Thursday, August 27, 2009

A Perfect Example for "Newbies"

Every now and then, I get a wild hair to venture out into the publishing world and see what's really going on. I skip merrily along, hoping that my new adventures will be an improvement on the last, yielding pleasant results and restoring my faith in the industry as a whole.

I imagine myself being yet unjaded, the perfect picture of wide-eyed innocence. After all, who knows? There are new experiences yet to be enjoyed, right??

Hold on partner, not so fast...

In my last post, we discussed self promotion. It's a necessity if you want to find work and keep the money rolling in to pay the bills. Heck, most of us would be happy if we could make enough (using only our artistic talent) to just buy groceries! But such is not usually the case, and talent has NOTHING to do with it. It's all about the "vultures".

Usually this image conjures up an ugly scene, one of giant, grotesque birds. They are circling above a decomposing corpse of something that once contained life, something that was full of wonder, something that was once new and unspoiled. Something now broken and as black as the hideous things that feed upon it.

There are people out there waiting to pounce on you, hoping to find you in your weakest, most desperate moment. They lurk in the shadows, waiting for the innocent, using every means possible to lure in unsuspecting victims. Their favorite meals are the naive, full of spirit and sensitivity. Those yearning to please and prove their worth, only to be spit out, used and wasted.
Still with me? Good, I'm glad you're paying attention. This darkness is not my usual approach. If you know me, you know I'm almost always the optimistic one in the crowd, with my cup half full. But today, someone reminded me of what can happen if you can't see or don't know the warnings. I thought I'd share the reality, with the hope that it will shed some light on yours....the new kid on the block.

The scene; Craigslist.

Cartoonist/Illustrator Needed (New York)

Skilled cartoonist/illustrator needed for a new children's book series. Please email the art director at with samples of your work and your online portfolio information. If considered a candidate, you will be contacted within a week with further details on the project and a request to provide a few specific samples based on our main characters.
Strict deadlines. Moderate pay from first-time author.

Compensation: paid-contract

The truth is, this is a typical advertisement for a work-for-hire illustration project. It is very vague on purpose, baiting readers with the possibility of further work (new children's book series) if they're chosen. It also mentions that you'll be working with an "art director", something that most newbies dream about. It mentions that samples will be requested, but avoids the fact that they will be unpaid "spec" work. It lists the pay as "moderate" when, in fact, it's well below industry standards. It mentions a contract, lending to it's presumed credibility.

But wait, it gets better....

After sending them a response, along with my website portfolio address, here's what I received. Please note my comments inserted throughout.


Based upon samples viewed of your work, we believe you are an excellent candidate to illustrate our upcoming children's book series!
Notice, they're still throwing in that word (series). This is to be work for hire with payment offered for each completed book as well as limited royalties. A more precise explanation of this contract is listed below. If these terms are agreeable to you, please read on.

$15 per completed page, (excuse with royalties of five thousand ($5000) per book . Royalties terms: $.25 (twenty-five cents) per Book sold for the first Twenty Thousand (20,000) Books sold.

So, for a 24 page Children's Book, which consists of 22 full color, ready for print illustrated pages, they're talking a total of $330 dollars. If this book were to be done for a traditional publishing house, the pay would be possibly ten times this amount! With regards to royalties, the way this is worded, you will only get .25 cents for each book sold. Who's going to sell this "first-time" author's book? Most likely, the author. So who's going to buy it? Most likely it will be friends, family members and people attending his/her author workshops! Remember, he/she will have to sell at least 2000 books for every $500 the illustrator receives.....what are the odds? I'll tell you....SLIM!

So, if that all sounds good to you, please do the following before 12:00 am this Monday, August 31 (That's this Friday at midnight).

Attached you will find illustrations of our two main characters.
Okay, so let's ask ourselves, who's art are they ripping off? We are very happy with them and would like to maintain their essence as much as possible, if not completely replicate them. RED FLAG! Can you say, COPYRIGHT INFRINGEMENT boys and girls? If you can successfully mimic this style, that would be terrific and probably ideal. And also THEFT! If however, you are inspired to ad your own twist or style, then feel free to do so. The quality of your work I have seen thus far tells me that this may yield a pleasant result. Like I said though, we're very happy with what we have. I'll bet, since they most likely didn't pay for it! I'd describe it as a cross between Disney and anime. (If you'd like to submit a couple styles, that's fine). They should both look about 5 years old. Whatever you choose, here's what I need you to email us before this Friday at midnight:

One fully finished and colorized illustration of a lush, mountainous and tree-filled landscape with a few buildings in the midground. Also, in the background, midground and especially foreground I need to see 3 "clones" for each of the two characters attached to this email (totalling 6 "clones.") These "clones" should be drawn in various action poses at various angles (profile, top-side profile, upshot, back w/turning head, twisting bodies, jumping, running, etc.). The purpose of these "clones" is to demonstrate your ability to create various dynamic images and angles, while maintaining continuity of the characters' appearances. This comment made me wonder if they even LOOKED at my samples, which contained a child in various poses to prove my ability to draw with continuity.
This submission of your work WILL NOT BE USED for publication, profit or promotions in any way. I wonder if they said this to the artist they are ripping off? The sole purpose of this submission is for me to gauge your ability and compatibility for our book series. He couldn't tell from my portfolio? Why did I bother sending the link? You WILL NOT be compensated for this submission. WOW! BIG surprise!
8X10 jpeg please.

Please understand that this and all deadlines are final. Late submissions will not be considered. The earlier you can submit this work, the better. Both quality and turnaround time are crucial to this project.
Typical, they are always in a hurry. They want you to ignore your instincts, make a hasty decision and go for it!

Upon viewing your submission, I will contact each of you... With this statement, it becomes clear that you are competing with other artists, who all received this exact same letter....and YOU thought you were special! let you know my thoughts and thank you for your time. Our top artist choices will be contacted for telephone or in-person interviews (depending on where you live.)

After that, one artist will be offered the position.
And that person will probably be asked to copy YOUR submission!

Computer skills are a must. Please note these skills with your submission (Photoshop, Illustrator, In-Design, Web Design, Flash, etc.) Final illustrations for this book must be submitted as digital files meeting specific requirements for the printer which are yet to be determined.

Thank you very much for your interest in our project. It is very close to our hearts....
AND their wallets! Please respond to this email as soon as possible to let us know you will be submitting the sample explained above before this Saturday. This comment explains why they think each illo is only worth $15.00! At the time of this correspondence, this deadline was only 1 day away! They believe that a professionally rendered illustration, fitting their description could be sketched out, cleaned up, tweaked, painted and formatted overnight!

And now for my response......

Dear Sir,

Thank you for considering me for this position, but I must decline your offer. Respectfully, I feel that $15 for full color, full page illustrations that include elaborate backgrounds is ridiculous. To offer a professional illustrator such a small amount is a clear indication that your company has no concept of the time-consuming work involved. It is insulting.

Even though the characters you need are simple, creating professional looking backgrounds is not. Good composition, balance, and character and text placement is a complicated matter. It requires a great deal of time and consideration. In order for me (or any other illustrator) to create quality images that one would be proud to associate themselves with, it would take much more time that you are willing to pay for.

Given today's wages, $15.00 per hour is less than most illustrators will consider. The amount of time necessary to produce your request (from concept sketches-thru change requests-to completed, full color images ready to print) would far exceed this as an hourly wage.

To quote $5000 in royalties is misleading. It looks nice in print, but seldom pans out. The illustrator's compensation is left entirely in your hands, with no guarantees of proper marketing and nothing to ensure the successful sale of 20,000 copies. Even the sale of several hundred copies would not be compensation enough for the task you are proposing.

This contract may look good to amateur illustrators, who cannot do the math, have low self esteem and are desperate for payment and exposure of any kind...but it is really an elaborate way for you to lure the naive and innocent into uncharted waters, while you reap the rewards for their hard work and talent!

Remember, you get what you pay for. Maybe you'll find someone in India or China...I hear they work cheap there.

Please note; although you will remain anonymous, I will be posting your proposal and my response on my blog! One of my personal goals in life is to inform and protect my fellow illustrators from deception by unscrupulous and unprofessional companies or individuals. Although you have been up front with regards to compensation, newly emerging illustrators need to witness and understand that their talents are deserving of a fair wage.

This proposal is a perfect example of what's wrong in the current publishing market today.

Thank you, Lisa J. Michaels

As you can see, follow-thru is not an issue for me. If you are a new illustrator, or even someone like me who's been around a while, I hope this post has alerted you or reminded you how easy it is to be taken advantage of by clever bottom feeders. They are a dime a dozen, and getting smarter by the minute.

I wish I could say that this adventure was pleasant, but at least it yielded something for your consideration. Now,....I'm off to refill my cup and search for my rose colored glasses.


Mighty Kwan said...

Bravo Lisa!!!!

CraigsList is ripe with these kind of things and so are all the "place your bid to win this gig" websites that are out there. This type of thing just never seems to go away and will always be something we artists have to educate each other about within our community.

Thanks so much for the informative post!! And for saying to these folks what so many of us long to say! The only way to make them value us is for us to value ourselves first.


Tara said...

Great post. It's nice to see this from your perspective.

sam said...

Champion My Champion! Oh how fortunate we are for the likes of you in our midst. Let the unwary be informed, Let the predacious Be Damned! I am going to Tweet this to the heights! I will add my voice to the call, BEWARE O my fellow BEWARE! You are a saint Lisa Michaels!

Anonymous said...

This is a great post and I hope the word gets out. Cathie

Ginger*:) said...

Lisa, well done and well written. I think you should submit the whole article to SCBWI bulletin.

Recently several of us received similar requests from an Asian plush toy company. Our responses were quite similar to yours.

It is an insult to any illustrator to even be asked to create specific "tryouts" without any compensation. The rest of this proposal is just, as you said, ridiculous!

Denis Gaston said...

Once more you nailed it Lisa. Great words of wisdom.
Add to your list of vultures - businesses that display art on consignment. The artist may get exposure, but the business always gets free art on the walls.

Edrian Thomidis said...

Love your post! Very informative.

Some designers are part of a group called NOSPEC and I think illustrators can join too.

Thanks for taking the time to post.

Cyn Narcisi said...

Thank you so much for this post, Lisa! Brilliant:)