Need to vent a bit!



  • So the past 6 months or so I’ve had a fairly steady stream of small educational projects from my agent since I signed with them late last year. I am incredibly grateful to be getting work, and I definitely wasn’t expecting to be landing anything particularly exciting or well paid in my first 6 months with an agency since I’m such a newbie to the industry.

    With all that said I am finding myself feeling a little frustrated. For some of the projects the pay looks okay on paper but once I work out what I’m actually earning per hour minus the agency fee it’s less than minimum wage. On top of that I’ve had a couple of publishers really take the piss with deadlines. For a textbook project they gave me feedback on my roughs almost a month late and when I asked for an extension on the deadline for final art they could only give me an extra week. Needless to say that was a very stressful week! Trying to learn from my mistakes, on my current project I asked them to confirm they could deliver their feedback by specific date (which would allow me enough time for final art) before I even agreed to take on the project. They agreed to this and took on the project… This date comes and goes and then I get an email this morning: feedback will be 3 weeks late - UGH!

    I’d really like to hear from other illustrators who are at a similar stage or later in their career, is this normal? Will putting my foot down a bit more gain me some respect or will it hurt my career more than staying silent and accepting this is just the way it is? I would really like to hear about other people’s experiences too.


  • Pro

    @Annabishop I don't think it's necessarily helpful to be asking "is this normal?". A much more helpful question is "is this what you want?"

    This first 6 months has been a learning experience for you so I think it was time well spent 🙂 But I don't think you can keep up the sub-minimal wage gigs and letting clients be late for the rest of your career, do you?

    Things you can do:

    • Talk to your agent! Express your concerns with the pay you're getting and let them know your pay goals going forward. They need to KNOW you want better gigs or they'll keep sending you more of the same
    • Calculate your pay after agent fee, comparative to the amount of hours the project requires, before taking the project
    • You do no have to accept every single gig your agent sends you! If the pay or conditions are not what you're looking for you can say no!
    • Put your foot down politely but firmly with clients

    On that last one especially. Putting your foot down will not hurt your career! It just depends the way you do it. Right now, they have been slacking off but letting you shoulder all the consequences of their behavior. They do it because they know they can get away with it without consequences and you'll bend over backwards to fix it. Stay polite and pleasant, but FIRM. Be super communicative and let them know from the start what you need in order to create this work on time and at the quality they want. Let them know what the natural consequences will be for THEM if they slack off.

    This can be done very politely. "I really need all this time in order to do my best work. If something happens and the brief or feedback is late at any stage, we will have to push back the deadline 1 day for every day late. I cannot do it any faster, so I just wanted to let you know so we're all on the same page :)"

    Remind them deadlines are coming 1 week before if you haven't heard from them, and remind them of the consequences. If they are late, let them know the deadline will have to be pushed as agreed. They only offer up 1 week for 3 weeks late? "I'm very sorry but as discussed, I really need all the time we planned for in the contract. Since unfortunately the feedback was late by 3 weeks, we need to compensate for the time that was lost. I cannot possibly do it any faster than the initial time frame we agreed on"

    Be matter of fact. Pleasant but firm. It ain't my fault, buddy. It's not how I wish it, but it's how YOU made it.

    Yes it's important to be "nice to work with" in this industry. But the thing people misunderstand is that it doesn't mean you have to work more to compensate for your client's faults. You're in charge of holding up your corner, and they're in charge of theirs. If the mess up, that's on them. That cannot get mad at you for their messes, if this was clearly communicated from the start, with reminders, etc. If need be, you can enlist the help of your agent! Email them and tell them they are late and need the agent to chase them. It's part of your agent's job to assist you with things like this, including being the bad guy in your stead sometimes.

    You do NOT need to let clients walk all over you in order to succeed in this industry.



  • @Annabishop I feel your pain! The first bunch of projects I got offered through the agency were, after factoring in deadlines and agent fee, garbage. So I said 'no thank you'. I have now turned down far more work than I've accepted.

    Nothing bad will happen if you politely refuse work. Now, if you impolitely refuse work or act like a prima-donna, that's another thing entirely, lol.

    Part of it (I think) is that newer artists get offered worse projects in general. If I were an agent and I had a new artist, I would NOT send them jobs from big name clients (unless this artist was, like, mind-blowingly phenomenal AND I knew them very well personally). Just like any other job, you never know if the new hires are going to be easy to work with; challenging to work with but in the end worth the effort; or absolute (#$%^ing horror shows. I know artists who ask for feedback then throw pissy toddler-esque tantrums when they get the warmest and fuzziest critiques. I sure as hell wouldn't want to work with them when money is on the line. So I wouldn't be surprised if agents assign their newer artists some kind of 'probationary' clients.

    Another part of it is that (in the extreme short term) it may seem better to agents to get their clients working on something (anything) so that they get that sweet sweet percentage, so they'll send everything they can your way to see what sticks. If you say 'yes' to working on low-paying, then who are they to disagree?

    TL;DR it's find to say "no thanks" to jobs. Nobody cares. Your agent is fine with it. The client is fine with it. Everyone is fine with it. As long as you don't act like a flapping butthole when you say "no", it will not hurt your career 🙂

    "Flapping butt-hole" is an excellent band name. Ska, I think. With a big brass section. They could have paper-mache butts on the ends of their horns.



  • As for the deadlines, I agree with @NessIllustration . I'm lucky in that I haven't had to deal with people being late with deadlines, but I think I'd do pretty much what she does; polite, constant, consistent communication with a reminder that there are ramifications for late feedback.



  • @NessIllustration Thank you for such a thoughtful response Ness! I feel like I just got a firm pep talk haha.
    I've had a pretty good email exchange with my agent about this over the past couple days and she has indeed reassured me I don't need to take every job that comes my way. I suppose part of the problem is having this scarcity mindset that every job that comes along could be the last (silly I know).

    "Put your foot down politely but firmly with clients" - I really struggle with this, fear of being impolite can be crippling sometimes! (Maybe it's a British thing? 😂 ) You're absolutely right though. I have let the agent dealing with this particular project know that I can't work with this client again if they don't respect my schedule. I gotta admit that was a tough one write but I feel 100x better for sticking up for myself.
    "You do NOT need to let clients walk all over you in order to succeed in this industry." Thank you for saying this! I feel like there's some conflicting advice for creatives floating around out there. I've been told 'just take every job when you're starting out even if it's low paid/crappy, it will lead to more'. I think there's also this common (and awful) belief that art isn't real work so we should be grateful for what we get. I've mentioned my frustrations with clients to people who don't work in a creative field and without fail I always get 'At least you're getting paid to draw, that's amazing!'...that's really so toxic when you stop to think about it huh? I'll stop there before this turns into a therapy session haha! Thanks again for your response 🙂


  • Pro

    @Annabishop You're absolutely right! There's a strong mindset problem that leads us artists to being afraid to stand up for ourselves. And it's not our fault, it's society's message that we're lucky to do this, we're lucky to have the work, we shouldn't complain. It creates this really terrible power imbalance where we artists just feel so indebted to our clients like they're giving us the moon and we need to be thankful. In reality of course, it's a simple business transaction where BOTH parties get something. If a client is paying $1000 for illustrations, it's because they're able to turn around and make more than that in profits selling their product. We needn't act like they're doing us a favor by making money with our intellectual property! It doesn't mean let's act like an entitled queen, but we really needn't lick their boots and take the consequences for their mistakes. I know what you mean about the fear of being impolite - I'm Canadian! But being polite is not the same thing as being a doormat! We can be professional AND firm all at once 🙂


  • Pro

    @Annabishop said in Need to vent a bit!:

    I've been told 'just take every job when you're starting out even if it's low paid/crappy, it will lead to more'.

    The saying should be "it will lead to more... of the same" 😕
    Sure it's a good idea to take the first couple projects your agent sends you so that they know you're professional and can get the job done (as Braden brilliantly explained) and when you're just getting started and have nothing in your portfolio at all it can help jumpstart things and look more professional to take a couple gigs regardless of pay to fill up your projects page and get some testimonials... But 1-2 gigs, not 10-12! We need to quickly start looking for projects that offer a livable wage after that, otherwise we stick ourselves in a terrible loop of only working at the bottom of the ladder. We have to get climbing sooner rather than later! And that means saying no to more gigs and that can be scary, but the beauty part is that if the gig is paid 2x better, then you only need half as many gigs like that to pay your bills 🙂



  • @Braden-Hallett Thank you for your response Braden!
    The fear of coming across like a prima-donna is so real lol. I can see now I'm much more in danger of swinging the other way and being a total doormat.

    I can see it really makes sense from the agency's perspective to start out new artists on the smaller jobs. This is why I've felt the need to take some of these badly paid jobs because I'm thinking of it as an opportunity to prove myself as reliable and easy to work with. I think I'm hitting my 'crappy job' limit though.

    You're so right, I need to practice saying "no thanks" and not feeling guilty about it...The 'Flapping butt-hole' Ska band conjures such a brilliant mental image hahah



  • @NessIllustration
    "We have to get climbing sooner rather than later! And that means saying no to more gigs and that can be scary, but the beauty part is that if the gig is paid 2x better, then you only need half as many gigs like that to pay your bills"

    When you say it like this is makes so much sense. I'm feeling a lot clearer about what I need to do moving forward. Thank you so much Ness!


  • Pro

    @Annabishop Anytime!



  • @Annabishop said in Need to vent a bit!:

    You're so right, I need to practice saying "no thanks" and not feeling guilty about it

    I just said no to a job offer today actually!

    I wrote back this:

    "Hi (insert agent name)!

    Thanks very much for keeping me in mind for this project, but I think I'll have to pass on this one.

    Thanks though!

    B."

    That's allllllll you need to do. No explanation, no justification, just a "no thank you" 🙂



  • @Annabishop @Braden-Hallett @NessIllustration This was such a great discussion, all of you! I’m nowhere near this stage of my career yet, but am glad to have read your advice before I found myself in this situation. Thank you all!



  • @Braden-Hallett that last bit had me crying😂😂



  • @cianamacaroni I'm really glad you found this discussion useful! @NessIllustration and @Braden-Hallett are full of pearls of wisdom! I felt a little bit embarrassed posting about this to be honest but then I realised it's good to have these conversations out in the open where it can (hopefully) benefit others. It seems like there is a huge amount of resources focused on how to get an agent but not so much about the next stage.



  • @Annabishop There's also not too many really visible discussions about how, really, having an agent is not the end all be all. Like, I SUCK at marketing and networking, and so paying an agent a percentage juuuuuuuuuuuuust edges out being on my own. This stage, likewise, takes lots and lots of work, lol.

    I'm actually planning on doing a self-marketing blast (several of them) and then track what jobs come from where to see how effective the agency actually is.



  • @Braden-Hallett
    I just got a job offer I'm planning to decline (low pay) so I may use a variation on this template - thanks! I'm feeling a little bit conflicted on the 'no explanation, no justification' thing though. Personally, I agree with you that we shouldn't have to justify our reasons if we don't want to. However when I spoke to my agent about declining jobs she said this: 'taking on projects is totally up to you, as long as you explain to the agent the reason why you can't take it on we're understanding'. I'm wondering if it's helpful for them to know the reason especially when it concerns low pay or tight deadlines. Perhaps they might feed this back to their clients if enough illustrators mention it. It could create some positive change? That might be me being overly naive and optimistic though.



  • @Annabishop You can absolutely say "the budget isn't quite right for me" or "I wouldn't be able to make that deadline work".

    Be open and communicative with your agent! As much as they want that sweet sweet moolah at the end of the day they're supposed to be on your team!

    It's just this last time for me I didn't feel the need to 🙂



  • @Braden-Hallett I SUCK at marketing and networking too! I've been building a mailing list (extremely slowly) but have yet to really go for it with a self-marketing blast. Your plan for tracking where the jobs come from is definitely a good idea!



  • @Braden-Hallett said in Need to vent a bit!:

    @Annabishop You can absolutely say "the budget isn't quite right for me" or "I wouldn't be able to make that deadline work".

    Be open and communicative with your agent! As much as they want that sweet sweet moolah at the end of the day they're supposed to be on your team!

    It's just this last time for me I didn't feel the need to 🙂

    I hear ya, thank you 🙂 I'm definitely overthinking this haha.


  • Pro

    @Annabishop Marketing like anything else requires learning and practicing 🙂 Artists are really good at learning art, but we rarely put the same dedication into learning how to sell our services... which is a shame, because that's where most of us fail 😕 We can't be good at something if we've never learned it, that's only natural. I feel like saying things such as "I suck at marketing" isn't helpful and mentally, it can affect how we see ourselves. "I'm someone who's just not good at marketing" as if it's part of who we are, and there's nothing about that we can change. Thinking of it instead as "I haven't learned marketing yet" is more helpful because it's not self-depreciative, it's not related to your identity... it simply states you haven't yet developed your skills in this area and pushes you to think about your next steps. What can you do to learn marketing? 🙂


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