Working with Artists — What to Consider, Part I

"I would never say that," she said.

“I would never say that,” she said.

So, you’ve written a book or short story and you’d like to commission an artist to illustrate your character (or characters).  Great!  Now what?

Over the next couple of months I’m going to post some guidelines based on my experience in searching for, negotiating with, and commissioning artists to illustrate Lady Merreth.

If you’ve never worked with an artist before, you may find the information I provide helpful.  At least I hope so.

Here are the first two.  I have decided to write about them first because they will have a significant impact on the price you pay for a commissioned work.

  • Commercial Use vs. Non-Commercial Use

Be very clear with the artist to what purpose the commissioned work will be put.  Is the work for commercial or non-commercial purposes?  Generally, commercial use involves anything for which the image is used to generate a direct monetary profit.  Book covers and associated illustrations are a prime example.  Another would be if you are going to put the character image on t-shirts and sell them.

Using the image on a blog or personal website is not usually considered commercial use, but check with the artist.  Many artists have a list of the purposes to which an image they have created can be put for both non-commercial and commercial use.

In my experience there is no standard; each artist has his or her own ideas on the subject.  Some are very loose, others are very rigid.

In general, however, be prepared to pay more for commercial use.

Discuss this with the artist, come to an agreement, and have it in writing.  This does not need to be an elaborate contract; it can be a simple email with the terms identified within it.

  • Copyright

Who owns the image after it is has been provided and payment rendered?  This is not as simple as it might seem.  Some artists sign over all rights to the image after payment has been rendered, as long as they are credited as the artist.  Others require you to agree to list of purposes to which they, the artist, can put the image you have commissioned.

For example, a common requirement is that the artist has the right to display the image as part of their portfolio.  This is entirely reasonable.  However, I have run across artists who require that you allow them to sell, alter, edit, or otherwise change the image any time they desire while restricting your ability to do the same.  I don’t do business with these artists, and I am not suggesting their motives are suspect.  I am merely pointing out that artists vary in what they want to be able to do with an image you have commissioned and they have produced.

Again, discuss this with the artist, and get the agreed-upon details in writing.

In the next post I will provide two more considerations when working with artists.

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