the more planned you are the better for your budget).
  • Give clear (and respectful) feedback: when you start receiving designs, give clear and transparent feedback to your designer. I would recommend being thoughtful and respectful about your feedback as well – remember you’re dealing with humans who have feelings, and who are more likely to do a good job if they like you, so telling them something sucks probably won’t help you.


I’ve had great experiences with freelancers from, and although I’m sure it’s not always perfectly smooth I think by following the guidelines above and being well planned about your work, you can successfully complete a project for a very reasonable price with the help of excellent talent from this community.

If you’re interested in giving it a shot, feel free to sign up with my referral link which gives both you and me $20 once you’ve released at least $50 in milestones. Here’s that link:

Good luck!

Upwork: How I got rejected in 5 minutes

Upwork is one of the largest freelancer communities available online today. It was formed after the merger in 2013 of Elance and oDesk, which were already two of the biggest players out there at the time, and was subsequently rebranded as Upwork in 2015.

It’s the third platform I tried out (after starting with and then testing out Fiverr). Unfortunately, my experience with it was cut rather short.

After registering my account I immediately proceeded to set up a project (I was testing a project post for my book “Dreams of Monsters ABC” on Freelancer vs. Fiverr vs. Upwork to see what the difference in bids would be in terms of both quality and price). The project was posted at 11:38pm on 6/15/2018 (by the way the empty 4th bullet point in the email below is, I assume, a typo on their end as this is a direct screenshot):

Exactly 2 minutes later (at 11:40pm), I received the following email:

I was a bit shocked of course, particularly because of how harsh their words were. “Dishonest schemes or scams”? The project I posted was to look for illustrators for an ABC children’s book about robots showcasing emotions; not sure what’s dishonest or scheming about that. They were telling me I was permanently deactivated and that they were unlikely to reply to any correspondence regarding the issue. In other words “Go away and don’t try pleading your case.”

Given that it took them only 2 minutes to make their conclusion, I can only assume that an automatic rule-based system decided there was something fishy about my post. The only thing I can guess may have triggered their system is that my project post included a file with images to show potential bidders what style of illustration I was looking for. Each image included a link to the source as the images weren’t mine (the images were found on Pinterest). Perhaps they felt I was misusing art that wasn’t my own? Or perhaps they thought I was trying to advertise a site (to be very clear, I wasn’t).

I tried re-registering with the same email address and, no surprise, found they had blacklisted me and were giving me the generic “technical error” message:

Tried registering with another email address and it worked, so I guess they are not (at least currently) doing IP blacklisting.

I’d like to reiterate that there was absolutely nothing dishonest about what I did, and I was the victim of a rule-based engine that was built as a one-way communication tool preventing me from defending myself. That means my money went to and one of their freelancers instead. Upwork may work out for some, but in my case this experience means I most likely won’t be using Upwork any time soon.

Sourcing quality art – vs. Fiverr vs. Upwork

A children’s book without illustrations is like a bird without wings – it won’t fly. Children love all sorts of illustrations and so many styles can work, but quality art that lights up their imagination (and engages the parents…) is an important part of what’ll make a children’s book work. I know that’s the case for me and other parents I know, and it’s pretty clear from spending a few minutes in the kid’s section of a book store that we won’t get very far without quality illustrations. I don’t draw, and I don’t have someone close to me who can provide all the illustrations I want. Not to mention I want to have different styles in my books, because I just find that to be more engaging. So in come the freelancers…

There are numerous websites available today where you can find great freelancers, and they are crowded with excellent illustrators. This post covers the top options at a high level, with separate posts going in depth on some of the mechanics of the sites I use the most.

FREELANCER opened shop in 2009 and today is one of the largest sources of online freelancers in the world today, boasting over 29 million designers, developers, illustrators, writes, and more. It’s very easy to set up and get started, lets you post projects nearly instantly, and has a simple user interface which is a bit buggy at times but mostly very functional.

For more details on setting things up, discovering artists, how payments work, and more, check how this in-depth review of


Fiverr is one of the newer kids on the block, having started its operations in 2010 where the original idea was to let freelancers post gigs they would do for $5. Yep, 5 bucks! Don’t get too excited – you probably won’t get the illustrations you want for a mere $5, but you can certainly find some impressive deals on the website.

It has a more modern user experience than, a more fully functional app, and generally feels a bit more refined and well established. That said it does seem a bit less flexible than Projects need to be approved before they are posted and you can gather bids, and it’s more geared towards paying for existing gigs rather than building your own custom project from scratch.

With that said, there are some incredible gigs posted on Fiverr and it’s worth checking out.


Two of the earliest online freelancer communities (Elance which started in 1999 and oDesk which started in 2003) were merged in 2013 to create Elance-oDesk, which clearly must have competed for “least appealing brand name of 2013”. In 2015 the company rebranded to Upwork and is now one of the juggernauts of the online freelancer industry.

My experience with Upwork, unfortunately, is very limited as it abruptly ended when Upwork rejected my project proposal and banned my account (for reasons that are still unknown to me). You can read all about that experience here.



Website Scale Client fees 21 million freelancers 3% transaction fee
Fiverr Unknown $1 for jobs under $20
5% fee for jobs >$20
Upwork 14 million freelancers 2.75% transaction fee
(or $25/mo flat rate)
Guru 3 million freelancers 2.5% invoice fee

* Source:



The freelancer websites mentioned above all have their pros and cons, and you are probably going to be able to find good talent on any one of these platforms. Personally I’ve used the most and also find the value in Fiverr, but your situation may be different. Start by spending some time looking through listings on each website in order to decide where you want to go. It’s very easy to get started on these and for the most part won’t cost you anything, so dive in and experiment until you find what you like.

There are plenty of other websites out there where users can find freelancers, including Guru, PeoplePerHour, and Giggrabbers. Have you found one you think is particularly helpful when it comes to sourcing art for your books? If so, please point it out in the comments section and I will take a look and do a review.