Work-for-hire? Bad or good idea?

  • Hi folks. A person reached out to me via my website to ask for an estimate for a picture book. It would be a work-for-hire situation as I suspect she's self publishing the work. She seems legit, but I've never done a picture book before (I'm just starting out), and I'd feel more comfortable in a working situation with an art director. The reason I'd want to do it is she's a high profile author, so it could be worth the potential insanity. Has anyone started out with a project like this? If I do send her an estimate, does anyone have a good site for free business templates (contracts, estimates, etc)? Thanks!

  • @laurel-aylesworth Look at Will Terry's You tube channel he talks a lot about the pros and cons in some videos

  • Pro SVS OG

    I did and still do quite a few work-for-hire contracts. Educational publishers typically are work-for-hire contracts, as well as, often, advertisement (though there are plenty exceptions to that). I have (by choice) no experience with self-publishing authors though.
    The key thing for me was to define very strictly what is in and what is out of scope (like: “I´m doing the illustrations but I´m not doing any book design and I´m not doing pre-press” - which means they have to hire a book designer at some point - as well as very clearly defining the number and type of illustrations). I only had to write contracts a couple of times (my agent does them now) and I used the templates available on the “Handbook of Pricing and Ethical Guidelnes” of the Graphic Artists Guild.
    The thing to keep in mind is that, because you are not getting any royalties or any additional income from the illustrations, you can ask for a higher price.
    I know work-for-hire contracts have a bad reputation, and I think Will and Lee are very critical of them, but I have overall very good experiences. My agent doesn´t like them much, but seems to believe they are a necessary first step in a career.

  • I found this video very helpful... I know it was pretty recently mentioned on the forum, so maybe you've seen it already:

    Will Terry and Tyrus Goshay talk about illustrating self-published children's books, and Tyrus lets loose some absolute gems from his experience, in my opinion.

  • @smceccarelli Thank you, Simona. I'm going to download the GAG pricing ebook asap. I think I'm going to take the leap and send her an estimate, but this being my first professional gig ever (let alone a picture book) I have no idea how to outline my process because I don't know what the process is - LOL.

  • SVS OG

    @laurel-aylesworth Illustrating a whole book is a time-intensive process so if you're considering working with this author, you'll want to consider how much you love their story because you'll be living with it for several months.

    I agree with @smceccarelli , make sure you and the author are both clear on the scope of your work. Besides illustrations, who'll do the graphic design, illo/text editing, art direction, printing, marketing? How many rounds of revisions are you willing to do before you charge extra? If this is your first foray into illustrating a book, I think you should try to focus on just the illustration and art direction parts unless you have a strong interest in other aspects of the book's production.

    A big pro of doing this project is that you'll get to practice going through the whole process of illustrating book, from thumbnails and dummy book to sketches, color, and final illustrations, while getting paid a bit for your time. However, it would be a different process working with an established mainstream publishing house where the art director would communicate with you directly, and any interactions with the author would be little to none.

  • SVS Team SVS Instructor Pro SVS OG

    I'd ask how you much is it worth to you for her to own your work? Why does she get to keep all her rights and also your rights too? And why is that it important to her? Unless she is paying A TON OF MONEY, I'd say no for sure.

    Rights are very expensive in my opinion and if someone wants them, they have to pay. I typically say at least double a regular fee would be a starting point.

    The only exception is if it's work for hire with a legit educational publisher like Scholastic or Harper Collins, etc. That way you at least start to build your stock. Working with a self published author is so sketchy. You get paid little, don't own any of the work or rights, and they typically have absolutely no idea of how to sell a book. Remember, making books is actually the easy part. Getting them into buyers hands is an entirely different thing.

  • SVS OG

    Actually, disregard what I said. @Lee-White makes a really good point about retaining your rights to your artwork.

  • Pro SVS OG

    @Lee-White makes a really good point about rights, and this is what happens all the time in editorial illustration (buying out the rights in editorial is REALLY expensive - maybe 3-times the normal cost of the illustration) - talking as art director here (I buy editorial illustration for the agency I work for).
    But in my freelance business I`m finding a niche in developing characters for campaigns or work on established characters. Even if I kept the rights to that art, I couldn´t do anything with it and it would make the client very uncomfortable to know that somebody else could use his character. So it´s typically work-for-hire.
    I think the business of illustration has got a lot of facettes and it´s difficult to say what´s right or wrong in principle. Just be always aware of your worth and of the amount of work you invest. Self-publishing authors have often very little awareness of that and that´s what makes it risky and complicated to work with them:
    I have to say I´ve had very puzzling interactions also with no gurantee there either....For me it´s turning out to be very much a case-by-case discussion, but maybe it will change once I have more experience and more legacy.

  • @lee-white Thank you for your thoughts, Lee. I think that might be part of my problem...since I'm at the novice level I don't actually know my worth yet. After watching one of Will Terry's videos on the matter, I felt maybe the experience of doing a work-for-hire project would be worth the potential trouble. But now after reading your comments, I'm back on the fence - lol. In the video, they mentioned it would be near impossible to track royalties anyway. Maybe a solution is to send an estimate that would be double what I'd think to charge, as you stated, and if they go for it, then great. If not, life goes on. Would you suggest I pass on the project and just keep honing my skills and aim for working with publishers in the future?

  • SVS Team SVS Instructor Pro SVS OG

    @laurel-aylesworth That would be my recommendation. The only way I would say do it is if you LOVE the manuscript and story and it pushes you in the right direction. Otherwise, it will be a painful experience and not help you out in your career at all.

  • @lee-white Thanks, Lee. Would love to see you and Will Terry duke it out over this subject on a 3rd Thursday someday 🙂

  • SVS Team SVS Instructor Pro SVS OG

    @laurel-aylesworth That would be fun! We just did a podcast that will be out soon where me and Will scrapped about doing fan art. I love battling Will and Jake!

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