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What's a fair agreement between illustrator and author before being published?

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matthew.reavey

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Hi everyone,
I'd really appreciate any advice you can give me. My question goes on a bit, but I felt I should outline all the facts, in case certain aspects had a strong influence on your answers:

I'm an illustrator whose been working on a collaborative children's book project with an author in my spare time over the past couple of years.
The author came to me with a complete story that he'd approached a few publishers with beforehand, but had been unsuccesful in gaining a publishing deal, with the story in a basic manuscript format with no illustrations. There is a 2nd story already written and a clear idea for a 3rd. I agreed to work on a prospective basis, with a view that we'd have a 50/50 split agreement in place on all book sales, if and when we gained a publishing deal or ever decided to self-publish.

We are now on the verge of approaching publishers and publishing agents, but have no written agreement in place. It occurred to me recently that I firstly need a correctly worded written agreement, but also a provision that covers a scenario where a publisher might offer a deal on the basis the author completes the book with another illustrator of their choosing. We are both in agreement that this wouldn't be a route we'd want to take, but it seems wise to cover this possibility in advance of it ever arising.
I wondered, what are people's thoughts on this? Is it common practice to make this provision up front? More importantly, how do you arrive at a settlement for this unwanted situation? What would be a reasonable percentage to demand? Can you reasonably demand this as an illustrator? I only seek a fair return on the time and effort I've put in. I've taken no money to date.

If it helps, the following outlines my involvement in this 1st book to date:
- Input into developing parts of the story and suggestions leading to additional characters. Visual development of main character
- Logo design for story
- Full storyboard in sketch format - 20 drawings
- 4 finished full colour digital artworks
- Website build to display all material.

I'd welcome input from both illustrators and authors. Does anyone have experience of just this situation or something similar?

Thanks in advance. All advice welcomed.

Matt



#1 - January 31, 2014, 12:19 PM

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No contract = no money.

It is very very, very, rarely that a traditional publisher will take a book created by an unknown author and and unknown illustrator. So rare, in fact, that people advise against even submitting a book this way.

The sad fact of the matter is that a self-published book usually sells less than 100 copies, mostly to friends and family of the author.

IMO - illustrating a picture book on speculation is a horrible deal for an illustrator. I won't do it.

I only begin work on a picture book after a signed contract and a deposit has been received from the self-publisher.

At this point I would consider asking the author if you can collaborate on the contract. I am not a lawyer. Get one.

I wouldn't expect to see a dime from your hard work, nor would I work on anything else without a contract and $$ up front.
#2 - February 01, 2014, 07:15 AM
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matthew.reavey

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Hi Wendy,
Thanks for your reply.
I completely take onboard your points about contracts and the difficulties in getting published. You have experience working in the publishing industry. I don't. I can also see that some illustrators might disapprove of the approach I took, but I took the project on initially because I hadn't illustrated anything for a while (it isn't my day job) and I thought the story had real potential for creativity and I believe it has a good chance of getting published. There was no way the project would have got off the ground if I'd insisted on a commercial rate per page, so I agreed to a share of profits and to 'take the hit' up front. I completely accept that the odds are stacked against us and I / we may never see any payment for the time invested in the project. But I'm sure there are a number of partnerships that did get off the ground this way, based purely on the strength of what they submitted. You have to pin your hopes on something! :-)

I completely agree though - on the face of it this is a horrible deal - if unsuccessful, I'll have invested substantially more time in the project than the author - but that must nearly always be the case with picture books. At the very least, I'll  have bettered my portfolio substantially in the process. At the same time I accept that without the author's initial idea, I wouldn't have had the concept to work with.

If we say, hypothetically the book does get published, my question really is, having taken the project on, what agreement can I reasonably negotiate with the author to ensure a fair split on a book where a publisher might accept the author without me the illustrator. ie: what percentage would my work to date be worth if tomorrow they said yes to him and no to me. I guess there's no definite answer to this, but clearly the 50/50 split wouldn't stand if I wasn't involved in finishing the project. Does a 30/70 split then seem fair or too hopeful, based on what I described in my initial post? I guess its about what the individual can negotiate, but I wondered what others thought about this or had done themselves.

Just to confirm, the author is someone I trust, but as yet I haven't handed anything over to them, nor do I intend to until a written agreement has been signed. I realise it would've made much more sense to have done this at the start of course, but I can't do much about that now! :-)

P.S. The self-publishing idea is very much a last resort for us, and I'm not even sure we'd go ahead with this, for the same reasons you outlined.


#3 - February 01, 2014, 10:54 AM

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I agree with everything Wendy said.


Your time would (probably) be better spent working on portfolio pieces.
#4 - February 01, 2014, 11:30 AM
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Did the author already submit the work without an illustrator to publishers? If the story has made the rounds and been rejected, it may be best to self publish.

This maybe a bit of a misinterpreted observation on my part, but it seems as if you are giving the story more credit than your own work. Looking at the potential that a publisher may want a story, not the art of a collaborated submission, is a realistic consideration. And there is always the possibility they will like the artwork and not the story. In that case, they would potentially tell the illustrator they would like to keep their work as samples in their files to consider them for other projects that may suit that style.

Like Wendy said, it's a rare occasion that books submitted this way are accepted. If a submission on either side, illustrating or writing is that of someone not previously published, they like to pair the unpublished person with someone who is established for better sales possibilities. There are teams of author/illustrators who work together, the first ones that come to mind are Don & Audrey Wood, but they are few and far between.
 
And Maxi had awesome advice. If you build a strong portfolio, possibly a book dummy as well, submitting promotional mailers/samples to publishers is a good way to get started.
 
In your situation, without a contract, there is the potential the story could be accepted without the illustrations. If the author refuses or accepts, that's her/his choice based on what's offered and the lack of a legally binding agreement between you. If you would like an agreement that binds the work, the author may or may not agree. It may be best to consult an attorney prior to submitting.
Create while you wait . . . it always helps.  :paint 
 
 
#5 - February 01, 2014, 12:29 PM
« Last Edit: February 01, 2014, 12:53 PM by Cynthia Kremsner »
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I agree with everything that's been said above. It's extremely unusual for a publisher to contract with both an unknown author and unknown illustrator who have teamed up in the way you've described. (Husband and wife teams are different.)

Generally, a publisher agrees to work with an author first because the story is appealing or unique in some way. They'll then contract with an illustrator whose style they like for that particular story.

There are so many variables that you can't possibly be aware of. They may have reasons for wanting a specific style or to work with an illustrator they've worked with before. They may want a realistic look, whereas your style is abstract. Or vice versa. You may be envisioning a large canvas whereas they're thinking small scale. Or a million other things.

In your case, I can understand that you might want to see this through to completion. You should probably negotiate a kill fee with the author. Keep in mind that if the author DOES sell the story, he could sell to an established publisher or to a small, financially-strapped publisher. The advance could vary significantly depending on which one it is. Maybe you should ask for a small percentage of the author's advance (or royalties) should the project eventually proceed without you.

I did try to sell a package deal once with an illustrator I'd worked with previously. He drew a few sketches, which I submitted with the ms. I told each editor that they were free to contract just with me on this project or just with him for a separate project, if they preferred--and that we were both O.K. with that arrangement. (I never sold the story.)

Good luck!





#6 - February 01, 2014, 03:28 PM
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matthew.reavey

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Hi All,
Some really interesting responses and invaluable advice. Thanks for taking the time out to offer me feedback. You didn't have to do that and its really appreciated. I'm not sure I'm any the wiser in terms of what percentages illustrators can negotiate in agreements with authors. My author is more than willing to sign a legally binding partnership agreement with me before we submit, its just neither of us wants to make unreasonable percentage demands of the other. We're both in the dark on this, hence my original post on here. I've ordered 'The Illustrator's Guide to Law and Business Practice' book, which seems a necessary starting point for me, given the numerous scenarios you've outlined above!

Thanks again.

Matt
#7 - February 02, 2014, 12:22 PM

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If you're looking for someone to say that your should ask for XX% of the eventual royalties or advance--or whatever--you aren't going to find that.

No one can tell you what a fair advance is for a picture book even without the complications you've introduced. It varies tremendously, depending on circumstances. Picture book advances can range all the way from no advance to six figures. (There are a few general rules. If you want to know a basic general formula, PM me and I'll tell you how to figure a ballpark figure.)

A good business book might tell you how to word a contract, but that's about it. You need to work this out with the author between the two of you.
#8 - February 02, 2014, 01:04 PM
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Mike Jung

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Matt, I don't have any contractual advice that's as useful as what people have already said here, but I would like to gently disabuse you of one notion; it's inaccurate to assume that the illustrator generally invests more time in a picture book than the author. The process of writing a picture book can be every bit as detailed, painstaking, and time-consuming as the process of illustrating one. It's a different process, sure, but it's not necessarily a faster one. Good luck, I hope you can get this situation worked out.
#9 - February 02, 2014, 02:52 PM

matthew.reavey

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Hi Mike,
I take your point.
I think I did perhaps make an unnecessary generalisation there in my earlier post, which was based solely on my experience working on this book, than anything else. Hope no offence was caused to yourself or any other authors out there!

Appreciate your feedback.

Matt
#10 - February 02, 2014, 03:59 PM

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That's an interesting point you raise, Mike. I'm not sure I agree. It's true that I've spent huge amounts of time writing and rewriting certain picture books--but I've also written some that have needed little or no revision in ten or fifteen minutes. Of course, there's a lot of prep time, research, and just plain old daydreaming that's invisible to others.


But in terms of hard, visible, manual labor, I do think the illustrator puts in more time (as a rule).
#11 - February 02, 2014, 04:53 PM
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As someone who both writes and illustrates, I think I'm with Ellen on this one. Sorry, Mike.  :slap lol
#12 - February 02, 2014, 05:44 PM
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The peanut gallery, (me) has arisen! :yup   I've got a book under contract, author only, that was written 12 years ago and has been revised off an on throughout the years with additional revisions upon contract. It also required research. But, I'm under contract for illustration right now as well. For good ol' concentrated manual hard-spent time, well, illustration is where it's at.  :oncomputer :paint  Both require expertise and equally share in importance.
#13 - February 02, 2014, 06:29 PM
« Last Edit: February 02, 2014, 06:51 PM by Cynthia Kremsner »
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Mike Jung

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I shall defer to those with more expertise and experience than me, of course. :)
#14 - February 02, 2014, 08:48 PM

Matthew,
I'm sorry to say that if the manuscript gets accepted and the publisher wants another illustrator - you are entitled to nothing. The contract will be between the publisher and author - he won't owe you anything.

That's why as an illustrator, I work on my own projects. If you don't have any ideas for portfolio pieces, re-illustrate a classic story that's in the public domain. A lot of illustrators do that. The only way I'd ever work with an author who is self-publishing is to work for a FAIR upfront fee (we're talking in the 4-5 digit range here). And if the author wants to buy all rights to your artwork (which, for some reason, most of them think they need to do that) your fee should at least double.

Have you attended any SCBWI conferences yet? You'll learn a lot of this stuff at those.
#15 - February 04, 2014, 01:38 PM

matthew.reavey

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Hi Lynn,
Thanks for the suggestions.
I realise in that event the publishing contract wouldn't involve me at all, and I'd be entitled to absolutely nothing.
That was actually my reason for coming on here for advice - so I could make a provision for that in a written agreement with the author before proceeding any further.
Obviously, if I was currently working as a commercial illustrator full-time, taking on a project in this way wouldn't have been feasible or made any commercial sense. But an exciting project that produces a number of new portfolio pieces and at the end has the added possibility (however slim) of a publishing deal, must surely be as good a use of time as a self-written brief. :-)

I know there's a risk in writing that last bit I'll sound a bit defensive. I hope it doesn't come across that way. I've absorbed all comments on here and learnt a great deal about how things work. I think I'll definitely look into the conferences as you suggested. Thanks for that and taking the time to reply.
Really like your website, by the way!
#16 - February 04, 2014, 03:59 PM

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Hi Matthew,
You may already know this, but if the author is offered a contract on a PB he can generally expect to be offered up to 5% royalties. So you are talking about a certain percentage of that percentage. As others have already said, the % you and the author work out is up to you both to negotiate depending on what you think your proportionate input has been up to now.
Best of luck with it all.
#17 - February 04, 2014, 06:31 PM
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matthew.reavey

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Thanks Julie.
#18 - February 11, 2014, 05:56 AM

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