Let's have a frank talk about illustration royalties.

This is a conversation I think illustrators should have. My blog allows anonymous comments since I think that will let more of us have it. 

My experiences are still few and new in the field of illustration. I come from a science-inspired, fine art background, and since taking my artwork online almost 5 years ago, my fine art projects are usually asked into service illustrating science blogs, books and magazines (and occasionally skin with tattoo design).

The book work up until now has mainly been covers. However, after watching a couple of potential book contracts fall apart, one for a mid-size reputable publisher I will not name, I've been curious about one aspect of the illustration biz: royalties.

The experience I mention called for me to submit my originals, hand over all copyright and get paid a flat fee worth less than equivalent stock art images for my creations. No hope of royalties or re-negotiation if the book was a hit and re-printed.

At the time I was using the Graphic Artists Guild Handbook: Pricing & Ethical Guidelines, 12th Edition (13th is out now).   Leaving out the details of the publisher's requirements, according to the Guide I should have been charging about $550 per drawing, and I was offering $300.  The publisher wanted to offer $150.

I know there are a lot of specific circumstances to any contract: we parted amicably I hope (they produce a lot of books I enjoy).  I thought it was just this case, for whatever reason.  After speaking to new illustration acquaintances on G+ over the last several weeks, from many different realms of illustration, I'm hearing that "no royalties" and prices below the GAG Guide are common.

What I wanted to discuss, is without details (I am not out to vilify any publishers here, that's not the point so no need to identify them) are illustrators:

  • getting royalties as part of a contract?
  • finding the GAG Guide prices accurate reflections of reality?
  • being offered more than work-for-hire?

Part of the 'long-tail' of illustration is licensing your own images after the copyright either reverts to you, or by retaining it. The other is royalties.

Let me know approximately how long you've been at the illustration biz, and whether you've found royalties common or uncommon. Again, I allow for anonymous comments and I'd prefer not to discuss specific publishers, just get more of a sense of what's happening out there.

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Original artwork on The Flying Trilobite Copyright to Glendon Mellow
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