That Line “if you’re good at something never do it for free” is one of the oldest lines in the books. It is also happens to be one of the most true lines in the book.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gotten into heated arguments with people who are independent publishers on this issue. It is deeply frustrating.
What’s more frustrating and troubling, is how many fellow artists I find myself in debates about this subject as well.
So. Lets break down the bullet points of the so-called “benefits” to working on spec:
First, what is ‘working on spec’?
“Spec” is basically a short form term for any work done on a speculative basis. When a client requests work in which a fee has not been agreed to from the start OR where there are terms (usually vague) set out where there will be a percentage upon the success of the publication of work.
With that laid out, lets take a look at some of the so called ‘benefits’ presented from prospective clients :
* “I am giving the artist an opportunity to work in a collaborative project / to gain experience.”
* “The artist will be able to gain exposure.”
* “The artist will be compensated *upon the success of the book* ( if it’s a novel, or comic production) with a percentage of the sales. Often with the added perk of possibly being on the next project.”
* “To build a resume.”
Ok! So let’s briefly break this down, with my opinions as to why these are NOT ‘benefits’ and do far more harm to you.
For starters, all of these ‘benefits’ are lies. Fed to the artist in a manner that the client is doing the artist a favor of sorts.
They are not.
Let’s get one thing clear, right out of the gate.
They *need* you.
As a major part of selling their project. They need good art. And if they can get that art for FREE? Then dang it, that’s exactly what they’ll try for.
The tragic reason why they try over and over again is because they’ve been highly successful at getting far too many artists to give their work away. All for the lie, of ‘gaining experience’, ‘exposure’ and ‘working on a project’.
Wanting to be a part of the collaborative effort is great. But giving away your work is not the way to be a part of that effort. It isn’t just your work you’re giving away.
It’s your rights to that work.
IF you create a character within that story…you won’t own that character.
Unless you agree to it from the beginning. And most of the time, these clients will have a contract that stipulates that they will own everything. Everything.
So if that character goes on to be a Kazillion dollar character 10 years from now…where does that leave you?
Answer: With nothing.
Nothing but that memory of you wanting so badly to be a part of a collaborative team on a project that you wanted to be on for the benefit of exposure and experience.
Well…you’ve definitely gained ‘experience’. But not the positive experience you were hoping for.
If you’re doing any sort of work for a magazine, book, comic book etc, many times these charlatans will promise a percentage off the back end of their overall sales PENDING the success of the book, or overall sales.
Now I ask you…Do you think any of these individuals are going to be honest about the overall sales figures on their product?
Of course not.
Therefore, you will be paid nothing. Or very little. But what they WILL offer you is the opportunity to be placed on the next project. Because, well…they’ve already taken you for a ride one time. Why not see if you’ll fall for it again, right?
Everything you do in the realm of ‘working on spec’, is a wasted effort.
You waste your creativity.
You waste your intellectual properties.
You waste your energy.
And most importantly…you waste the most valuable thing of all:
And your time is valuable! Priceless, actually. Because you don’t get that back.
And all for what? “Exposure”?
There is yet another consequence that comes when the artist agrees to work on “spec”.
And that is what is called “undervalue”.
When an artist chooses (willingly) to work for free (and let’s face it, that’s what “Spec” is), that same artist is not only choosing to undervalue him/herself, but the entire artistic community.
It sends a clear cut message to clients.
and they understand it loud and clear.
Why do you think that they get away with this “spec” garbage time and time again?
Because too many of my fellow artists have fallen for the lie.
It’s surprising how many times I’m offered an illustration or animation gig with so much enthusiasm and excitement from the client, and at the very end of the speech I’m told that it will be an ‘on spec’ gig.
Far too many art job sites unfortunately are seeing more and more clients offering ‘on spec’ projects. (And I’ll have a post on those ‘job sites’ at a later time.)
Keep in mind (and this is very important), that when you undervalue you and your art.
You don’t just undervalue you and your art.
You undervalue the artist community as a whole.
Whether you’re trying to get exposure or wrongly trying to drive the demand (with an extreme low cost), it drives the overall value down in the entire community. Hurting and inadvertently affecting everyone.
There is an ugly ‘flip side’ though. Which is artists going too much to the extreme on the other end and OVER pricing their work. (I’ll have a detailed post on this as well, at a later time)
Especially when you are starting out. So be realistic and flexible.
But by all means …be fair to not just the client..but also to yourself.
So. What to do?
First, realize that you have value.
Your work…..has value!
The hours upon hours of time, blood, sweat and tears that you will put into your projects…..have value!
If you are an artist that wants to do work for a comic book, in this day and age, why invest (waste) all your time working for someone that will own everything, and give you nothing?
There are tons of people out there wanting to work on a project, or have the same wants as you. Find them. Team up with them. Under a mutual understanding and agreement.
Do the work.
Split costs to keep over all costs of printing down.
Self publish the work.
Do the con circuit and/or sell it online.
This is not entirely new and groundbreaking news here. Which is why I find it so unusual that so many fellow artisans continue…continue to let themselves be taken advantage of.
In this digital age, the artist and the artistic have so so many tools at their disposal. Tools that allow them to take advantage of a whole slew of possibilities!
This being the case, there is absolutely no reason to give your work, give your time, away for free.
We are in this together.
Let us not hinder and cripple each other by believing in the ridiculous lies of ‘working on spec’.
(Comments? Questions? Send em’ all up! Love to hear them.)