SCBWI's Blueboard - A Message & Chat Board

Question regarding work done on commission

Discussion started on

Here is my dilemma. I am primarily a printmaker and most of my work goes to galleries and shops in the fine art market. I also do handmade artist’s books and in January of 2017 I met with the owner of an arts distribution company and showed them my work, including a book of children’s poetry I had written and illustrated. The owner of this art company is also co-owner of a small publishing company with a dozen or so well received titles released, mostly related to local interest or history of the area where we live, fairly remote but a very popular tourist destination. Instead of the books I was pursuing publication on, the owner expressed interest in another book I had made of woodcuts of owls. They asked me to expand the concept and make it include all the birds of prey native to our area. They also requested I write text to accompany it. Additionally, they took about $2000 worth of artwork (unrelated to the book) on commission for sale through their stores. During the next year, I researched, carved and wrote a lengthy, profusely illustrated (over 100 hand carved woodblock prints) tome and after months of reminding and planned meetings that they almost never followed through on finally received a contract, which I signed and returned but never received a countersigned copy.  Our original agreement was to publish in the spring of 2018, which they later pushed back to the fall of the same year. Now it is the end of August and they have consistently set and failed to keep a series of meetings since early June. Tonight was the 8th meeting that they flaked on without giving me any notice. I have kept a complete inventory of everything I sent, I have made every impossible deadline they set and now they have been sitting on the complete work for 8 months and I have not even gotten a proof to review for the work that is supposed to be published before Christmas. I spent a full year of my creative output to make this book, a body of work I would not have undertaken without their specific request. Currently they are sitting on probably over $15,000 worth of fine art that I sent for them to take images of for publication, in addition to other works they asked for to stock in stores. I don’t know what my rights are and if I can take any recourse if they fail to publish this work that I made at their request and if I can receive any compensation for my work. Anyone out there with some experience in this area that could give me some advice?

  Are these kinds of delays and absloute failures to communicate common in the publishing industry?

Any wisdom would be appreciated. Thanks for reading, cheers.
#1 - August 30, 2018, 08:14 PM
« Last Edit: August 30, 2018, 08:16 PM by alaskaprinter »

Global Moderator
Poster Plus
  • **
  • SCBWI Member
  • SCBWI PAL
  • SCBWI Region canadaeast
alaskaprinter, I'm so sorry you're going through this :(   
While being ignored, experiencing delays, isn't AS common with a smaller press,  publishing often moves very slowly. There can be delays. For many reason's (and this one) I always say only work with an Advance. Because if a publisher just never does follow through, at least a small amount of your time and effort is financially compensated (they are also more apt to move forward if money has been already spent)
What you do now will depend on what your contract says, what they have agreed to in exchange for you following your end of the bargain. If they have stated a date by which they will publish the work, then you could send a letter cancelling the contract based on that date coming and going. They should agree to this and release you from it if they are not interested anymore. On the other hand, if they are interested this may put a fire under their butt to go forward. They must also get your art back to you. 
At the very least you now have a book dummy to shop around to publishers.
Hoping to hear what others might have to say about your options.

#2 - August 31, 2018, 02:58 AM
"Penelope and the Humongous Burp"
"Penelope and the Monsters"
"Penelope and the Preposterous Birthday Party"

thank you for the advice.  When they do bother to communicate or respond to me the publisher still seems determined to publish and even plan on future projects, I just don't know how much I can trust them anymore. The trickiest part is that now I stand to lose  over. year's worth of artistic output I dedicated to their project, so even if I walk away with all my original work, I'm back at square one to find a publisher.  There is a clause in the contract that if it is not published within a year of the signing (Oct 2017) that the contract is null and void, but that leaves me sitting on this huge body of work I did at their request and was never compensated for. I fulfilled every request they made, and it is not my fault at all that the work is not published on time, but I don't see any way I can rectify that. To top matter off, I propsed for and was awarded a full summer long exhibition (in 2020)  at the historical museum in Valdez based on this body of work and the accompaying book. The publisher is aware of this and I was promoting the book and seeking shows like this at their request. As it stands now I will have to renege on my agreement with the museum, because of the failure of the publisher to meet their agreement, this will seriously impact my standing as a working artist in my community and negatvely affect my ability to obtain such shows in the future. Does anyone think I could seek restitution for losses if this happens?
I will definitely follow your advice on advances in any future contracts, I was waiting so long to get this contract and so eager to be published I think I was blinded a little.   
Thanks again
#3 - August 31, 2018, 08:53 AM

Global Moderator
Poster Plus
  • ***
  • SCBWI Member
  • SCBWI PAL
  • SCBWI Region longislandny
Hi Alaskaprinter,

If I read your story correctly, you did all of this work without a signed contract and still don't have one. If they never countersigned, than I'm not sure you have much by way of legal recourse. I do think you should consult with a lawyer because of the impact to your overall career.  The museum may also allow you to continue there based on your body of work without the completed book. This will depend on your contract with them.

Do you know if the publisher sold any of the works you gave them for the store? If so, have you received payment? I'd walk into the store and talk to someone there in person about those works. You need to know what the complete picture is in order to decide on next steps. These are two separate things, after all.

I also think you need to take a long hard look at whether you'll feel comfortable continuing with this process and what you need to feel comfortable. How have they treated other artists? It strikes me that you might not be alone. Any information and experience from othe local artists might help you decide what to do next.

I'm sorry to not have better news. Good luck with getting a happy resolution.
#4 - August 31, 2018, 06:28 PM
Website: http://www.debbievilardi.com/
Twitter: @dvilardi1

Thank you for your reply. The question of the contract validity has been one that has kept me up at night. The fact that they never countersigned despite my asking several times (all kept in my email history, including their replies that they would countersign and send), the verbage in their emails in which they sent the contract and described it, as well as the fact that they seem to avoid email contact and instead want to conduct meetings in person over the phone, were what first made me really start to doubt their intentions.
But, as a starving artist who is eager to find a publisher, i took the work on in good faith.

I would like to follow your advice and step into their offices and ask what is going on, as is my right specifically stated in the contract. Unfortunately they are located in Juneau, which although it is our capital, is only accessible by boat or plane. I simply don't have the funds to travel that far. I make my art and do my writing at night after I have put my kids to bed but my primary income (and the only income we have to support a family of five), comes from my day job, I run a preschool program for children with autism and other profoundly impacting special needs, and we all know how  small teacher's pay is.

You make another good point about the works they have sold from their store, that's another whole side to the story. In the 19 months they have been selling my work they have only sent one check, and that was recieved several months after they had intitally told me they sent it. Every other outlet I work with sends me a check every month during the summer tourist season and one or two over the winter, each time with a detailed inventory of what specific pieces sold and requests for certain prints. I have had several folks who have passed through Juneau tell me they saw my works in the galleries, but I don't get any information from the publishers regarding the sales.

I am afraid to reach out to other artists in the community, because this is the largest art distributor in Alaska and pretty much the only actual Alaskan based publisher (all the others that focus on Alaskan themes are based in Seattle and tend to hire Seattle artists) and I don't want to seem like I am talking behind their backs with other artists they represent. Essentially I am worried about being shut out of what is a pretty tightly controlled market, Alaska has very few venues for artists and writers and a small pool of people run the distributors as well as own the main galleries as well as having the only publishing company.

And the worst part is I still can't tell if they are just a horribly busy person who is terrible at keeping their word and still really wants to go forward with this (all their communication, when it does happen, is very excited about the work and loves the new art series I am working on) or if they are somehow taking me for a ride. I have already determined not to send any new work to them, despite their having asked several times,  until I have some resolution. Since I already completed the entire manuscript and all the illustrations, the work is done for the book and I guess I just wait and see, the ball is in their court.

Thank you again for your remarks, you helped me think about it from a different angle. I appreciate your advice.
#5 - September 01, 2018, 01:19 AM

Global Moderator
Poster Plus
  • **
  • SCBWI Member
  • SCBWI PAL
  • SCBWI Region canadaeast
I finally got the chance to go to your site and your works are absolutely STUNNING! I adore/fear that Lingcod banner!!! :)
I don't think you will be able to get financial compensation from the publisher for not publishing the book. It's really sad but OFTEN a manuscripts pub date goes by with no book published. Books are cancelled for various reasons and sometimes for reason's that don't make sense. If the contract has an advance, then that's all the Author/Illustrator walks away with (they do not have to pay it back) Sometimes there is a kill fee written in to the contract and they get that as the only compensation but it sounds like neither of these things exists in your agreement?

But just seeing your art (having not seen your manuscript it goes with) I think you have every chance to attract a larger publisher who will get a much wider circulation and sales for it. It sure doesn't happen over night but after your Oct date passes and your contract cancels itself, I would start submitting a dummy of your book to publishers open to unagented Authors OR you might want to consider subbing to Agents FIRST (never both at the same time, Agents first if your interested in getting one, only after you exhaust them would you send to Editors)
I don't know if you would consider the owl book fiction or non-fiction? but there are strong markets for both. I have a friend who does fantastic linocut art for children's books, posters, ads and I know how much work this medium involves. She is doing very well with her published work. Here is her site http://www.suetodd.com
They may at the last moment in Oct publish the book or it may turn out to be a hard learning experience about the industry (which almost every writer and Illustrator has gone through at the beginning of a career that most of us don't understand when we start)
I don't know how close you live to Anchorage? but I see the SCBWI Alaska Chapter's conference is coming up in Sept. https://alaska.scbwi.org/2018-conference-sept-21-22/
This would be a fantastic opportunity for you to show your art to peers and to the presenters, to learn so much more about this industry and to boost your spirits (which this kind of bad experience with a publisher can well crush)
I see too, the Alaska conference is offering a scholarship op. I don't know what the deadline was/is but check that out.
Take heart, we have all had something similarly disappointing happen during the career and we learn from it and move on to MUCH better things :)

Adding I just checked and the scholarship deadline has passed BUT there is still the juried art show you can enter and best of all, just the conference itself. I haven't missed our Chapters conferences for 20yrs now (plus having gone to 2 in NYC and 1 at the Highlights resort) and not once have I not walked away feeling SO much better about myself and craft....do it!:)
#6 - September 01, 2018, 04:52 AM
« Last Edit: September 01, 2018, 04:58 AM by christripp »
"Penelope and the Humongous Burp"
"Penelope and the Monsters"
"Penelope and the Preposterous Birthday Party"

Global Moderator
Poster Plus
  • ***
  • SCBWI Member
  • SCBWI PAL
  • SCBWI Region carolinas
Alaskaprinter, I hate that your original work is with someone who is not being transparent. I really, really hope that they are just terribly busy and have every intention of fulfilling their end of the bargain. Of course, since they never counter-signed the contract, it's not binding. I'm in a similar situation with a publisher but with much less at stake, but it is frustrating to follow up only to hear crickets.

Can you call them and express the gravity of the situation, esp. with your obligation with the museum?

I really like the idea of you showcasing your work at an SCBWI event.

Also, consider applying for awards/grants. SCBWI has a Don Freeman illustrator grant: https://www.scbwi.org/awards/grants/work-in-progress-grants/don-freeman-illustrator-grants/

Writing with children grants:
https://www.google.com/search?q=writing+with+children+grants&sourceid=ie7&rls=com.microsoft:en-US:IE-Address&ie=&oe=&gws_rd=ssl
Here's one that you are eligible for and it's quite generous. You just missed the deadline for this year but there's always next year: https://www.sustainableartsfoundation.org/

Grants for artists: https://www.google.com/search?rls=com.microsoft%3Aen-US%3AIE-Address&ei=V5uKW7TiMsnVwAL2-pFw&q=grants+for+artists+2018&oq=grants+for+artists&gs_l=psy-ab.1.1.0l10.136334.141400..146101...1.0..0.151.2565.0j18......0....1..gws-wiz.....6..0i71j35i39j0i131j0i67j0i20i263.4avqTArm1Dg

You are amazing to be doing so much. Can you please share a link to your website? I don't know how Chris found it. But you can put it in your signature (go to your profile and edit it).  I'm so sorry about the difficulties you are facing and I hope and pray things turn around for you soon with the publisher.  Vijaya
#7 - September 01, 2018, 07:16 AM
BOUND (Bodach Books, 2018)
TEN EASTER EGGS (Scholastic, 2015)
www.vijayabodach.blogspot.com
Author of over 60 books and 60 magazine pieces

Global Moderator
Poster Plus
  • **
  • SCBWI Member
  • SCBWI PAL
  • SCBWI Region canadaeast
I found the link to the site on Alaskaprinters profile but it’s a great idea by Vijaya to add your site to your signature Alaskaprinter.
#8 - September 01, 2018, 03:12 PM
"Penelope and the Humongous Burp"
"Penelope and the Monsters"
"Penelope and the Preposterous Birthday Party"

Global Moderator
Poster Plus
  • ***
  • SCBWI Member
  • SCBWI PAL
  • SCBWI Region longislandny
Unfortunately, Chris is correct that the intent to sign doesn't make the contract binding. Since it isn't, the provisions of it aren't relevant. But I'm concerned they may be selling your work and not informing you of it. I still think it would be a good idea for you to consult an attorney who has experience in intellectual property. Continue to save all correspondence from them just in case.

I also agree that you may just have to chalk this up to a learning experience and try to sell the work elsewhere. Just wait until the contract would be null and void before you do. You can't be sure it wasn't signed and then misplaced or even lost in the mail. (Although, you'd think they'd send a fresh copy if that were the case.) Good luck.
#9 - September 01, 2018, 08:43 PM
« Last Edit: September 04, 2018, 08:18 PM by Debbie Vilardi »
Website: http://www.debbievilardi.com/
Twitter: @dvilardi1

Thank you everyone so much for the advice! I will be following up on all these great suggestions.

in the meantime, my website is www.mythinkworks.com if anyone wants to take a look.

Cheers!
#10 - September 04, 2018, 09:13 AM

Global Moderator
Poster Plus
  • ***
  • SCBWI Member
  • SCBWI PAL
  • SCBWI Region carolinas
Thanks for sharing your website. I loved seeing your artwork. So much detail in the woodcuts.The silkscreens are so vivid!
Wishing you all the best on this journey!
Vijaya
#11 - September 04, 2018, 10:35 AM
BOUND (Bodach Books, 2018)
TEN EASTER EGGS (Scholastic, 2015)
www.vijayabodach.blogspot.com
Author of over 60 books and 60 magazine pieces

UPDATE:
I had an emergency trip to Colorado (my grandma is 99 and had some issues) where I got to chat with my cousins who are lawyers and my uncle who is a sculptor and has been dealing with the fine arts world for a long time, they all concurred with the good advice I received here, no countersigned contract means i'm pooched, and my best bet is to move on.

I took the advice from Chris and Debbie to heart and reached out to some local artists who have helped in the past and received confirmation that I was not alone, a good number of people are dealing with the same issue from this same person. He also gave me some solid leads on new publishers to try and other good general advice for translating from fine art to publication.

So now I am thinking my next step is to draft a letter, ask my cousin to help "lawyerly" it and send it registered mail and insist on the immediate return of all my original art as well as an up to date inventory of all art sold and compensation.
I just don't think there is any chance this person will follow through on anything, even a renewed commitment.
So the sad thing is i'm back to square one, looking for a publisher for this body of work. oh well. I guess its a good start
thanks again everyone so much for your advice and support.
And Chris, if you like the lingcod I have to take pictures and show you this new HUGE woodcut I did of a halibut. 60"x30"
I'll take a picture and post it

cheers
#12 - September 06, 2018, 10:16 PM

Global Moderator
Poster Plus
  • **
  • SCBWI Member
  • SCBWI PAL
  • SCBWI Region canadaeast
 Alaskaprinter, to have a plan of action must be a relief for you I am sure. It's not the way we envision things going but it's a closure of sorts and allows you to move on. I hope THEY move swiftly to get your art back to you safely thus end that chapter, so you can start your submission process, be it to Agents first or to Publishers.

Quote
I have to take pictures and show you this new HUGE woodcut I did of a halibut. 60"x30"

Ooooo yes please :)
Also Halibut is my husbands FAV eating fish. Every once in a while our market brings them in and though the fillets are more costly then prime rib, we treat ourselves! :)
#13 - September 07, 2018, 02:37 AM
"Penelope and the Humongous Burp"
"Penelope and the Monsters"
"Penelope and the Preposterous Birthday Party"

Global Moderator
Poster Plus
  • ***
  • SCBWI Member
  • SCBWI PAL
  • SCBWI Region longislandny
I'm glad we could help and that you have some legal support, but I still wish this hadn't happened to you and others. Be sure to go over the accounts they send carefully. Good luck getting that aspect resolved and in your search for a publisher.
#14 - September 07, 2018, 06:40 PM
Website: http://www.debbievilardi.com/
Twitter: @dvilardi1

Well, I tired of waiting for a response, so I just cut the cord. Here is the letter I sent. Grammar may be off but i was heated when i wrote.

Katrina,
 
I am writing this with a heavy heart, but at this point, given the complete lack of any communication on your part, I cannot imagine how we could make a fall release date for this book as you had promised me. As you are aware, according to our contract, if we do not publish by October 17th 2018 our agreement is null and void, conveniently for you. Not having even seen a proof in early September I think publishing is probably impossible. Of course, given the fact that you have never responded to my repeated requests for a countersignature on the contract you sent to me (convenient again) I have no idea whether I am actually legally bound by a contract or not.
 
Unless you have managed to finalize this project without any input from me, which would be violation of our contract, I can only assume you intend to dissolve our relationship and abandon this book, a book  I made at your request. In which case I would like all of my art and accompanying materials returned to me immediately, along with a complete inventory of any work sold and appropriate compensation. I expect these materials within the next two weeks, unless you plan to publish the work by October 17th or establish a legally binding timeline and renegotiate a contract. You will be receiving a letter registered mail next week to this same effect.
 
I know I am a relatively new and arriving artist, but that does not entitle you to treat me with such disregard and mendacity. You have mislead me and ruined my impression of trust between artist and representative. 
 
Disgustedly,
kc
#15 - September 07, 2018, 07:49 PM

Update:
After standning my ground and demanding some restitution my publisher has written a new contract, with a set deadline for publication and a penalty to be paid to me for my lost time and effort if the work is not published by the deadline. So after some rocks and bumps the book is back on track and will be released this coming spring.
Thank you so. much to everyone for all your advice and support.
#16 - September 14, 2018, 08:58 AM

Global Moderator
Poster Plus
  • ***
  • SCBWI Member
  • SCBWI PAL
  • SCBWI Region carolinas
I'm so glad and relieved to read your updates. :horse  All the best!
#17 - September 14, 2018, 12:48 PM
BOUND (Bodach Books, 2018)
TEN EASTER EGGS (Scholastic, 2015)
www.vijayabodach.blogspot.com
Author of over 60 books and 60 magazine pieces

Global Moderator
Poster Plus
  • ***
  • SCBWI Member
  • SCBWI PAL
  • SCBWI Region longislandny
I'm so thrilled for you. Congratulations on the deal and on standing up for yourself. Self-advocacy is hard work. Please keep us posted on when the book comes out.

(Also, did they give you any info on art they may have sold in the store? I'm hoping you showed good sales.)
#18 - September 14, 2018, 05:56 PM
Website: http://www.debbievilardi.com/
Twitter: @dvilardi1

Global Moderator
Poster Plus
  • **
  • SCBWI Member
  • SCBWI PAL
  • SCBWI Region canadaeast
 :yay
#19 - September 15, 2018, 03:53 AM
"Penelope and the Humongous Burp"
"Penelope and the Monsters"
"Penelope and the Preposterous Birthday Party"

Global Moderator
Poster Plus
  • ***
  • SCBWI Member
  • SCBWI PAL
  • SCBWI Region midsouth
KC, I didn't post previously because I didn't have helpful advice for you, but I just wanted you to know that I'm glad things seem to be headed in the right direction now. I loved visiting your website and seeing your amazing work.

Best wishes on all this. I hope it turns out wonderfully for you.
#20 - September 15, 2018, 04:10 PM

Members:

0 Members and 1 Guest are viewing this topic.