Friday, August 12, 2011

Is haggling on illustration/design fees ethical or fair?

by Aidana WillowRaven

Personally, I can see both sides on this subject, and have been on the receiving end of an author or publisher wanting my services, but for an exorbitant amount less than my regular fees. It's stressful, it's aggravating, but I try to understand that people can't always afford what they want, especially in relation to their book ... their baby ... so I can see why they try to get a lesser rate, but is it fair?

After all, I bargain shop. I buy used books, I buy clothes at thrift stores, I rummage the bargain bins. But would I walk up to the counter and haggle over a price? Not unless the product was damaged in some way, but still of use, would I feel justified in doing so.

On my freelance blog, today, I shared a YouTube video I saw on Google+ this morning that exemplifies this growing trend of authors/publishers (really this could relate to so many other professions), wanting high quality service, but don't feel they should have to pay for it. Naturally, it got me to thinking how I could share the metaphors on that video, here.

Is it fair to go on Twitter or Facebook, seeking professional editing, or artistic services, but only offer compensation way below livable standards? Is it right to ask anybody, in any profession, just because they are a small company or a freelancer, to work for less?

I see this all the time as Art Director for 4RV, too. People expect us to accept their manuscript, do all the editing, art, and prep to publish it, market and promote their book, then complain that their royalty isn't high enough or that the cost of buying personal copies at wholesale (for those that wish to sell at a show, or something), is too high, or that they didn't get enough free copies with their contract, while feeling totally OK with the fact that he company is footing all the bills. They don't even want to edit thoroughly or help promote on behalf of their own books!

To make it even more of an injustice, the requester wants high quality. They like your work! It grabbed their attention over all the other work they examined. But wait, they want that level of work and expertise for half or a third of what you charge, even though you already charge eight times less than the accepted standard due to a tough economy and growing competition with people who will work for ridiculously low rates.

What are we doing to our own industries if we agree? But if we don't agree, how do we feed our kids? Pay our rent?

I am sharing the video again, here. It really puts things in perspective, but it's also funny. Maybe if you're one of those people who have performed a shake down on an artist or editor, and relied on their desperation to make a living weighing more than their getting paid their worth, then maybe putting it in a different light will help you curb that tendency.


Art Director & VP of Operations
4RV Publishing


  1. Some people care more about what they want and what they think benefits them rather than someone they may be "taking advantage of." Sad, but true.

  2. This is funny. And I've been on 'both ends' of it. However, I always do my best to 'give' back especially to those who helped me make my dreams come true. Sometimes you don't have the money for the 'quality' you want, so you work with what you have, try to barter or hope someone will invest in you. BUT when you take them for granted, abuse it and don't 'kickback' you damage relationships and your 'brand', in the long run. Good post!

  3. Thanks, KD. My point is, though, we should not be haggling with each other at all. Even once. It forces the one providing the service to compromise their own budgets and industry. We all need to step up and do what's right.

  4. I read this article with interest both as an author and as an illustrator. I am not, however, an editor, publisher or designer. Yet, I see vast differences in what people hiring illustrators are willing to pay vs. what the illustrator rightly should be charging. By basing the cost of illustrating upon the difficulty of the text to illustrate, the amount of research needed and how many months it may take to complete the work a fair quote should be given in honesty and either accepted or rejeted.. Once the quote is given the client has the option to walk away or accept the quote. The next step for private clients is agreeing upon a fair and understandable contract. That is another subject worthy of discussion. Illustrators should and must stand up for fair pay for quality work.

  5. Very interesting post and video. This is happening everywhere unfortunately. I just read an article about Huffington Post asking professional freelance writers to submit articles without receiving monetary payment - the visibility will be their benefit. The fear for article writers is this will catch on.