"" Read more : http://www.ehow.com/how_8339780_put-emoticons-blogger.html WillowRaven Illustration & Design Plus: 'If I had a nickel' ... But what do you do if you're an author who can't afford to pay for an artist or designer?

Sunday, May 10, 2015

'If I had a nickel' ... But what do you do if you're an author who can't afford to pay for an artist or designer?

Reworking of an older personal image, Snowbird. ~  It's hot & humid today & sitting in a snow-covered clearing w/ a friendly dragon as snowflake wings & garment allow the crisp air to keep skin cool looks like a welcome fantasy about now. Nothing to do w/ today's post other than to comfort me as I vent. lol

If I had a nickel for every time I've sent the following email response or one similar:

I thank you for considering me as a potential cover artist and designer for your book cover, but I am not in a position to accept a project under those parameters, and even if I were, it would be unethical, as an experienced, established professional, to take such projects aware from artists who are in more need of portfolio work, like students and unpublished artists or hobbyists.

Good luck with your book.

(c) WillowRaven
Above is my small way of protecting the book illustration and design industry by turning down certain types of projects, and telling clients why. If more professional artists and designers responded to contest proposals and freebie projects, in the same way, we'd find better clients and less devaluation of artwork in general.

Maybe I should back up a bit to illustrate the type of email or contact I'm responding to before judgments are made about my snobbish response to a potential client in today's economy.

I won't quote any specific email because I'm not trying to humiliate or embarrass anyone. But initial contact usually starts out something like this ...

Twitter/Facebook/some other social network:

Looking for an artist (or 'designer' or 'illustrator'). Please 'contact' me via {insert email addy or instructions to private message for more information) to discuss cover art/design for my novel."

I respond with something like: "Hello. I'd love to further discuss your project needs at your convenience. In the meantime, feel free to browse my webfoliohttp://willowraven.weebly.com" or something similar.

The email or message I receive next usually contains a lengthy description of the book and how it's likely to 'be REALLY big'. Then phrases like 'quid pro quo' or 'invaluable publicity' or 'pro bono' start entering the description in relation to compensation or the lack thereof.

The idea that placing the artist's name on the copyright page (which legally, would be required anyway), or giving them a mention on a website or in the book replaces payment is sadly misguided. Most professional artists have families, expenses, and bills, (just like everyone else has) and rely on monetary compensation to continue doing what they love as their means of livelihood. Too many skilled, well-trained artists and designed are forced to work 'real jobs' just to make ends meat. Or even worse, feel they have to compete in contests or work for rates way below accepted industry standards.

But what do you do if you're an author who can't afford to pay for an artist or designer? 

Well, unless trained/skilled in art and/or design, I don't recommend doing it yourself. I equally don't recommend contacting established professionals asking for a handout or a ridiculously insulting rate. However, I'm not unsympathetic. There are options for cover art and design on a tight budget that I recommend to authors after such proposals.

  • One is contacting your local university art department. The students are almost always in need of examples of published works, vs mock examples that don't really prove they can translate a literary concept or work with an author (who thinks and communicates very differently that an art instructor who's trained to convey project parameters). 
  • Another is having a contest, but to be ethical, only allow non-published artists and designers to participate. Published artists have an unfair advantage non-published artists don't. 

(c) WillowRaven
I KNOW every author wants the best cover possible for his/her book, even if the budget is just $0-$50. However, there are ethical ways to go about paying less than accepted industry rates or paying just one artist's work when dozens worked for nothing simply because they had less experience or were almost as good as the 'winner'.

On that same note, don't let artists and designers who are willing to devalue themselves, or lynch less experienced artists in their profession for their own personal gain, to trick you out of giving fresh-starters a chance. You can have a contest that supports artists or one that hurts them. Don't worry, I have a post planned for artists to realize when they need to bow-out of projects, too.

The blame for the current trend of authors wanting free art isn't all to be placed on the authors. Artists have helped to create the problem as well by giving into desperation in a tight economy and greed by taking jobs from less established artists when they can get higher budget jobs just as easily. If you are one of those artists, I'll scold you later (lol).

If you can't afford an established artist, make it clear you are looking for unpublished artists to respond to your project request. And make it clear in the initial tweet or post. Don't drag them into responding via email or private message, only for them to learn later, after time and effort have been spent to make contact by the pro, that there is no money at the end of the road. They could have been using that time and energy on a paying project.

Target your search for an artist in the same way you target your audience when promoting your eventual book. Things will go much smoother for all involved if you do.

Well, I guess that's a big enough soapbox for one post. If you are reading this, I'd really like to hear your take on the topic in the comments below.

Onto wrapping up the next book :-D
Until next time ...
Aidana WillowRaven

This post edited by Grammarly* ~ NOW FREE FOR CHROME USERS!

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


  1. What do you think of places like upwork.com to find book cover artwork inexpensively?

    1. This is probably going to be an unpopular answer, lol. I have no direct knowledge of that particular site, other than a cursory look. However, any site that puts artists in bidding wars or encourages them to submit work specifically created for a project before they are paid for said project, then the buyer only pays 'the winner', is detrimental to the industry. Not to mention the fact that while competing on rates, the platform hosting the freelancer deducts anywhere from 10% to 50% from the artist.

      I won't lie; When I first started as a freelance artist, I fell prey to the seemingly easy way to find clients on such sites (like guru and ifreelance). I stopped using them years ago when I realized what I was doing hurt not only to my fellow artists trying to make enough money to support their families AS ARTISTS but what I was doing to myself and the financial stability of my own business. As a matter of fact, last I checked, guru is still refusing to remove my old profile from their pool of artists. A bit shady if you ask me.

      As mentioned in my post, if an author is both on a tight budget as well as conscientious to the publishing industry, and it's sub-industries (editing, art, design, etc), there are inexpensive alternatives like approaching local art students.

  2. Hello! A similar fashion to find great artwork within reasonable costs is to approach artists on Deviant Art. These are most likely university students or very well self trained artists. If you are reasonable, they will be to.

    1. Actually, DA is a horrible place to go looking for artists due to a high piracy problem. Sites like DA, although they do collect budding artist, also attract unethical types who have no qualms about stealing photos and art from other artists and claiming it as their own for an easy way to target trusting authors. DA does not have any safeguards against theft or fraud.

  3. Funny you should mention that. As an author, I get requests all the time for free writing. I had a request from a blog to submit a piece for "exposure" and they has less than 100 views. Sorry, that many people can randomly see my books on BN.com and Amazon. I agree with you 100%. People think that artists should do things for free and if you won't your are snobbish etc. You don't go to Walmart and expect them to give you your milk for free do you? I also agree that universities are a great place to go to get professional quality for a minimal cost. I have considered going to a local music department for music for a trailer I am working on. Student artists need portfolio work as much as paying gigs.

    J.T. Buckley


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