Best Practices for Freelance Children’s Book Illustration Commissions — Part 1
As a freelance digital artist and illustrator, I worked on 4 children’s books amongst other types of digital art commissions and projects over the last 12 months, and in this series of blog posts I’ll share some hints and lessons I’ve learned.
GIVE A PRICE ONLY AFTER YOU UNDERSTAND THE SCOPE AND THE USAGE PURPOSES
When a client approaches you asking about ‘the price of your illustrations’, don’t get too excited and give a price over phone or WhatsApp. You have to ask some questions first, because your price completely depends on what the client wants.
Instead, ask the client to give you (1) a briefing about the project and (2) an idea about the required usage purposes in order to propose an accurate price estimate.
The briefing should include (a) the required illustration style, (b) the number of illustrations required, © the dimensions, (d) the panel/spread/page descriptions, (e) and whatever you think is needed for you to do the time estimate.
To share this information, clients should trust you. So you have to show that you’re trustworthy during all your communications. However, that’s not enough. Professional clients might ask you to sign a non-disclosure-agreement (NDA) before you have a look at the project’s briefing — and I urge you to sign it and have a look before you give any price.
The usage purposes can range from leasing the exclusive rights for certain usage purposes, to purchasing the complete copyrights (for all usage purposes.) The buy-out option might mean in certain cases that you can’t even showcase your artwork on your portfolio. So you have to know what you’re selling. I’ll write another blog post about this point.
Some clients might not get back to you when you ask them about the briefing and the usage purposes. Don’t feel sorry for that. You should actually feel thankful for the time and efforts they saved you as the process would have been a complete mess.
Ask the client to give you a briefing about the project and an idea about the required usage purposes in order to propose an accurate price estimate.
PILOT ILLUSTRATIONS ARE NOT FREE OF CHARGE
Some clients might ask you to paint a part of the story before they commit to the whole project. They might ask you to draw a panel, a page, a spread, some characters, etc., and they normally expect you to do that for free.
Again, don’t do that. Even if they promise to pay you later if you’re selected for the project, don’t do it. Your time and efforts have to be respected at every moment of the process.
Actually, the idea of delivering a pilot before committing to the big scope is a fair step for both sides. It’s the right thing to do and it’s highly recommended. You have to know each other before going forward with the whole project. However, my only advice here is not to deliver the pilot for free. This is not how a good journey begins.
To navigate through such a situation professionally, below are my top 3 suggestions:
- Updated Portfolio: You should have a portfolio that shows your various artistic skills (including sketching). Looking at your portfolio, the clients should be able to tell if you’re the right person to team up with in their project.
- Honest Feedback: You can ask the client about the style they imagine for their book and tell them honestly if you can match it. If you think the style is a bad choice, you can educate your clients by suggesting another style you can fulfill and telling them why they should go for it. Your job, before anything else, is to solve your clients’ problems and help them achieve their targets creatively.
- Basic Fee: You can offer the client delivering the required pilot for a basic fee (i.e. keeping all copyrights for you as an artist). In this case they have to sign a contract that says you’re the copyright owner of the artwork and that it cannot be traced, mimicked or used commercially. If the pilot succeeds, you can add the delta price (of the copyrights) to the final fee — and that’s fair.
Some clients might insist on having a free pilot and some might not get back to you when you ask for a pilot fee. Don’t feel sorry for that. You should actually feel thankful for the time and efforts they saved you as the process would have been a series of unprofessional events!
If you don’t stand up respectfully for your time and efforts, others might take advantage of that and you don’t want to be a part of such a partnership.
Your time and efforts have to be respected at every moment of the process.
OFFER FREE AND DETAILED PROPOSALS TO SET THE EXPECTATIONS RIGHT
Now the pilot illustrations are not free, but the project proposals are.
After you understand the project’s briefing and usage purposes, you should give your client a neat proposal to approve before signing the contract. The contract actually should be based on the approved proposal.
The proposal should include the following information (thanks to my lifetime friend, Mohammad Musleh, for helping me create my first proposal 🙂):
- The Brief: Your understanding of the project, written in your own words based on the client’s briefing.
- The Process: The proposed steps of the illustration process, including the timeline and defining the allowed revisions.
- The Offer: You can include a couple of offers with different terms here. For instance, you may include an exclusive offer for a defined time period and limited usage purposes and another one for acquiring the complete copyrights (buy-out offer). This depends on what the client wants you to quote.
- Definitions: You have to define the industry-specific terms in your proposal for mutual understanding. What is a major revision? What is a minor revision? What is a scene?
- Notes & Terms: You have to include the terms you expect to be included in the contract, written in plain English. The clients might add their own terms or ask you to modify some of yours. This is all healthy for the process.
- BIO: You might close your proposal with a small bio. In the bio you can tell the client why you are the best artist to partner with, and you can propose the official communication channels. A professional bio at the end of the proposal document helps give a face to the dry jargon above and reminds the client about the creative human they’re going to team up with.
After you understand the project’s briefing and usage purposes, you should give your client a neat proposal.
These are some ideas to start with. Feedback and comments are welcome. I’ll share 3 more ideas by the end of the next week.
“Muhammad at-Tayieb” al-Hyari
Freelance Digital Artist & Illustrator