Upwork is ****** up

  • Yesterday, I found out really discouraging news about the website Upwork. I found a children's book deal for $1.5K and I was really excited to hear that the authors saw my proposal and were interested in hiring me for the job.

    It all seemed to work out until we approached the "exclusive rights" myth in the conversation. From what I've learned from @NessIllustration's freelance cafe, copyrights are not customary in children's book deals, and actually require compensation to the illustrator up to 6-figures. I tried to be smart and speak from a place of authority and experience that this is not commonplace and that as first-time authors I do not recommend them.

    All of a sudden, they linked me to the website's rules and conditions which stated that "Upon Freelancer’s receipt of full payment from Client.... Freelancer hereby automatically irrevocably assigns to Client all right, title and interest worldwide... Freelancer retains no rights to use, and will not challenge the validity of Client’s ownership"


    After that I freaked out and did not respond to the client, as they bombarded me with materials to make the book, assuming that I was okay with this current set up. I waited a couple of hours until I could call someone with experience over the phone and tell them about the situation. What they recommended was that if I could not enforce royalties for obligatory selling of rights that I either adjust the price or I adjust the number of pages. (Shame on me for trying to negotiate a deal under completely unethical terms?)

    I offered both options to my clients, and they calmly told me that they were no longer interested, impulsively withdrew the contract, but that they valued my work as an artist. So what does that mean? Are you going to seek another vulnerable, naive, and inexperienced artist and devalue them so you can get your book made? They told me if I adjusted the price it would be too expensive, and they told me if I adjusted the pages the "educational content" would be lost. This was for a 22-page book with cover and back.

    While I am disappointed that I am not going to earn $1.5K, I am glad that I did not produce work that I could not legally even put into my portfolio. I completely blame websites like Fiverr and cultures on Facebook for perpetuating this type of mindset in small authors that illustrators can be asked to give away their work, but not be properly compensated for it. I don't think I'll ever use Upwork again. I should be able to retain my rights to the images, and not give the author power to disagree. There are a lot of authors who want exclusive rights to their books, but so little willing to pay a realistic price.

  • Wow.. I had no idea this was how Upwork works. I’ve tried these kinds of sites before and the experience just isn’t good so I haven’t used it again. But I didn’t know you automatically give away the rights to your work to your client. Seems unfair especially since the payment is, for the most part, really low (even from a thirld world point of view).

  • Pro

    @Michael-Angelo-Go I also had no idea that Upwork basically required a "work for hire" agreement and I'm completely disgusted. They strip illustrators of their copyrights just for taking a gig on their platform. This rule serves no one but the clients and themselves, and screws over the freelancers trying to make a decent living. DISGUSTING!

  • Geez, thanks for bringing attention to this. Definitely don’t want to be a part of any site like that.

  • SVS Instructor Pro

    Good on you for learning what it means to agree to a contract like this.

    You are clearly taking the time to understand the business side of illustration so I'd like to clarify a couple of other things you mentioned.

    From what I've learned from @NessIllustration's freelance cafe, copyrights are not customary in children's book deals,

    Licensing specific aspects of your copyright is customary in children's book projects.
    Every illustrator who creates a picture book does this. Licensing of specific rights encompassed by your copyright is what allows a publisher to reproduce images multiple times.
    Transferring all of your copyright is not (This is what a Work For Hire contract does. You can also substitute the word Sell for Transferring)

    and actually require compensation to the illustrator up to 6-figures.

    While I like the idea that any 32 page picture book project would have a (copyright) licensing fee of over $100,000 -- that is rare. The licensing fee, in book publishing often designed as an Advance Against Royalty contract, have a range of $3,000 - $60,000.
    (BTW, those figures are from Graphic Artists Guild Pricing and Ethical Guidelines. A book I heartily recommend for anyone starting out!)

    Just starting out and working with a small/independent publisher or self-publisher I would expect illustrating a 32 pg picture book advance against royalties to be between $3K - $8K.

    As I re-read your post you might have meant that a 32 pg picture book created under a WFH contract should have a payment/fee of $100,000+. If so, again I agree in principal, but I have never heard of that happening. Instead a number like that is often designed to move a potential client away from a (potentially highly valuable) WFH Transfer of Rights to a more appropriate limited license of rights. A license that is in line with the rights the client actually intends to use and commensurate with the budget they have available.

  • @davidhohn *22 pages.

    Well @NessIllustration what do you have to say to this?

  • SVS Instructor Pro

    @Michael-Angelo-Go Can you clarify why you mention 22 pages in your reply?

    I recognize that you mentioned this page number in your original post and that it was the number of pages in the project you were contacted about. It was that detail which indicated to me that the creator of this UpWork project doesn't really know what they are doing.

    As you continue into your career you'll find that this is an unusual number of pages for a picture book. The standard is 32 pages (two signatures of 16 pages each). The page count for a picture book will typically increase or decrease by 16 pages. In some cases by 8 pages, and never less that 4 pages. Just as an FYI, if you have a go at building a mock up book you'll find that its impossible to fold pages to create a 22 page book.

    So as you continue forward just keep in mind that 32 pages is industry standard. Any deviation (and it is possible) from that should be clarified early on in the project to make sure that it is physically viable.

  • Pro

    @davidhohn @Michael-Angelo-Go I've mostly done 24-page books myself. 22 pages does not make sense unless this is a digital only book...

  • @NessIllustration It's 22 pages inside, plus front and cover. Should it be 24 pages plus front and cover?

  • Pro

    @Michael-Angelo-Go Full copyright transfer is unnecessary and expensive just for distributing a picture book. Exactly how expensive depends on what the illustrator says, they have to account for all potential loss of revenue, but only they can determine what they value it at. There's no specifics for art prices. I've heard of full copyright transfer prices all the way to 6 figures, but as David Horn says that's usually a preventative price. As in "I want to retain my copyrights so I'll say the full transfer costs 100k so they stop asking me and discuss other licensing options". But no, 6 figures is not the usual going rate for even a full copyright transfer. But since I have yet to see a publisher willing to fork any more than a couple thousand dollars, it becomes a non-issue because I refuse to transfer my copyrights for this little.

  • Pro

    @Michael-Angelo-Go No we're talking about inside pages. To bind inside pages to the spine, they are folded and grouped together into what's called "signatures" before being sewn (or glued) into the spine. The bare minimum amount of pages created from this process is 4 pages - one large sheet folded in half creates a little booklet of 4 pages ("cover", inside 1 and 2, and "back cover"). It is impossible to arrive at a final number of 22 in a printed book using normal binding methods. My guess is the author wrote their book, it turned out 22 pages, then they didn't do any research into printing and don't realize this is impossible.

  • SVS Instructor Pro

    @NessIllustration A 24 page book is physically possible (a pagecount divisible by 4)
    but not something that I've often come across. Out of curiosity can I ask what publishers you are working with that create 24 page projects? Are these "trade picture books", that is hardcovers with separate endpages, dust jackets and the like? Or are they educational projects? (designed for use in schools and other learning environments)

  • Pro

    @davidhohn Because of my vector style, my work is considered too young for the traditional 32-page picture book. I do younger markets, 0-6 years old. My most recent book was a 24-page soft cover with Sourcebooks. Other times I do board books but those don't really apply to this conversation because the binding is completely different and they can do weird amounts of pages if they wish 🙂

  • SVS Instructor Pro

    @NessIllustration Right! And if you are doing a softcover likely it is perfect-bound right? Perfect binding does allow for the inclusion of 2 pages at a time. Same with board books as you mentioned.

  • SVS Instructor Pro

    @Michael-Angelo-Go As you can see there are variations in how books are put together. But it's important to know the industry standards so that when you are presented with a project that deviates from the "standard" you can use the knowledge to determine if you are potentially working with a viable project. Especially with a site like UpWork which attracts inexperienced clients looking for cheap freelancers.

    In the case of your OP a 22 page picture book would be an immediate red flag. Not that a pg count like that would be a deal breaker (see my conversation with @NessIllustration above), just that it is outside the norm and I'd want to know how the book was going to be constructed. This would be important because say you started the project and 3/4 of the way thought the client discovered "Hey, turns out you CANT make a 22 page book!"

    The chances the client simply cancels the project are quite high and you are out all the time and money you've invested.

  • Pro

    @davidhohn Uhmm I'd have to check but I don't think they are perfect bound. I believe the minimum number of pages to allow for perfect binding is higher than 24.

  • SVS Instructor Pro

    @NessIllustration Fair enough. I'd simply be surprised if a soft cover book was stitched. If they sent you illustrator copies should be easy enough to check.

  • Pro

    @davidhohn I haven't yet received my author copies for that one (doesn't come out until the Spring), but I went to check my older 24 page books and they do actually look perfect bound! It's just sheets folded once and glued into the spine, right?

  • SVS Instructor Pro

    @NessIllustration Probably, yeah. I know that you can perfect bind single pages together into a book but they are really delicate.

    I was just looking at some the paperback/softcover picture books in my library. These are all paperback versions of books that started out as trade picture books so they are 32 pages + endpapers long. To me they look like two signatures (each signature probably stitched together) that have been glued (perfect bound) to the thicker paper that makes up the cover.

    So I bet there are a variety of different ways each publisher, and their preferred printer, put the books together.

  • Pro

    @davidhohn Still, you are right that 22 pages is very unlikely. Unless he meant 22 illustrated pages and he plans to add additional blank pages, or credit pages, or something.

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