Clients: What They Expect

What are the general expectations from commissioners? Jo Davies and Simon Stern offer advice on different types of illustration clients.

[hidden title="Book publishers"]

If you have a book project of your own, a publisher is the person to take it to. You will be offered a royalty agreement with an advance payment or sometimes a flat fee. Contracts vary between publishers and if you do not understand all of it you should have it checked. The AOI, the Society of Authors and the Writers’ Guild all check contracts. Alternatively, become your own expert by reading the royalty section in the AOI’s The Illustrator`s Guide To Law And Business Practice.

So far as the money offered is concerned, there is often room for improvement on the advance and on the royalty and rights percentages. Look out particularly for translation rights and the USA edition, both of which are potential big earners. The larger, well-established publishers usually pay better advances and royalties than smaller ones – so they should be your first port of call with your masterpiece.

A publishing agreement is normally long and invariably makes for slow reading, but do read it. You should read all clauses carefully. Make sure you are being offered a licence for the work as a book and not an assignment of copyright. Also ensure your work is not defamatory or obscene – or you may be liable under the warranties and indemnities. Lastly, watch out for a clause which restricts you from publishing work with similar subject matter for other publishers. You may be denying yourself the right to work!

Children`s book publishers also commission illustrations for novels – typically black and white line drawings. Payment for these is usually made on a flat fee basis, but try to negotiate an extra fee for foreign editions, (for more details about this read The Illustrator`s Guide To Law And Business Practice). Also see Negotiating Contracts with Publishers.


[hidden title="Educational publishing"]

This is, for the most part, an underpaid branch of illustration. There is generally some leeway for negotiating over money, but not a lot because the market is price sensitive and budgets tight. Most publishers will try to acquire the copyright from you, but may be prepared to accept a licence. Insist on an exclusive licence for the length of copyright “In Volume and digital Form Only”. This means for the physical and digital versions of the book.

Some publishers defend their demand for copyright on the grounds that any other system would be impossibly inconvenient. The truth is that they routinely acquire partial licences for other things, such as film stills, pictures of adverts, images from picture libraries etc. So ask why they can’t acquire a partial licence from you.

All educational publishers will want a licence to do anything they like for the period of copyright, but it is in your interest, (and perfectly reasonable), to limit the use to “publication only as part of the work (or any adaptation of the work) for which it was first commissioned”. That way your image(s) can`t be put in a picture library and hired out to others to publish in some other context. However, you will probably have to grant world rights for the period of copyright. All for a one-off fee. Royalties are almost unheard of.


[hidden title="Book packaging"]

Book packagers develop and sell concepts to publishing houses or large retail outlets such as large supermarkets. The packager is responsible for commissioning, designing and printing the books, which are then distributed by the publisher or retail outlet who financed their production. Packagers will generally commission you to do developmental work for a fixed fee. Once a project goes ahead, payment tends to be made on a royalty basis. Royalties from packagers are usually lower than those paid by conventional publishers. Packagers claim to sell a lot more books, which is sometimes true, but not always. Particular dangers to watch out for are:

Finding that the packager has agreed to impossible deadlines with their buyers which you will then be required to meet. You must state in advance that deadlines must be agreed with you before they are finalised.

Finding that the full contract, when it arrives, is not something you want to sign. As with other books you should always check out and finalise the full contract at commissioning stage. A surprising number of packagers are very cavalier about this, and sometimes don`t produce a contract until the illustrator is halfway through a job. Insist on getting the contract sorted before you start work on the full project.

Most packagers include option clauses in their contracts. An option clause normally states that the packager has the option over the illustrator`s next work. Try at all costs to refuse this, (most will capitulate: it’s just a try-on), as you do not want to be bound to a subsequent deal because you may get a much better one elsewhere.

Bear in mind that it is normal to negotiate a royalty contract, and unless you are knowledgeable about them, you should always get someone who is, to go over the small print for you.


[hidden title="Book jackets"]

Whereas the insides of books are usually commissioned by editors, book covers are commissioned by art directors. They are trouble free clients on the whole: decent money and reasonable deadlines. Fees are only marginally negotiable, as budgets are tight and fixed. With some of the mass market paperback publishers it is possible to negotiate extra fees if the illustration is to be used for major advertising, (e.g. promo bins and posters).

Note that `pack shot` use, (i.e. as a photograph of the book jacket), is not charged extra, but if the illustration is used for a separate advertising poster or point of sale design, you should get more money. Try to restrict the licence to a particular type of edition – e.g. `the publisher’s own hardback edition only`. That way, if another publisher wants to use the same image for a paperback or foreign edition, you will get an extra fee.


[hidden title="Music companies"]

It is particularly important to agree at the start what rights the client is buying. With conventional commissions from music companies, you will sometimes find demands for copyright, but clients may settle for a licence, usually including associated press and publicity. Fees are negotiable up to a point, with more money being paid for big selling artists than those with a more limited appeal.

Clients ask for the use of images for iTunes and selling platforms, and you should try to get an additional fee for this use. Other uses to consider are related merchandising, such as t-shirts, etc. Quite often an illustrator may produce cover artwork for a friend in an unsigned band and doesn’t consider any future potential uses, which can often lead to misunderstandings. All merchandising rights would require an additional fee, so make this clear when accepting the commission.


[hidden title="Greeting cards"]

The gift industry, (which incorporates, among other things, greeting cards, gift-wrap, calendars, stationery etc.), constantly commissions artwork. Occasionally you could be asked to work on a speculative basis. This is to say that you would be asked to submit designs/ideas, which may or may not be used – and you will usually only be paid for the ones that are. AOI do not recommend this situation. The decorative end of the greeting cards market often attracts textile designers as they are used to working speculatively, are infinitely adaptable and aux fait with the constantly changing nature of fashion (a key factor in the gift industry).

Given that UK illustrators are not encouraged to be endlessly stylistically adaptable and are used to being paid for developmental work they often come a cropper when attempting to establish themselves in a market which views them as an expendable commodity. Do as much research as you can before approaching publishers – preferably at a trade fair such as Top Drawer or the Spring Fair, which is the UK industry’s largest annual event. Only approach clients whose ranges are of a consistently high quality and with whom you would appear to have an affinity.

Most card companies will expect world rights and copyright. Don`t assign them copyright; but you will probably have to allow world rights as gift fairs attract buyers from outside the UK. Some card publishers – usually the smaller ones – will offer a royalty, and artists who have tried both often find they earn more from the royalty than the flat fee, so go for it if offered, and press for it if not. At the more upmarket, direct-to-retail (DTR) end of the market, it is possible to make a reasonable living, often with annual contracts to produce a number of card designs per month for a guaranteed payment (and guaranteed acceptance). In recent years some wholesale card publishers have also started to improve, taking their inspiration from some of the bestselling ranges of DTR publishers. One advantage of working in this area is that you will get some nice specimens, which may lead to other, more lucrative commissions.


[hidden title="Magazines"]

Magazines still make extensive use of illustration. On the copyright front, several companies make a habit of asking for All Rights, as a matter of course, but many will accept a licence – either First British Serial Rights or One Use – without any problems. Some bury the copyright demand in the small print somewhere. As a general rule, if there`s a commissioning form there`s usually a demand for copyright, but the fact is that magazines have found they can`t enforce it. Simply tell the art director you only work on a `One Use` basis, and strike out the offending words.

If you are offered a syndication deal that doesn’t involve assigning copyright, take it – the magazine is more likely to sell further rights to your picture than you are. Fees have not gone up for a long time, but it’s well worth pushing for small increases. Art Directors generally have a budget per page for bought-in creative work, and their room for increasing it is limited. One can generally squeeze a little more out, though, and it`s worth trying.


[hidden title="Design groups"]

Some design groups specialise in certain sectors or disciplines while others concentrate on several. Areas covered could include packaging, web design, (see following section), corporate identity, exhibition or interior design, book/magazine design or below-the-line advertising – i.e. forms of promotion that do not involve buying space: point of sale, mail shots, company reports etc.

Design groups seldom have long term contracts with clients; they usually have to pitch for each job in competition with one another, and when they work out their quote they are, not surprisingly, tempted to pay as little as possible for illustration. So every time you accept a fee that`s too low, you encourage them to quote on that basis the next time round.

Design can be one of the toughest commissioning areas with regard to copyright. Many organisations will try to obtain copyright from you – indeed some will insist that they must have it. Watch out too for waiving your moral rights. There’s nothing a designer likes better than using someone else’s image as raw material for his/her own creative input on the Mac. One of your moral rights gives you a right to object to this. On a more positive note, some of the best commissioners in the industry work in this sector, open briefs are not uncommon, and commissions can be both artistically and financially worthwhile.


[hidden title="Websites"]

For web imagery, illustrators are dealt with on the same professional terms as they would be in any other area of design. Provide a licence which stipulates where your work will be used and for how long. If the website is part of a broader advertising campaign or project your imagery could be applied in several different formats – therefore you must be clear about the precise usage of whatever you create, negotiating a fee for multiple use if applicable.

If a piece you have created is adapted by an animator for a website, be clear about your intellectual copyright and negotiate any liaison or involvement you may have over the way that your image or character is modified or employed.


[hidden title="Advertising"]

Advertising agencies specialise in above-the-line work: posters, press ads, TV/radio campaigns and internet advertising – all of which involve buying advertising space. They generally have long-term contracts with their clients and are not just providing copywriting and design services, but market research as well. Advertising work is the financial cream on the jam doughnut, and it is commissioned by art buyers.

There is usually quite a lot of scope for negotiation over fees which, if the campaign is a major one, can be very high. They will generally know, when they commission you, what media they want and for how long. They may wish to negotiate possible repeat fees in advance, and a standard way of doing this has been worked out. In practice though it is nearly always a matter of bargaining and individual budgets.

Open briefs are rare in advertising. Very often the designer will have made a rough, sometimes imitating the style of the illustrator he/she wants to use, and had it approved by the client before you are even approached. Whilst the money is good, the work itself is sometimes pretty banal and pre-digested, and clients sometimes want lots of alterations.


[hidden title="Animation"]

Depending on the size of the company, you could be commissioned as an illustrator/animator either on a freelance basis or as part of an in house team. There are many roles requiring the expertise of illustrators. These may be at the pre-production stage, (such as character development, storyboarding or creating an animatic), or in the post-production stages, (such as drawing and inking up). Whatever role(s) you undertake, you might be paid at an hourly rate, or be able to negotiate a lump sum.

Regardless of payment arrangements, it’s important to secure an agreement – before you start work – stipulating what this sum covers. Securing funding and intellectual copyright is generally done before the developmental stage, when ideas are being conceived and initial concepts developed. Whether you work in-house or to contract, the copyright of anything created either wholly or in part by you remains the property of the client. However, you should ensure you have the right to use it in your folio or show reel for self-promotional purposes.

Sometimes illustrators create work that is developed into animation. In this instance the illustrator sells the concept for a one off fee or licenses the use. This may be negotiated by the publisher in the case of a book which has already been published. It is important that you are clear about the way that your artwork will be used and prepared to accept that it could be modified by a process that involves other artists recreating your imagery.


[hidden title="Computer games design"]

This industry is very successful and there are many companies operating at international level as well as running more local, low key ventures. This means that there are often opportunities outside of major cities.

Third party developers are essentially games designers pitching to games publishers for specific projects. While some developers have teams working on specific projects for different publishers, generally third party developers tend to be small and positions within them less secure.

In-house teams work on most concepts and, as projects within this domain are paid according to a structure of milestones achieved, the pay may be in instalments; in this situation it is essential to draw up a contract outlining when payment will be made – and for what – before any work begins. Many large publishers employ in-house teams with employees chosen for the specific contribution they can make. These are generally salaried posts and, for these team members, there is often more flexibility and opportunity for creativity. At the pre-production stages concepts can be outsourced to artists by developers in both situations to compliment the expertise of the team.

There are many diverse roles that an illustrator may be called upon to perform, such as concept artists, interface designer or texture artist. There are many versions of these roles and it’s worthwhile visiting websites such as and to gain an understanding of both opportunities available and job descriptions. There are often very specific skill requisites such as the ability to create realistic cityscapes or develop characters in a particular way, also ability with the relevant packages.

Occasionally illustrators with more generic or traditional skills may be brought in at the post-production stage for packaging etc. As in animation, when working in games design, the copyright remains the property of your client.



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