Questions regarding illustration contract



  • Hi, everyone
    I have some questions regarding the contract:

    1. What can one add into the contract to prevent the client from asking for revisions after approval of sketches and color study, and final art has been produced?
      I recently had a situation with a client who has approved everything, and 2 weeks after I send in the final art, she sent an email and asking for a completely new illustration, as if this is just business as usual (with no extra fee or even extended time provided). It is one of the big 5 publishers. I looked into the contract, and there is nothing in the contract that says that she can not do that. I then checked with a few more contracts I have received recently, and none of the contracts has something to prevent clients from requesting similar things.

    2. All the book contracts I have received has something called "competing work", which basically means this book is the next publication which has my name on, and I can not have other book published before this one (in one contract, it even states not 6 months after). I found this odd, and very restrictive. Is this normal?

    3. All the book contracts ask for world-wide exclusive rights. I remember @NessIllustration talked about exclusive rights is often not necessary and a lot more expensive. Is this something I need to push my agent to negotiate for me? I basically did not read the first 2 contracts (only asked my agent to go through and let me know if there is anything I should pay attention to).


  • SVS OG

    @xin-li oh no! how many illustrations is she asking revisions for?



  • @Nyrryl-Cadiz So far, it is one illustration. My agent settled the situation with some emails, and negotiated the term a bit better.
    I am more thinking about the general term. Is there something I can do to prevent something like this to happen in the future? I am ok with redo a cover (sometimes, the marketing department disagrees with the AD), as long as it is properly paid, and the publisher has set aside time for it.


  • SVS OG

    @xin-li that's good to hear. Well, you can always ask in the future to add a clause in your contract that limits the amount of revisions you're required to give after the final illustrations are completed. if they want more revisions, maybe you can include that you'll need to charge them separately.


  • SVS OG

    @xin-li that competing work one is quite new to me. I heard other jobs requiring it but I wouldn't expect to have that in book publishing. we need someone like @davidhohn to help us with this.



  • @Nyrryl-Cadiz I requested my agent to help me out with this. Let's see what can be done.


  • Pro

    @xin-li I really recommend to read the contracts thoroughly and ask to add in your preferred clauses, whether you have an agent or not! Especially when you first start with an agent, they send scraps your way: the not so well paid, not so great contracts. I've gotten some great offers through my agent, but also some really crappy ones where I was like "Seriously??". Remember that your agent makes their money from a percentage of your accepted offers, so they have a vested interest in pushing offers on you whether they're the best or not. I don't think you should assume that your agent pre-negotiates the contract for you to include everything that you wish for in it. It's our job to read the contract and ask our agent to make any changes that we want!

    That being said, next time you receive a contract, if it does not include anything about revisions, simply tell your agent you would like to add a clause limiting revisions and ask them to discuss it with the client and have them add it in.

    The competing work clause is something I've never seen before and it seems really restrictive and harsh! I really think you should ask for this to be removed. The contract that you receive from them is their version, so it's going to include all of the things that protect them + a few things they're not sure they can get but they're still shooting their shot and trying. It's not a "sign it or leave it" situation, you can have your own things added in OR ask to remove some things that you don't agree with.

    I think a lot of time, they add in exclusive rights and other restrictive clauses just because most artists just sign it anyway, so they're trying it and have nothing to lose. It's happened at least one to me that I read the contract and told them "Huh I see you want exclusive rights, that is an additional $xxxxxxxxxx. Or would you like to change it for a non-exclusive license for 5 years?" and they did not try to fight it AT ALL, they just said, "fine I'll change the contract for a license". This makes me think they knew they didn't need exclusive rights and that I might not accept it, but they tried it anyway just to see if they could get it for free.

    Be vigilant, and do bring up anything you do not like! Worst case scenario, they don't want to budge on it. But there's no reason to not at least try, which is what they're doing too 😉



  • @NessIllustration thank you so much for your advice. Do you have the experience that you ended up signing the exclusive right? I have compared notes with one other illustrator, her contracts are all asking for exclusive rights as well. When most of the illustrators do not really say anything (Like me with my previous 2 contracts), it makes it harder to negotiate. After all, there are so many illustrators to choose from on the market.

    The hard thing for me is that I have no clue what is normal, and what is unreasonable. I will keep asking and learning. Thank you for sharing your experience. I will report back here if I get progress on getting my agent to negotiate better terms for me.



  • I agree with @NessIllustration
    I negotiate a lot in my work (non illustration-related) and the contracting phase is also part of my job.

    Basically if a client is interested in your services, s/he is not likely to say, if you suggest a few changes or additions, "no thanks, I'll try another artist". At this stage when interest is confirmed, the 2 parties are looking for mutual agreement and are ready for consensus.

    When I submit a contract to a client, I usually put all the clauses I want, knowing that some are going to be refused and others negotiated. In my mind, I already know what is a "must have" and what is a "nice to have" and what I can let go. I believe publishers are business people of the same type! Challenge them, you ll know when the breaking point is reached, they'll tell you. And after a while, you ll be confident and confortable in that role.

    Good luck!



  • Heck. @NessIllustration just made me very motivated to do my own research on the illustration contract, and I really want to make sure what I sign a contract is fair for the artists rather than sign whatever that is presented to me. I think of my illustration career as a tree and the industry as the forest. I need to take care of the forest to make sure my tree grows well.

    @davidhohn @lee-white do you have resource recommendations for reading up, educating myself in this subject?


  • Pro

    @xin-li I think you just hit the nail on the head: most illustrators, especially beginning illustrators, are just so happy to have interest from a publisher that they'll sign whatever is in front of them. This normalizes bad contracts and things like exclusive rights. Every veteran illustrator I've ever heard says exclusive rights are not the norm. Yet in some areas of publishing, lower on the ladder, they ARE the norm. They have become the norm because illustrators do not ask for more. I totally get it: it's really hard out there when you're trying to start your career. This means that there are a lot of publishers that have cropped up, especially small publishers, who specifically target illustrators at the beginning of their career to save money. They know they can target these illustrators to get art for a fraction of the price, and all the copyrights.

    Thankfully as you move up the totem pole, you start seeing publishers who value the work of illustrators with experience and exceptional quality art/work ethic. Those publishers will go for experienced illustrators, and you do not get to become an experience illustrator unless you've been able to negotiate fair pay and rights. They know those illustrators expect better and they are willing to offer it, at this level of publication.

    It's disheartening to hear you say that a top 5 publisher asked you for exclusive rights. But this has me even more convinced that they were just trying to see what they could get away with. They know veteran illustrators will not accept this, so it cannot be a deal breaker for them. Just a nice to have.

    Sometimes it's discouraging to hear veteran illustrators give business advice because it can seem so disconnected from what we experience on the ground at the beginning of our career. They say "Don't settle for anything less than $12k, at least 8 months to draw it, and non-exclusive rights". Meanwhile, you're sending thousands of emails, got only 5 offers back, all of them from professional publishers and they're only offering $1k for a 32-page book in 1 month and they want exclusive rights. and you're like "Where do I even find good offers like the ones they say is the bare minimum?".

    But do not despair! Knowledge is power, and negotiation is key. They are banking on the fact that we illustrators are so damn happy to be contacted at all that we'll sign anything they put in front of us. Let's not be like that, and stand up for ourselves! We will not be able to change every offer we get, but we can improve some of them and that's always worth trying! And then the more years you've been in the business, the more you attract clients that know you're experienced and won't put up with that. The quality of offers steadily increases over time 🙂



  • @NessIllustration I know what you mean by advice from experienced illustrators that do not match the reality of beginner illustrators. I was shocked by the first couple of offers I received. I walked away because they were not very interesting for me in terms of the subject, plus the fee is not so good - even though I was advised to take to build up published work history. With the current projects, I was exactly like what you described: damn happy that someone took an interest in my artwork.

    Well, despite the contract, I am still damn happy and grateful. I try to not let paperwork get in the way of my happiness of making art. I do not know how much I can negotiate for the next contract, but I promise I will make some noise, giving a counter offer. And I will keep learning.


  • Pro

    @xin-li I know what you mean and I feel the same ❤ It's easy for us to accept bad terms sometimes because we truly love what we do and are happy to do it! I try to remember that in order to be able to do it for a long time, while keeping my health and sanity, I do need the money and the good conditions or I will not last long and will have to give it all up. I've accepted my fair share of bad contracts in the beginning and even sometimes to this day, and I cannot bring myself to regret them 🙂

    I used to be very shy about negotiating because I saw it as aggressive or complainy. But it's really just 2 parties talking, politely, pleasantly, and both want the same thing: to make a great book together. There's nothing really aggressive about saying "I'm not too sure I'm comfortable about the copyrights section, can we talk about it some more?" And the person you're talking to is not paying for this out of their own pocket so most of the time, if they can give you more money or better conditions because you've asked for them, they're actually happy for you! In their mind they're thinking "good for them!"

    Also I think you're doing really well! You're navigating this new career with caution and grace, and you're making many less mistakes than I personally did.


  • SVS Instructor Pro

    @xin-li said in Questions regarding illustration contract:

    All the book contracts I have received has something called "competing work", which basically means this book is the next publication which has my name on, and I can not have other book published before this one (in one contract, it even states not 6 months after). I found this odd, and very restrictive. Is this normal?

    If you can please post the exact wording.
    I recently negotiated a clause:
    "No Competing Work. The Illustrator agrees that during the term of the copyright and any extensions thereof, the Illustrator will not, without the written permission of the Publisher, publish or authorize to be published any work substantially similar to the Work or which is reasonably likely to injure its sale or the merchandising of the other rights granted herein."

    To which I responded: "This needs to be reasonably limited. I would agree to 5 years. Right now this says I can't make a similar book about [this topic] for 70 years after I die."

    But based on what you wrote, the idea that you have to wait until this publisher actually gets the book on shelves before you can do another book is unreasonable. What if this book gets held up for some reason?
    What if it NEVER gets published?
    No. I would not agree to this at all.( Short of some heroic, and unlikely, gesture on the part of the publisher) Please encourage your agent to push back against clauses like these that protect the publisher but leave you exposed.



  • @NessIllustration That's so funny you mentioned 1K for a 32 page book within a month. I keep getting these offers and I'm starting to think i'm just getting trolled, who can afford to take these terrible offers and on top of that sign over all rights to artwork?

    @xin-li I have a one page agreement that I also get clients to sign as well as their contract. It has specifics about the work, when its due and when they sign off sketches they're signed off, terms on the back include if they deviate from the brief or want changes after a specific stage then it's back to discussing extra fee. Also has things like kill fee and when payment is due.

    That competing work one is shady, i've not come across that.



  • @davidhohn
    here is the clause in the current contract I recieved. I think I can understand point (a), but I wonder what is considered "similar to the work". I found point (b) very confusing.
    (a) The Illustrator agrees that during the term of this Agreement the Illustrator will not, without the written permission of the Publisher, publish or authorize to be published any work substantially similar to the Work or which is reasonably likely to injure its sale or the exploitation of the other rights granted herein.
    (b) The Work will be the Illustrator’s next published work (whether under the Illustrator’s own name or under a pseudonym, and whether alone or in collaboration with anyone else), and except with the prior written permission of Publisher, the Illustrator will not, prior to publication of the Work, publish or authorize publication of any other work by the Illustrator, whether print or digital, within six (6) months of Publisher’s first publication of the Work.



  • @Phil-Cullen thanks for sharing your experience. I feel I have more ground to negociate. I kept getting 1k for 32 page books offer too. So the reality is cruel - we just need to kick back if we can, and when we can.

    How did you come up with the idea of making a page about the work you get your client to sign? It sounds so smart. I tried to get the client to provide an extra page to address this when the "please make a new illustration" incident happened (to prevent similar thing happening during the rest of the project), but with no success. I guess things might be very different if I insist in this from the beginning.


  • Pro

    @xin-li This is soooo shady. What right do they have to restrict the work you can do outside of their project, that has nothing to do with them? They better be paying you like $40k or something for the book if they expect you not to work or anything else for 6 months prior of after. How else are you going to eat and keep a roof over your head? This is insane!



  • @NessIllustration good to know. :-). My agent told me she asked for a change of this seciton in the contract. But the verison I got was suppose to be "after the change". I hope maybe she sent the wrong version of the file? I will talk to her again later this week to figure out more detail regarding the contract.


  • SVS Instructor Pro

    @xin-li Oh yeah, that's a big "no" to both of those! (In my opinion. I am not directing you to say no)


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