Friday, December 15, 2017

We All Deserve to Get Paid for Our Art

Recently, on Twitter, I stumbled across a thread about illustrations for books, children’s books in particular, and how much one could expect to pay an artist to provide drawings for your manuscript.

As a self published author—a recent one—this is a question I had when I started looking at self publishing as an option. One of the nice things about traditional publishing is that the writer doesn’t have to worry about the nuts and bolts of getting the book published. Formatting, cover art, marketing—in a traditional publishing world, the publisher handles all that. But for a self published author, all of these things fall in your domain. And a lot of them you have to pay for.

Some you can do yourself—formatting, for example. Personally, I chose to find someone who could do that for me, and paid them their asking rate. I did it that way for two reasons: 1) I knew I would probably screw it up if I tried to do it on my own, and it would likely take me five times as long as it would someone who actually did that for a living; and 2) I found their asking rate to be reasonable. I had no idea if it was or not, but a quick Google search told me that it was in line with what a lot of other people were asking, and the person I chose came recommended, so I figured it was a good deal. And he formatted my manuscripts well and on time, and I would absolutely go to him again the next time I need such work done.

I also needed new cover art. The books I was putting up for sale had been previously published, but the rights had recently reverted to me, and I wanted a new look for them. So again, I turned to Google. And with art, there’s a LOT more variation in price. I found pre-made covers for as little as $40.00, and custom made covers for as much as $200.00 and up. Again, I looked around until I found a few sites I liked, read the reviews, and bought the covers I both liked and could afford. Would I have liked to have custom covers for each title? Of course. But I knew I couldn’t afford that, so I looked for ones I could.

Which brings me to the twitter conversation I mentioned in the first paragraph. The debate was about what constituted a ‘fair’ price for such work. If you’re a children’s book author, and your book has twenty-five pages, you’re probably looking for at least twelve drawings, plus front and back cover art. That’s one drawing for every two pages, so there’s a visual each time you turn the page. And remember that stock art isn’t going to work here – you have to have an artist who will read your story and craft the art work that goes with that story.

I get that as a self-published author, you have to keep your overhead low. You can’t spend $3,000 on art when you’re trying to make a name for yourself, and a profit, because you might make the first but you likely won’t make the second. But the artist has to make a living as well, so where’s the sweet spot? Where’s the middle ground, where the artist is still making a decent living, being fairly compensated for his or her work, and the author isn’t breaking the bank?

I suppose that sweet spot is different for every author, and every artist. One compromise that occurred to me would be for an author to offer the artist a percentage of profits as compensation. The drawings will run $3k, and you can’t afford it, so maybe you offer 20% of your net earnings in exchange for the art. Maybe you cap it at a certain point, maybe you don’t. But it strikes me as a fair deal, and also gives the artist even more incentive to create art that helps sell your book. But as I said, this isn’t my dilemma, and I don’t know how other authors or artists might view such a compromise.

But I do know that as an author, I gain nothing by trying to get a great deal if it means low-balling my artist. I sincerely hope for the day when I’m making enough as an author to be able to contract with first class artists, and pay them first class money for their work. I’m not there yet, so I’ll be looking at stock art and pre-made covers until I am.