Question about Contract Negotiations for a book series

  • Hey guys! (long time no post.)

    I've not been very active on here because in 2020, I've been working on a whole bunch of paid projects. Mostly self published authors, but I also landed my first gig with a major German publisher. (might make another post to brag a bit, who knows.)

    It was a young-reader's book, so cover design + vignettes, and the project went so well that they requested me back just a month or so later for a three book series starting this year.

    It's a really exciting project from a narrative and also from a novelty standpoint, so I am thrilled to be involved with it. I've signed the contract for the first book in the series, and of course that means I can only guess at the future.

    So this has made me wonder though whether I have room for contract negotiations in this kind of scenario. For the first book, I was offered 4000 Euro and 2% royalties, starting from the first book sold. In exchange, I am doing 1 cover illustration, 20 full-page, full-bleed illustrations and a further 20-odd vignettes. It's my biggest project to date!

    If all goes to plan and the second book goes forward, I think they'd likely make me a similar offer for the following volumes. So I guess I'm curious: Does that sound like the expected amount of money for a fairly new illustrator and a young-reader's book? And if there are three separate contracts, how acceptable is it in general to try and renegotiate from one book to the next? (Since of course the publisher is likely counting on keeping the same illustrator for a whole series.)

    The publisher has been amazing to work with! Any experiences or opinions anyone can share?


  • Pro

    @Nathalie-Kranich Congratulations Nathalie, that's awesome!! 😃

    Okay so a few things..

    1. You ALWAYS have room for contract negotiations, no matter the scenario. Doesn't mean you'll always succeed, but you can ALWAYS try 🙂

    2. Re: "Does that sound like the expected amount of money for a fairly new illustrator and a young-reader's book?" The fact that you're a new illustrator shouldn't affect the price tag. The fact that it's a young-reader's book shouldn't affect the price tag either! The only thing that matters in determining the pricing is how much value you provide them. So things to take into consideration are the price of the book (while early reader doesn't necessarily change a thing, a $5 book vs. a $40 book does make quite a bit of difference), the amount of work you have to do and the amount of copies they're printing.

    3. It's great that you're getting royalties! So if the series does really well, you'll get more money 🙂 But if you want to negotiate your advance so you get more money now without having to wait, you still can. It's up to you. A 32 page children's book is typically $8k to $12k USD. That's for 16 double page spreads, cover, back cover and end papers. You're getting 4000 euros (approx. $4,8k USD) for 20 single page illustrations, 20 vignettes and a cover. That IS quite a bit of work.

    4. If they get back to you for a second book, it'll be because the first one was successful and they'll definitely want to keep the same visual look for the whole series. So you definitely have grounds to say, when you receive the contract "Last time the amount of work ended up taking so much longer than I thought, it took me about X months full-time to do and I struggled to make ends meets while working on it with the 4000 euros advance. I wonder if this time, it would be possible to get a larger advance on royalty in order to help me during the creation period. I want to make this book the best I can possibly make it, and that's obviously harder to do when I'm struggling financially. Could we work out something?"

  • SVS Instructor Pro


    All great info from @NessIllustration!

    My caution would be on the rights licensed. Make sure you really understand the rights being licensed to the publisher. You can't be sure that the publisher will stay with you on successive books. Likely they will -- but not always. Be sure that the copyright to your character illustrations stay with you.

    That won't stop a publisher from changing illustrators if they decide to, but it will prevent them from hiring someone else (usually cheaper) from replicating characters and new illustrations with a goal to make it appear (the to reader anyway) like you did them.

    A classic example of this is the first British version of Harry Potter. The publisher hired an illustrator to do book 1. Then they hired a different illustrator to do all the successive British editions in the series.

    In the US versions of Harry Potter one illustrator did then entire first editions of the series, but two or three different illustrators have done successive editions.

    Each of those illustrators "owned" their visual interpretation of Harry. Similar qualities each might have are due to descriptions specifically stated in the text. Glasses, wild hair, lightning scar.

    What would have been dodgey on the part of the publisher (but not illegal if the illustrator mistakenly signed over the rights) would be for a second illustrator to be hired to come in and replicate the style, character design and mark making technique of the first illustrator.

  • Pro

    @davidhohn I didn't know this, how interesting!

  • @NessIllustration Thanks, that's really insightful! I don't have a lot of ground for comparison as of yet for what the industry generally offers in Europe. It's going to be a roughly 10 Euro book, so nothing too high-value in stores, and I am unsure of where the compensation stands based on that I don't think I'm receiving an advance, as I am entitled to royalties from the first book sold. (No advance to pay back, which in theory offsets the smaller lump sum a fair bit probably if it does well.) But that's a shot in the dark!

    @davidhohn thanks so much to you too, that is an interesting consideration. For sure I'm not going to assume a second contract as 'granted'. Negotiation is a super scary idea because of that! 😃

    Checking the contract now I believe I only signed over the copyright "of use"[...]. It doesn't list anything relating to the style or characters themselves, which makes me optimistic that I retain the copyright.

    I also just noticed a clause stating "The rights to exploit the illustrations independently of the work published by the Publisher [...] is reserved to the Illustrator."

    Not super related to my initial question but I'm curious what 'rights to exploit' normally refers to. Showing my green ears here, having not noticed and cleared this up with the publisher before. 😅

  • Pro

    @Nathalie-Kranich Oh! If it's not an advance, then that is different. How are your royalties to be paid off? Is it a monthly direct deposit? Check in the mail every year? The method of payment and the amount of copies from the first printing will give you a better idea of how much money you can expect to receive when 🙂

    As for the exploit thing, if I'm not mistaken I believe this means that outside of this book project you are free to do with the illustration as you wish, including selling or licensing.

  • @Nathalie-Kranich are you based in Germany? Try to see if there is a graphic arts or illustration association that helps freelance artists to deal with contracts. I know one in the country I am resident of here in Norway, and I can consult their lawyer if I have questions regarding contracts with he local publishers. When I had contracts with UK publisher, they referred me to AOI (Association of Illustrators) in the UK.

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