Advance/Sample sketch advice needed

  • Dear Wise Forum friends,

    I've been emailing with an editor from a smaller publishing house who is interested in having me illustrate a 32-page book. I can tell he's fishing to find out what kind of an advance I would ask for (calling it "sort of a blind man's bluff"), and also admitted their "advances are modest."

    As far as my experience goes, I illustrated a book for a vanity house (where they hired me), getting below market rates and am currently illustrating a pb for another small press on the lower end of advances. Does anyone have experience in how you might approach an editor with regards to payment? I know Will encourages us to decide what the lowest we would be willing to go would be, but beyond that does anyone have advice?

    This editor is also interested in a sketch/draft sample of an illustration from the mss. I've heard people say we should be paid for this. What are your thoughts about it, and what kind of price might I ask for doing a sample piece?

  • SVS Team SVS Instructor Pro SVS OG

    great questions here. I can give you a bit of advise on these matters.

    In terms of what you should charge, it all depends on a few different sets of criteria. How big is the publisher? How many copies will be printed? Who gets the rights to the work? It also depends on your work experience and history. So, that's a ton of variables. As a general guide, here is what I would ask for at a beginner level:

    Advance: $5000-9000 —Anything less than $5000 and you will probably lose money doing it. books take a long time to make and with all the stages involved, It's a massive endeavor. I'd start out asking for $7500 if you don't feel comfortable going higher. Refer to the Graphic Arts guild Pricing and Ethical guidelines book if they asked where you got that figure.

    Rights: Artist keeps all rights — If they want the rights, they have to pay more. This may kill the deal though as many smaller/evil companies want the rights and don't want to pay for it.

    Royalties: 5% of list price. If they don't have enough money in the advance, try upping the royalty percentage. That is a good way of getting more on the back end if the book does well.

    Sketch Sample: $200-$350 for a drawing, $450-600 for a painting (you keep the rights on these). Don't work for free, this is considered "spec work". See this for more info:

    Ultimately, you need to figure out what you need to do. If you have no published work at all, it might be in your best interest to take a hit on this project. If the story is good, then it's worth a consideration. I'm not a huge fan of work for hire type contracts though, so consider it carefully.

    Lastly, the best position you can possibly be in during this stage is being able to say no and mean it. You will lose some jobs because of it, but those are jobs you probably wouldn't have wanted anyway.

    I hope this helps some. Good luck!

  • @Lee-White Thank you SO much, Lee! This is very helpful and I'll certainly take what you share to heart.

    (And hopefully it can help others out there in this same position?)

  • SVS OG

    @Lee-White This is great information. Thank you! I enjoyed the heads up on smaller/evil companies 🙂

  • SVS Team SVS Instructor Pro SVS OG

    haha! BTW, I wasn't suggesting that a small company is an evil company. Small companies are sometimes AWESOME to work for. It's just that they don't typically have big budgets. Big companies, on the other hand, can be VERY evil! They have money but don't want to spend it and use their weight to push around people just starting out. Not all the time of course, just something to be aware of. : )

  • SVS Team SVS OG

    I have just experienced this big company vs small company the past few weeks. The company I work for landed a huge corporation that just kept throwing money at us to do stuff. Which is a great position to be in till you have to work all hours of the day and weekend. Cutting in to family time. The smaller companies have less to throw most of the time and you can play with timelines easier. Either way best of luck!

  • @Lee-White, thanks sooooo much for the information on pricing.
    I have a couple more questions...
    Does the advance change if we are also doing the graphic design on the book?
    What should we charge for illustrating a middle grade book and cover? They can have from 5 graphic elements to 25 illustrations?
    What should we charge for illustrating and designing a complete middle grade book including text formatting and getting creative with some of the text?
    Is it ok for us to list these price structures on our website?

  • SVS Team SVS Instructor Pro SVS OG

    Sorry for getting back to you so late on this. For your questions:

    1. yes, you should make more if doing the design of a book. That should be a separate line item on your estimate and invoice. Or, a totally separate design invoice. You should be paid for any part of the job you do.

    2. For a middle grade book and cover I can't really give a solid estimate. It all depends on the rights they want, who the publisher is, your experience, and the details of how many illustrations there are (and complexity).

    3. Same answer as above

    4. Do NOT list prices on your website. You can do the same job for two different clients. One you can charge $1000 and the other $10,000. The variables are always changing so locking yourself into rates is a bad idea.

  • @Lee-White Thanks for getting back to me Lee, you guys are fantastic! I read somewhere that middle grade can fetch between $7000 and $12,000. I posted a new thread to see if anyone in the forum have any middle grade experience.

    I've just received a portfolio request from a publisher about some middle grade images I did. Thought it might be wise to be prepared if something eventuates from it 🙂 Hopefully I'll have something valuable to contribute to the forum regarding it.

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