Upwork is ****** up

  • I learned a lot reading this thread. Thank you guys

  • Hi, @davidhohn, @Michael-Angelo-Go & @NessIllustration -- just thought I'd add a little clarification since I did (unfortunately) start out my freelancing art career on Elance (now Upwork -- NOT something I'd recommend, but that's a different story and at the time I needed a paycheck).

    YES, Upwork is a nonnegotiable work-for-hire situation -- lousy terms. However, all the clients that I worked with on Upwork were more than happy to give me permission to show the artwork in my portfolio. (And honestly, that's all I would've used that artwork for anyway.)

    Yes, the client probably did say 22-page book, and yes, they probably didn't know what they were doing. This is VERY common to see with newbie self-publishing authors.

    And yes, self-publishing clients are the "boss", the editor, and the art director. Most of my clients had very little knowledge about the illustration process or the process of publishing a book, and most had no art experience. It does make the process a little challenging, to say the least.

    A note about 24-page books. Most self-published authors choose to publish their books using print-on-demand services like KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing) and Ingram Spark, which have a minimum page count of 24. PODs have different printing specs since they print books using inkjet printers rather than offset printers. They print in multiples of 4: 24, 28, 32 pages, etc. Both KDP & Ingram Spark require the last page of a book to be left blank for their use. So if you're hired to illustrate a 24-page PB that will be POD, you actually deliver 23 pages of content, as page 24 needs to be kept blank.

    Hope this helps clear things up -- or muddy the waters???

  • SVS Instructor Pro

    @Melissa-Bailey-0 That really clears a bunch of things up nicely! Thanks very much!

    As with all things in being a freelancer there is no one way to conduct your business. What works for one freelance illustrator may not work at all for another and visa versa.

    The thing that I find most important is the sharing of information and experiences so that everyone go in with their eyes open and an understanding of what they are agreeing to.

    With that in mind, my thanks to everyone who has (or will) contribute to this thread!

  • @Melissa-Bailey-0 Thank you for clarifying that up.

    I really hope this deal was really worth letting go. I think I was just obsessing about the previous client that I sold my rights to. We were working on a children's book with 18 pages (with lots of revisions) for $500 that was later uped to 40 pages for only $900 (with a lot of revisions still). They were very clear to me that they did not want me to share anything about the book until everything was absolutely published.

    They have yet to publish the book (we finished everything last year in August) and they still haven't uploaded it on Amazon KDP or Ingram Sparks. It was a lot of work and while at first I thought the paycheck was lovely, I did feel a little underpaid by the end. I just didn't want to get into another situation where I would be working for a long time on a project for so little, and by the end, not have any material that might help me jump to the next project.

    Then again... this client did come across as impulsive, so maybe I dodged a potential bad review if I worked hard and still dissapointed the client? In my experience so many self-publishing authors that I have met or worked with have a really bad attitude or are just plain disrespectful. But I know not all of them are or else I would have never proposed or continue using the site.

  • @Michael-Angelo-Go it sounds like it was a good decision to make. When I've had a similar experience in the past, it helped to chalk it up as a chance to learn something and perhaps adjust things that need adjusting.

    Some things that you might find helpful if you continue to look for clients on Upwork:

    • Figure out how much you want to make per hour, how many hours the job will take to complete, and bid accordingly (this formula works for both fixed-price and hourly jobs). It may mean asking clarifying questions. Don't forget to build Upwork fees into that price.

    • Clearly state your terms. Yes, you've agreed to work for hire, meaning that you give away all your rights to the work. But even within Upwork's terms, you still can write your own terms into your bid. For example, specify that you would like permission to show the work in your portfolio. Specify what work the price you're bidding includes, and what it doesn't.

    • (Related to terms) Don't offer unlimited revisions. (Unless you're okay potentially working with a client who abuses that provision.) When I bid for work on Elance/Upwork, I made sure to specify what was included in the price, including 3 rounds of revision -- along with the wording that if more than 3 rounds of revision were needed, I would be happy to continue revising at $25 per round of revision. After I started doing that, I don't think a client ever went over 3 rounds of revision!

    • Communicate! (This really applies to working with all clients...) Communication, especially at the outset, is actually difficult to do on Upwork because they don't allow you to contact the client with questions before you place your bid -- depending on your Upwork membership, they might not even let you see who the client is. What I would do is place a bid, sometimes even specifying that this is a generalized bid because of a vague job description, and ask to chat (there is a built-in chat feature) or communicate further with the client before accepting the job.

    Implementing these 4 things really helped make the Upwork experience better for me and my clients. While there were some frustrating clients, I never really had a BAD client experience on Upwork. My last few years on Elance/Upwork, I didn't really search for work; mainly it came through job invites. And if the client didn't give enough information in the job description (very common) and balked at providing more information, or if they told me I didn't need to read the story before accepting the job (one of my nonnegotiables is reading the MS beforehand), or if they told me how long it would take me to do the work and so they wouldn't need to pay me more than $X ... I politely declined. So maybe that steered me clear of "disrespectful, bad-attitude" clients?

    Hope you find my experience helpful in some way. All the best!

  • @davidhohn you're very welcome, and thanks for being the voice of reason and pointing out that freelancing comes in all forms.

    Reading over my previous reply, it came across more negative than I intended (but, yeah, I'm not really a fan of Upwork, so that bias came through loud and clear!).

    In the interests of sharing information so anyone reading this can come to their own informed decision, the following are some pros and cons of working on Upwork. (Disclaimer: this is based on my own personal experiences. Other freelancers have had other experiences and may have different opinions.)


    • Jobs are posted in a way so you can easily find and bid on them.
    • Upwork's escrow and payment protection services ensure that you'll get paid.
    • You get to choose what jobs you apply for and work with clients from all over the world.
    • You get to work from home and do what you love.


    • The freelancer does not retain copyright. Upwork is a work-for-hire site and their general contract overrides an individual client/freelancer agreement. If a freelancer works on Upwork, they're agreeing to give away all rights to their work. If they want to show the work in a portfolio or on social, they need their client's written permission to do so.
    • Upwork fees. For the first $500 (USD) you make with a client, Upwork takes 20% (i.e. you make $400); from $501 to $10,000 earnings, Upwork takes out 10%; from $10K up, there is a 5% Upwork fee.
    • It takes a LONG time to get paid. Most of my jobs were fixed-price jobs where the milestone was funded in advance and the funds held in escrow. Once the client released those funds, it takes 5 business days for Upwork to release them to the freelancer, then it has to be transferred to your external bank account, so I wouldn't get the money until at least a week later. For me personally, this was a major downside of using Upwork.
    • It's a "budget" type of site, so the prices for most jobs are well below market prices. (The last time I looked, most job postings for children's book illustration are $1,000 or less.)
    • It's a worldwide marketplace. That could be a pro, but for most US-based freelancers, it's a con because of the higher cost of living in this country. It's difficult to earn a livable wage while competing for jobs with freelancers who live in a place with a lower cost of living.

    For me, the cons column outweighs the pros and I'm no longer looking for work on Upwork but have been getting jobs from other sources, the majority of which have come from my SCBWI illustrator gallery. But everyone has different circumstances, and what doesn't work for me may work for you.

  • @Melissa-Bailey-0 How long does it take for you to illustrate a book? I went to a publishing meetup a while back at The AOI and they said the average time was around 3 months and an average advance of £4000 ($5500 plus illustrator royalties 3-7%).
    So when I see $1000 or less for a book, are they for books that can be made in a couple of weeks?

  • @sigross It took me 1.5 months to finish the 40 page book on UpWork because I didn't have to illustrate fully colored backgrounds just the objects. People asking for $1K or less on one book are lay people with unrealistic budgets who just want to make a children's book for cheap. Most of the listings for children's books on that site are actually $500 or less. I was actually approached by a lady who wanted to make a 30 page fully colored children's book for only $60! I thought it was cheap because she was just some mom who wanted to share her story with her kids, but nope when we were halfway through the project and I requested my pay in escrow, all of a sudden she said all my work was going to be published! I walked away with $60 but didn't finish the project because heck if I'm going to let people profit off my work for cheap.

  • @sigross it depends on the scope of the project. For a typical 32-page book with a mix of spots and spreads, anywhere from 3 to 6 months. But if the book is really simple & mostly spots, about 2 months. If a project is really involved, it could take a year or so, like the 48-page PB/journal I illustrated that was rendered traditionally in a realistic style with lots of detail. (Note: I usually have more than one illustration project going at a time; I actually try to work on 2 picture books concurrently because there's always some down time. If I was just working on one project at a time, I would be able to finish it quicker.)

    In the past year, I did something I thought I'd never do: illustrate a book completely digital (using Procreate on an iPad Pro). And it does streamline the process so it takes less time to illustrate. So now, if a client has a tight deadline or a tight budget, I work completely digital.

    The client also affects the timeline. If your client has a tight timeline, that might mean a rush job, which would cost more, of course. Or sometimes a client isn't time conscious or has a hard time making decisions -- in that case, communication with them will take longer which will delay the entire project. I've learned to build client and communication time into my estimates, because a project isn't dependent just on how fast I work. (For example, if I think I can get sketches done in 1 month, I tell the client to expect them in 2 months because there are always delays and something always comes up.)

    That's how I try to estimate how long it'll take me to illustrate a book. As far as client expectations on Upwork or similar platforms, I think it's really a case of a client not educating themselves, not knowing what goes into creating a book. They don't realize that it typically takes hundreds of hours of work. And most clients looking for a picture book illustrator on Upwork have low budgets; sometimes it's all they can afford. And the fact is, they can post a job to illustrate a 32-page boook for $300 and get multiple freelancers bidding on it. Great for self-publishers who want to put a book out on a shoestring, but not so great for the freelance artist community.

    As far as how long these budget books take to illustrate, usually I see unrealistic timelines of a few weeks to a few months. Some freelancers on Upwork (not all, but some) use stock art or cut corners by copying and pasting or using premade backgrounds over and over. Maybe that's what allows them to work for so cheap. Not having asked them, I can't say -- just reporting on what I've seen in some freelancer portfolios.

  • @Melissa-Bailey-0 Yeah since UpWork is a global site, you're competing with people from around the world who live in lower-cost countries where $100 in USD could probably suffice someone for months somewhere else around the world. That said, people like those are the reason that self-publishing authors think children's books are cheap to make.

    I've met plenty of people who don't care if their book is composed of stock art or copyrighted material, if they can get it on a shoestring, you're hired. That's highly likely why I was lowballed on my second commission on UpWork. I didn't even know people made those types of books before I got serious about the profession. I had assumed that everyone on that site was an independent, serious band of smalltime artists, but nope you've got scammers representing the entire profession.

  • 577d4df6-6403-4f5f-b558-7860ca7d3c37-image.png

    @davidhohn I must ask have you ever heard of a children's book this massive? Or could they be talking about the same book duplicated over and over? Really odd number.

  • Pro

    @Michael-Angelo-Go I really hate discounts for bulk orders, never done them and never will. It makes sense for products but for services, not so much. It just means you get to do LOTS of work that's ALL paid like crap. No thanks! If anything I'm more likely to be talked into a discount if it's a really small project I can do quick then move on to a better paid project next time.

  • @NessIllustration Yeah no, obviously a discount with a request this massive is a no-no.

    But I was thinking like what kind of children's book has this many pages? Or are they talking about mass printing? If it's the latter why would the illustrator be responsible for printing them out?

  • Pro

    @Michael-Angelo-Go Not sure, maybe he's thinking of doing a series?

  • SVS Instructor Pro

    @Michael-Angelo-Go That's a big book!
    80 spreads is 160 pages.
    120 spreads is 240 pages.
    As compared to a standard 32 page picture book of 16 spreads.

    I did an illustrated children's bible a couple years back that was 160 pages. It was a ton of work! I was really happy with the end result, but still. . .

    I know that most graphic novels (terrifically popular these days) can easily get up to 160 pages. I have nothing but respect for graphic novel illustrators!

    But a personalized childrens name book? (I assume it's one where the lead character is altered to the name of the child) No, I've never seen that longer than 32 pages. But doesn't mean it doesn't exist, just not common. Next time I'm at the bookstore I'll look around for the longest picture books I can find -- maybe I've been overlooking them in my preference for 32 pagers!

    But now that I think about it, if the book is personalized would there need to be two sets of art, for boys and girls? Whew! Lot of effort!

  • Pro SVS OG

    In defence of Upwork and similar sites...
    When I first started with illustration, I was still working part time in a small publishing house here in my country (Czechia). I was absolutely clueless about everything restring picture books. I was an in-house creative manager and we’ve been creating colouring and activity books with licensed art (Disney, hello kitty etc), so my background in what should be the prices for pb illustrations was nonexistent... and I was the typical third world country resident (haha).
    My art was bad, my rates were low and I was ready to take on any job. Back then, I was seeing my self as a kid who really wants to make some bucks by mowing neighbours lawn. Cheap work, bad treatment, all this lovely stuff included! I took it as a school, as a battlefield I could learn and grow on. After a while I raised my rates and applied only for jobs with bigger budget (btw, the client usually declares the budget for the job, so - if you’re not within the budget, don’t apply for the job maybe?;). Now I think I’m in a totally different place with my illustrations. I’ve grown, learned, took a ton of classes, and I’ve illustrated a ton of lousy self published picture books and I’m grateful for my clients they let me learn while paying me the money. Just like the kid who outgrows his lawn-mowing days for cheap and is ready to build a serious lawn-mowing company.
    Yes, I was giving all my rights while working for this freelance projects.
    Yes, the clients usually wanted just cheap and quick job, but with some learning it’s possible to avoid them.
    And yes - I did not mind the cons. And I was always trying to do my very best, even when payed poorly.
    With help of upwork (and other similar sites, but mainly upwork) I was capable of sustaining my self during the transition time, quit my part time job at the publishing house and focus on building my portfolio.
    Right now I still from time to time work there, I work as an “in-house” illustrator sort of a think for a publishing house in New Zealand that creates educational books for kids, they pay me very well ($70per illustration) and since it’s a returning client, upwork takes only 5% and honestly I’m absolutely ok giving up all my rights since I don’t want my name to be linked to those books anyway (not that I’m ashamed or anything, it’s just that creating educational illustrations is not my goal, it’s just something that helps me get my monthly income, someone might prefer delivering pizza).
    Long story short...
    Don’t work on upwork if you don’t like the conditions. However, don’t dismiss it only because it’s not the the dream client. IMHO, I think it absolutely pointless to worry about my giving up my rights to the illustrations. In the beginning of my art career, they were such an ugly illustrations (in retrospective) I really really don’t care. And to think my clients might get famous because of a book I’ve illustrated for cheap and they now are super rich and famous and I have nothing of it? Well yeah... that probably will never happen.
    Maybe you still need to paint some of those lousy paintings to get them out of your system... what a great opportunity to paint, learn and get a little bit of money out of it! But for someone this would not be the way to grow. Someone might be much better off with actually mowing the lawn to get the money and grow as an illustrator in their free time and jump on the illustration train with big clients and big publishers when the learning phase is finished....
    But seeing upwork as a place to get a real big world client? Probably not. You might be lucky though, but for me the healthy attitude was to take it as a place to learn my craft while getting payed.
    Sorry for this loooooooong post.😬😐

  • @mag one thing that was on my mind on this project was payment vs. quality vs. time. If my client wanted to pay me cheap but the trade off was that I could put as little effort into the drawings as possible that was a dealbreaker. Because even though it's more money than usual, my name would be on the finished book, and it would reflect on my skills and portfolio if I were to ever apply for future work, this book would be a reference. Now I could vouch to have my name off the book, but that wouldn't be worth it either on that price point.

    Another concern for me was that it seems the client wanted to me to have that exact payment, for the typical (high) quality of my work, and work on the book for 3-6 months. I have a degree in architecture and I interned jobs for $18/hr. If I am going to work on this book, with the same type of quality of my professional work, for an extended deadline, I would be making less than $18/hr. if I got paid only $1, 500 for 3-6 months. Keep in mind also of Upwork fees so it's estimated to actually being $1,300 in the end. That would be a major dealbreaker.

    The topic was okay, the pay was attractive, I thought the number of pages were okay too, and the deadline seemed reasonably loose. I genuinely thought this would just be another book for my portfolio. Until they started talking about exclusive rights all of a sudden the pay felt low (bc it actually is), and since they seemed keen on quality the page count suddenly felt too big for the given price and schedule suddenly felt tight. I would be selling away hardwork for less than minimum wage and deep down I know I'm worth more than this cheap gig. If I kept the rights, I wouldn't be concerned at all because at least I would have the right to share the project on my portdolio.

    And another thing, let's say this books goes nowhere once it's released after 3-6 months of labor. I didn't have any decent portfolio content back in January so me committing to 3-6 months to this project felt like I was risking half a year's worth of time not optimizing my portfolio and instead committing to a project for pennies for months.

    Overall, I think I made the right decision (in asking more to reflect what I was worth as an artist) and that the client made the right choice for me (impulsively withdrawing from the contract because I'm out of their budget). I cannot afford to undersell myself if I have the opportunity to make a better name for myself if I can prioritize my time.

  • Pro SVS OG

    @Michael-Angelo-Go oh no, I definitely agree with you that you’ve made the right decision about this client! I wouldn’t go down that rabbit hole either. I just felt the need to share my story - I think Upwork might be useful sometimes, if handled correctly. As you said, the job must have some benefits, and if the client doesn’t allow me to put the work into my portfolio, it’s a bad sign (it actually never happened to me on upwork? Sometimes I even negotiated different terms regarding the (c)...). 🙂

  • @mag Hmm... you've had clients respect your rights to your work? Those are definitely rare in this field.

    But yeah this author and my previous client did not want me to put the work in my portfolio. Not even a sample, not even the front cover (which would be all I need).

  • @mag it’s good to hear about good some having good experiences on these sites. We hear so much about horror stories with clients, but the truth is a lot of clients will respect your rights as an artist if we explain things to them and open lines of communication early and often. If they didn’t, we wouldn’t have a lot of freelancers working with both individual clients and publishers. It starts with the contract. If things ever don’t feel right at that stage, we need to just bow out gracefully and try again.

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