Advice: charging for illustrations

I’ve been answering quite a few emails lately seeking advice on aspects of the industry. So I thought I’d put some tailored excerpts here in case anyone else was wondering the same things. Don’t forget, there is always the Getting Published page too which has lots more info and suggestions, especially about whether or not you have to illustrate a story before taking it to a publisher.

Someone was asked to do illustrations for a friend’s book and wondered how to charge for them:

It is quite unusual to do the illustrations for a book before taking it to a publisher – unless of course it is to be self published, or simply to be enjoyed by the person commissioning the work. My rule of thumb is to have a think about how much time each one will probably take you (including creating roughs, going to and fro with them – which could be longer if the commissioning person gets very prescriptive and involved) and then think about what your time is worth. Everyone charging the same hourly rate doesn’t work – so I can’t suggest one. If you are starting out and you keep getting stuck on an aspect of an illustration then you could be charging more than someone who is experienced and has become faster with time – this should be to their benefit, not detriment. It also doesn’t take into account the level of detail, professional design, instinct etc that is specific to each illustrator. Most jobs take longer than I expect and I never stop until the job is right. So I end up not taking on certain types of jobs as I know that they just can’t pay well enough for the time and work involved. The question you have to answer is what is your time worth, and are you gaining any other benefits like exposure, experience, potential future income that might be factored in?

For Trade books (the ones going into book shops) the illustrator is usually assigned a royalty by the publisher, as well as a smaller up-front payment (an advance). The size of the small fee is hopefully compensated for by long term payments over the life of the book. When books don’t get a royalty you really have to get full compensation for the work straight away. And it has to feel fair to you – if you price something at mates-rates as a favour and they go on to publish the work and it is very successful – how will you feel about it?

A final thought – try not to give away copyright. If someone insists because they are self publishing and paying you up-front, try to license use of the images for specific purposes. You may want to reserve the right to sell art prints or use them on greeting cards one day. So long as they aren’t in competition with the book (ie. you couldn’t sell them to someone for another book) there shouldn’t be a problem. Originals are never included in the price of a book commission. They are only paying for the use of the images. If they want the originals, they can pay for them as artworks.

For suggested rates and conditions go to the ASA website.

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