Contracts, Copyrights, and Other Tedious Things To Think About Before You Hire an Illustrator

This is tedious to think about, but taking care of the legal stuff before you begin working with an illustrator will save you a lot of regrets later on. The first rule of thumb is to NEVER hire an illustrator (or anyone, for that matter) without a written contract. It would be ideal if you could have it looked over by a lawyer as well, but there are many standard contracts available online that cover all your bases if a lawyer is out of your price range right now. Make sure the contract covers the important details, like price, exactly how many illustrations you are going to receive, the timeline of the project, the number of revisions, and who owns the copyright.

A note about the number of illustrations: be VERY specific. Before you sign a contract with an illustrator, figure out how many illustrations you think you will need. Take into account things like the title page, spot images that may go on the back cover or the dedications and copyrights page, and any other images that may appear in your book or on your cover. If you have no clue, a good place to start is to go through your text and figure out which text will go on which page. Try to guess which pages you think will work better as a spread, and which ones you think will work better as single images or spots. This will give you a general idea of how many illustrations you will request. I like to have a separate image for the title page as well, and for the back cover, although most designers can work with what you have if those extra little images are out of your budget. Once you know the number of images you need, add it to the contract. If you don’t discuss it before you start, you will be charged extra for it later on.

This brings me to the next topic: copyrights. When you hire an illustrator using Upwork or Fiverr, these sites have a contract that automatically goes into effect when you sign with the artist. Part of this basic contract is that you, the contractor (author), own the copyright to the work that the illustrator produces. This is called work for hire. It means that you pay a fee to buy the work from the artist, and then it is yours to do with what you wish. This means that if you want to make a coloring book, print your book in a foreign language, or do anything else with the illustrations, you can.

It isn’t so simple, though. If you are hiring someone on your own, and even on Upwork or Fiverr, you need to ask about this and specify it in your contract. One artist I worked with insisted on keeping the copyright to the images unless I paid nearly double her regular fee. This wasn’t an option for me, so she owns the copyrights, and one of the clauses in our contract states that I am allowed to use the work for my book, for promotional purposes, and for promotional items relating to my books like coloring pages or bookmarks. If I decide on a sequel, though, or to publish the book in a different language, or any other use where I might want to reuse her illustrations without paying her, I am not allowed. In those cases, I am required to go back to her to renegotiate a new agreement that will include the use of the illustrations in those new circumstances.

When you own the copyright, as soon as the illustrations are finished, they are yours. So you can use them for whatever you want, whenever you want, as many times as you wish. This is obviously ideal for a self-publishing author because it means you don’t have to pay the illustrator royalties (a percentage of the sale of each book, which is common for publishers to do with the illustrators they work with), you don’t have to worry about negotiating a new contract in the future, and you don’t have to worry about unknown future fees. 

Another thing you need to specify in your negotiations is the payment schedule. Set up milestones where you will release a portion of the payment when that part of the project is done to your satisfaction. Major milestones include the sketches, the final color images, and last revisions and high res files. On Upwork, they allow you to deposit the money in Escrow so the artist knows the money is there, and you can put it aside right away and have it off your head. Once the illustrator completes the milestone to your satisfaction, you release the money and fund and activate the next milestone. It’s a great system that allows you both to feel secure about the payment. 

Even if you hire your illustrator through one of the websites that have built-in contracts, it is a good idea to have your own. You can never lose by clarifying all the project details before you start, and it will save you a lot of headaches in the future.

Did I miss any important points or tips about contracts and copyrights? Please let me know in the comments, below!

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