How should I price up my illustrations?
Arthur Rackham - 'Alice's Adventures in Wonderland ' - Lewis Carrol (1907)
Having worked as a freelance illustrator for a number of years, you would assume that I would have managed to work out how to price my work for the various different commissions I undertake. Unfortunately – not so! It is one of the most stressful things you have to do as an illustrator.
Clients often try to pay tiny amounts for your work, citing that ‘art is fun – not real work’, or telling you that the exposure you will get will advance your career and build up your portfolio. As all illustrators know, this is rubbish! Illustrating is hard work. Not only do you need the skills and imagination to be an illustrator, but it takes years of experience and hard graft to get to that point. If it was that easy, your client would be doing the work themselves. They need your skills, so you should realise your value and demand fees that are appropriate to the work you are being commissioned for and turn down those that aren’t.
The main point to remember about pricing illustrations is that it’s all about the usage of your work and the rights to reproduce it, in what numbers, where and for how long.
Where will your work appear? Will it be a front cover or inside? The highest fee will be for a full wraparound cover, followed by a front cover then a back cover, a full spread, full page, half page and finally a spot illustration. You have the same situation if you’re illustrating for a website – position, size etc.
Brian Froud, Alan Lee - 'Faeries' (1979)
How long is your artwork going to be used for?
Usage is also a determining factor. How long will your work be used? In an advert on TV? As background art on a TV programme? As a food label? CD cover? There is a direct correlation to how much your work is seen to the amount you should charge.
The geographical areas where your work will be on display is also a factor. Will it be seen locally, nationally or internationally? Starting with a local audience and increasing up to an international audience. Adding value the more countries and languages the client intends to reproduce your work in. The entire world and every language is going to have a much greater cost to your client than Scotland and in English.
Quentin Blake - 'The Enormous Crocodile' by Roald Dahl (1978)
There is also the time factor. A magazine will have a short run, books much longer – for the life of the book. Some clients will want the rights to reproduce your work in perpetuity. The longer your client wants to use your work, the larger the amount you can charge.
What about Exclusivity?
If a client wants the exclusive rights to your work, you should charge a higher price, as being able to sell your work to additional clients would obviously increase the amount you could make on your illustration.
Working in colour, rather than in black and white takes much more time, so colour work should be charged at a higher rate. The more copies of your illustration, the higher price you can charge.
Norman Rockwell - 'After the Prom' - Saturday Evening Post Cover (1957)
How & Where does your client want to use your artwork?
Another consideration is the rights your client wants to your work. Is it just for a book jacket? Will they reuse it on a website? Will they use it in further international editions? Will they use part of it as an inside illustration? For every additional right to your work, you should charge a higher fee. The highest fee being for total rights control. There is also an agreement called ‘work for hire’, where your client will not only have total control over the rights to reproduce your work, but could also keep your original artwork, the copyright and wouldn’t even have to link your name to the work. In this instance a much higher fee would have to be negotiated.
You must also consider who your client is – a multi national or a private individual and tailor your fee accordingly.
Certain countries put a higher value on illustrators’ work. For example, working with a US client, you can command a much higher fee.
Considering how long an illustration will take you and factoring in research, meetings and travel time. Make sure you’re not working for minimum wage, but earning a decent amount for the time and skill you put into your work.
A rush job is when you are offered a last minute commission and you have to work every waking hour to complete it. In this case you should ask for a higher fee.
Ernest H Shepard - 'Winnie the Pooh' - AA Milne
If you are working on something that has a long run, such as illustrating a book, you should be entitled to royalties. Your fee will normally be an advance on royalties and sometimes the royalties fizzle out, so it’s advisable to ask for a reasonable upfront fee, as you may never see another penny.
Two methods of pricing your illustrations
There are two different ways of working out your pricing. The client approaches you with the fee they are offering, or the client asks you how much you wanted for the work. If the client has a figure in mind, it is much easier. From there you can negotiate up. If you have to come up with a figure yourself, it is much more difficult, as you could get it horribly wrong and lose a lot of potential money by undervaluing yourself. If you really have no idea where to start there are some excellent books that you can reference :- The Graphic Artist’s Guild Handbook of Pricing and Ethical Guidelines; The Illustrator Guide to Law and Business Practices Association of Illustrators); Becoming a Successful Illustrator (Successful Careers) by Jo Davies; How to be an Illustrator by Darrel Rees. Alternatively speak to your illustrator friends and ask about their experiences and how they price their work.
Janet & Allan Ahlberg - 'Each Peach Pear Plum' (1978)
Arrgh - My Head hurts!
If this all sounds a wee bit stressful, don’t worry. The more you do it, the easier it gets. It’s important not to aim too high and scare clients off, but it’s equally important not to undersell your worth. The best place to be is somewhere in the middle. Where the client and you are both happy.
The most important thing to remember, is that it’s the rights to your work that you are selling and you want to keep as many of them as you can. The more rights the client wants and the more exposure your work will get, the higher the fee you should demand. If you’re not sure, ask a higher price – your client can always come back with a lower offer if they’re not happy with it. You should always be paid fairly for your work and your unique skills.
Nicola Bayley - 'The Mousehole Cat' by Antonia Barber (1991)
Written by Mary Aitken - Freelance Illustrator & Designer