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Thursday, June 5, 2014

How do I, as a freelance artist, help to protect my industry?

On a weekly basis, I am exposed to many forms of project proposals that are simply damaging to the commercial artists' industry, specifically that of book illustrators and cover artists. There isn't much I, as an individual, can do to safeguard my industry. But if more artists took a stand, attitudes toward artists and the value of their work would improve, as well as our rates.

Over the last half-century, the accepted rates a commercial book cover artist or book illustrator could expect has dropped considerably, for many reasons. One is the advent of stock imagery and graphic designers taking on the role cover artists were traditionally hired to do. A designer can photo-manipulate stock images much faster, and at less cost, than a cover artist or illustrator can create an original artwork. This means a designer can afford to charge less than a cover artist. And given the opportunity, most authors and publishers would opt to pay a lower rate for their book cover than a higher price. It's just basic math.

How do some projects further damage the commercial art industry?

Some prospective clients request free samples or mockups based on their particular project description. What they are  doing is asking an artist to work for free, even if they don't realize it, more so if the client is asking several artists for free mockups, where only one artist will 'win' the job ... a form of crowdsourcing.

Many of those willing to pay an artist outright are only willing to offer ridiculously low payment for artwork, some even wanting to own the full rights to the image. When I say ridiculous, I mean at a fraction of accepted fair rates, not just for the commercial arts industry, but for ANY work.

Of course, at least the above is willing to pay something. Far too many authors and publishers think offering an artist nothing more than 'credit' or 'exposure' is an some honor; an 'honor' that manipulates many desperate artists and dupes them into doing free work.

Even if an artist does not portray themselves as desperate (or even think of themselves in that way), any artist willing to put hours of work and expensive art tools and supplies toward a project that they have not been, and may not be, paid for, is acting desperate.  When they could devote their training and energies toward a paid commission, and participates in a contest or bidding war or other SPEC project, is either desperate, a hobbyist, a newbie, or has no respect for the craft or industry as a whole.

Most who facilitate such activities are unaware of the harm it does to my industry. How could they be unless they are the one being affected by the continually depreciating value of book cover art?

So ... How do I, as a freelance artist, help to protect my industry?

  • I don't add to the growing depreciation of my industry by participating in project bidding, commercial contests, or crowdsourcing.
  • I prove my obligation to protect my industry by not participating in activities designed to manipulate artists into working for free. It's degrading to my craft.
  • Whenever possible, I explain to the project creator why I am withdrawing myself from the activity, explaining it's not meant to be a rejection of their book or project or them, but a personal stand against whatever depreciating practice the project is perpetuating.

What can one do instead of offering artistic services or free?

  • If an artist's portfolio stands up well enough for any prospective client to be able to see what my capabilities as an artist are, it's more likely to eliminating the need for said client to desire a free sample before making a decision to hire.
  • Don't be a desperate artist. Leave desperate acts to those that are, indeed, desperate.

Onto wrapping up the next book :D

Until next time ...
Aidana WillowRaven


This post edited by*: Seven errors were remedied.

*Blurbs and quotes provided are not edited by WillowRaven, but posted as provided by author/publisher. 


  1. I see this same thing happening to writers. The Internet is full of writing opportunities that pay in "exposure." Maybe it will get my writing noticed but personally, I'd prefer cold hard cash.

    1. I've heard the same problems plague writers. And frankly, you get just a 'noticed' when you are paid for your skills. So take a stand and get paid.

  2. So true, the both of you. As an independent author, I'm always on the lookout for ways to save money, but not at a fellow artisan's expense. I can afford a thing, or I can't, and if I can't, I find a way to make do. Only the mediocre work for free; don't be mediocre.

  3. Saving money is good, but not at the expense of good work. Thank you for this. I see it from the writer's standpoint, and now have some insight into your industry as well. Working for exposure, as they put it, won't pay anyone's bills.

  4. Completely agree. Our work matters and working for free won't pay the bills. Selling out hurts us all. Thanks for the insight. It's an important message.


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