Work for Hire? Not sure what to do.



  • I had a self-publishing author contact me and I briefly explained during the conversation that the illustrator maintains the copyright of their work, but sells the rights to use the images to the author and it would be laid on in a contract. I said that if after the book was finished and they wished to use the images in another way, say for merchandise, that would involve a different contract.

    She just came back and said they wanted the full copyright and enter a 'work for hire' arrangement. I haven't had that before and I'm not sure how to respond. As I understood if, work for hire means that you have benefits and are basically an employee. So like when I did illustrations as an employee at the publishing company years ago. I dont retain that copyright because I was employed and not freelance.

    Anyone got any advice or insight?


  • SVS OG

    @Janette firstly, How much are they paying for the work for hire? they better be paying good money to own all the rights to your work.



  • @Nyrryl-Cadiz We haven't got that far yet. The quote I gave them was for freelance.


  • SVS OG

    @Janette I see, well if they want a Work For Hire, you need to give them a different quote.



  • Hi @Janette, I don’t know your financial situation, but personally I wouldn’t take it. Just because it’s a self published author doesn’t mean they should pay you any less than what your worth through traditional publishing.

    In a different post, you mentioned another self publishing author was asking you for an editor. If it’s the same person, might be red flags for a long and difficult road ahead.

    Not trying to discourage, just talk to them about price and your expected payment terms now.

    Good luck!



  • @Jeremy-Ross It's actually a different author, so no worries there. I suppose one of my concerns is that Work for hire means youre basically acting like an employee and dont hold the copyright to your work. But, I also worry that it might affect my other freelance gigs. Maybe I need to speak to a lawyer. Yikes, things just got scary! lol



  • Hi @Janette, understood. Definitely do your research, there’s a lot of online articles explaining freelance vs. work for hire, with most advice sticking to freelance for artists.



  • @Jeremy-Ross Yeah, that's what I've read so far. I dont want to reject work, but I also dont want to get myself in a bad situation. Guess my weekend is going to be a fun one! lol



  • @Janette I think @davidhohn has talked about work for hire and maintaining copyrights on the forums before. It also seems like there was a podcast talking about it too. They had a really good way to explain it to clients and why you should price it higher if that is what the client wants. There were also pros and cons.



  • I had a look through the podcasts and found a few I need to listen to, but this specific ones sounds perfect. I'll try to find that one! Thank you!



  • @Janette many, many, many self-published authors nowadays are demanding full rights to artwork when they hire an illustrator for their book. One reason is because of sites like Upwork and Fiverr, which used to operate solely on a work-for-hire basis so that's what clients have come to expect (the majority of self-published authors hire illustrators on sites like Upwork and Fiverr). Another reason is that's what self-publishing coaches encourage self-publishing authors to do. The authors themselves might not know what rights they actually need to purchase. This doesn't describe every self-publisher (I've had quite a few clients who were awesome to work with) but it is common.

    Most of the time, we shouldn't enter into a work for hire agreement or give away our copyright. But there are situations where an artist might agree to a work-for-hire job.

    Is this a project you really want to work on? Are you ok with giving away all rights to your work -- for the right price? Will you be credited as the artist in the book? Will the client give you permission to show the work in your portfolio? Will the artwork be so niche for the project that chances are it will never be used for anything other than that particular book? Does this seem like it would be a fun project and a good client to work with?

    If you answered 'yes' to these questions, there may be a reason to consider entering into a work for hire agreement -- again, for the right price.

    In a similar situation, this is what I do: I give them options. In my proposal, I lay out different prices for different approaches and pagination for the book, and what that would cost if the client were purchasing reproduction rights, and then what that would cost if the client were purchasing all rights to the work (or work for hire). No matter how the client chooses, I've priced it so I'll be happy with whatever option they pick; the ball is in their court. Usually, the client crunches the numbers, does some research of their own, and comes back agreeing to purchase reproduction rights. (This doesn't happen all of the time -- sometimes they're staunch with wanting full rights to the artwork, and if there are any red flags that start waving during these conversations, it's time to bow out.)

    But then the question pops up: if I'm willing to work in a work-for-hire situation or willing to sign away my copyright to a client, how much more should that cost? I came across this article that helped me determine how I'd set my prices when asked to work for hire or hand over my copyright to the work (hint: I increase my price by at least 50%, and often double it). This is another good article you may find helpful. Anoosha Syed also has a great YouTube video where she explains how to price artwork. Super informative.

    Hope this helps! Let us know how it turns out for you.



  • @Melissa-Bailey-0 Thank you so much for taking the time to reply so thoroughly! I really appreciate it. I believe thay are educating themselves well and even joined the SCBWI. They said they had conversations with people saying that work for hire was a common occurrence. I just want to make sure I know what I'm getting into and not go into anything blindly.

    I suppose the main thing is, what if their story takes off and the characters become licensed. Long shot, I know, but IF that did happen, I would basically lose out financially on that. So, it makes sense that the quote I would give them would need to be a lot more than if I were to retain copyright.

    Thank you again for your insight!



  • @Janette I'd be curious who has told them that work for hire is a "common occurrence." In my experience, while it does happen it's certainly not the norm. That sounds fishy to me.

    They're self-publishing so the cynic in me says that the chances of their characters/book taking off is slim at best. In my opinion, it's never worth it to sell your copyright.



  • @lpetiti I wondered that myself. Seems like Publishers or companies would be more likely to do a work for hire thing.

    If I'm not going to accept it, I need to be sure that I can explain my reasons why.



  • @Janette you're so welcome! In your conversations, you could ask them their plan for publication and marketing (I do it all the time and no one has objected so far). It will give you some clues into their level of experience and the likelihood of their book finding success.

    Most self-published books sell less than 500 copies in their lifetime, so you're correct, the likelihood of their story taking off is slim. Unless they know the market and know how to market their book -- in that case, they may have a chance.

    As far as work for hire being a common occurrence, it often depends on who is doing the hiring. But for the most part, yes, it is common for self-publishers to want to own the rights to the artwork. In my experience, most who approach me for quotes or pricing assume that they're buying the artwork or will own the rights -- this happens so often that I have made a pricing sheet that clearly states what the prices include and what rights they're purchasing. So many times, authors have been disappointed when they find out that I'm not giving away my copyright and we have a discussion, at the end of which they're still disappointed but satisfied with the explanation and we proceed. (Or sometimes, it's been a deal-breaker for them and they continue their illustrator search.) Not everyone will have had this same experience, but yes, I've found that most self-publishers want to hold the copyright to the artwork.



  • @Melissa-Bailey-0 Oh that's great advice!



  • @Janette and just going to reply to your reply to @lpetiti -- if you're not going to accept their work for hire terms, you don't owe them an explanation. You can politely but firmly state that you don't sign away the copyright to your artwork. If they want to work with you and accept your terms, great, if not, then wish them well and stick to your guns.



  • @Melissa-Bailey-0 Will you call them for me? 😉



  • @Melissa-Bailey-0 I was about to say the same thing about the explanation. I think people have this idea that they are always owed a reason when the answer is no. The truth is, Janette you don't owe them anything, and even if you did feel like you wanted to explain, you have your reason. You don't want to give you the rights to your work, or you prefer to not do work-for-hire. If you're worried that you might not get any work after this, or that this is the only job right now, keep your chin up! I love your work, more work will come in and from clients who would respect your right to not give up a copyright, if that's what you really want.



  • @Janette I researched this recently, believe it or not.

    Work for hire does not mean benefits. Its more of a 1099 thing. But mostly it really comes down to the type of artwork you are doing and industry you are doing it for. When I did illustration work for a TV production company the work I was doing is considered work for hire BY LAW. Weird. When I do logo work for NEPA (an online e-sports league) I also do work for hire. But typically work for hire would not include illustrations for books. With both of those clients, they agree to let me use the artwork for self-promotion in my portfolio. That might have been been a deal-breaker for me otherwise (but maybe not since I really enjoy the work).

    Is that helpful?


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