Should I take this commission? Advise needed

  • Hey guys,

    After posting a mock book cover on Instagram recently I had a commission request for designing a book cover for a follower who is intending to publish when's he finishes the book.
    There is no guarantee of the publishing so her not finishing or self publishing are both options.

    I've had a story synopsis and it's a fantasy young adult novel, nothing offensive about it, but I'm not sure if I should go ahead and quote her for the commission because

    • there's hesitation about illustrating for self published books
    • since I don't know if she's even going to finish or publish the book I'm unsure how to quote her. A public publishing license would be much more expensive than a private one. Is it wise to sell her a personal license and make clear that she needs to upgrade this later on if she wants to publish this cover?
      -she doesn't have a title yet and hopes hthe creation of the cover might help her clarify this in the process so it sounds like it's a bit of conceptual and unspecific work for now but that doesn't bother me too much

    All in all I could really use extra money at the moment so I don't want to turn something down that I could easily quote around 300-400$ for even on a mostly personal license.
    I'd like to take it for the work alone if the repercussions would be harmless. I've done a smaller commission for the client before and had no issues working with them.

    How would you guys go about this? Would you take it? (Assuming a price can be agreed on) How would you quote?

    Thanks for any input you might be able to give 🙂 it's much appreciated!

  • I wouldn't say there is a wrong answer, it's what ever you feel comfortable with.

    Stuff to claify would be usage - yes it is a possible self published book but from my experience self publishers want or seem to think they need all the rights exclusivley and you have none, so if thats the case it would be more expensive than a lets say a traditional publishing house. Because you are essentially work for hire, if you are comfortable with that charge accordingly, by hour if need be or daily rate.

    If for instance they are unsure of their title and want to see various concepts and there could be a lot of back and forth, A LOT, you should factor this in. If you agree a flat rate of 400 but they essentially work you until they are happy when they hadn't a clear vision, you will feel robbed.

    So determining if you are going to take it, here's a few things I consider:
    the money would be handy but when will I get paid, can I get some up front? (3rd up front, 3rd when sketch signed off, final 3rd on completion - that would be good)
    Are there clear parameters for the commission, extra work means extra money
    Could it be a good portfolio piece, is it in line with my current path? is it the work I would like to do? - this helps if the money is not great
    Do I retain copyright - could it be sold as a print later or licensed
    Is there a current working relationship and is it good

    Hope that helps

  • @Phil-Cullen thanks so much for this! That's super helpful. Yes, I have a system of stages in place usually to take payment in three installments or sodepending on the size of the project.
    It sounds like you reckon this is mostly a question of work comfort and legal safety than it is prestige. My main concern was that future publishers I might want to work with might look down on self published works, but I'm not sure if that's a valid concern, and if it is not I'd be happy to proceed and figure out a good license for it with your answer in mind 🙂

  • @Nathalie-Kranich I think the stigma around self-published books is for fully-illustrated picture books, not so much for cover illustration and design. The time and effort you put into a cover design is much less than you would put into illustrating an entire 32 pg book so the stakes are a lot lower if the book doesn’t succeed (or maybe even get finished). I say go for it as long as the person has a budget you are comfortable with and make sure to write clear parameters about feedback and revisions into the contract so there’s less of a chance the client will be difficult.

  • Pro SVS OG

    The first question that comes to my mind is: why does she want a cover when she’s not even sure she will publish the book? Seems very weird to me. A cover is a marketing tool - to produce one for a book that is not even finished and where publishing is not even sure seems more in line with a private commission for herself - to see her project come to life for her own personal pleasure.

    I don’t think there’s any issue with taking the commission, if you like the brief - I would handle it as a private commission.

  • @StudioLooong thanks, that makes sense 😃 I guess a fully illustrated book says almost as much about the artist as it does about the writer, so the quality of both go a lot more hand in hand.

    @smceccarelli Yes, I completely agree, I don't think she necessarily knows that side of the market, it is most likely more something she wants for herself without the practical implications. 🙂

  • @Nathalie-Kranich
    I think the risk of working with an independent author is a communication challenge. If you work with an art director or editor, they have experience of working with illustrators, and many of them are very visual and able to read your rough sketches with a line of the description and understand where you are heading with a piece. It is very hard to know if an independed author is able to do that, or express what she wants and need clearly.

    If I take a commission like this, I would

    1. Try to learn as much as I can about the author herself, asking if she is interested in visual art, and maybe even ask her to provide the kind of book cover or art in general that she loves.

    2. Show my process step by step. I sent a book cover illustration process I did (from SVS book cover illustration class) to my client before I took a job. It helped so much to clarify what I mean by rough sketches, color study, and final art. I let the client approve each step (I did not show the thumbnails to the client, only rough sketches and onwards) before moving to the next phase to avoid revision and extra work.


    1. you can add a change fee in the contract: for example if she approved the rough sketch, and then later she wants to make a big change, then you can charge an extra fee for the changes.

    Hope this is useful.

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