Pricing Your Work

"How much should I charge?" This is a common question that every professional artist needs to confront and understand, yet it is often talked about so vaguely which leads to a lot of confusion and mystery. In this episode we hope to shed some much needed light on the subject. We go over day rates, how much beginning children's book illustrators typically make, things to consider when pricing your work, negotiation tips, whether or not you should do work for exposure, and the benefits to having an agent.

Pricing Your Work

Today we want to talk about how to price your illustration work.

How to price? You price it right. It’s that simple right? Actually this is a topic where knowledge is quite murky and there is a lot of confusion.

How Much Should I Charge?

Will often gets the question, I’ve just got this job, how much should I charge? Right now we’re talking about freelance work: editorial, children’s book, design work, etc.

It makes sense why so many people, especially beginners, have this question; you’re afraid to charge too little and afraid too ask for too much.

There is a lot of stress that comes along with figuring out how to price your work. Jake’s been doing this for 20 years and he still wonders if he should maintain his rates or if he should be asking for more.

Lee’s #1 Pet Peeve: nobody talks about this, nobody talks much about how much you should be charging for your work. It’s so abstract in school. Everyone talks about it vaguely. They never get very detailed when discussing this topic.

Because we do art we attach our value to the art. If we make too much, we don’t want to brag, if we don’t make a lot we don’t want to talk about it because we’re embarrassed.

Shed Some Light

Sometimes it’s good to talk about and share specific numbers.

Jake did a blog post sharing about how much he’s made at conventions, and shared some of his exact totals. He was talking about how he’s been making less and less at Comic Cons and was wondering if it was something he should continue to do or not or stop selling at conventions in general.

One Fantastic Week and Comic Lab brought him onto their podcasts and interviewed him because he listed specific numbers. None of that probably would have happened had he not been specific.

Power is in the hands of those paying for the work, if we as artists are so secretive and allow rates to be kept hidden in the shadows. If they can keep us in the dark, then they can set the floor for what the payments will be for artists.

There was a problem in the animation industry for 5-6 years, where animation studios were in a law suit because the animation studios were colluding together and fixing prices for what they would pay different types of employees. When this was uncovered they were sued and the workers won and Jake got a bunch of checks in the mail. Because he had worked at one of those studios for 5 years during that period of time he ended up getting $15,000 in checks.

Day Rates

Figure out what your day rate is: this applies mostly for concept design work. So for a 6-8 hour day how much do you charge? It gets messy because everyone is at different speeds, skill levels.

Jake will say, “this is my day rate and for my day I can charge you this much and you should expect this many drawings or designs from me.”

They may come back and say our budget can’t handle that and give a counter offer. If it’s still reasonable he knows that at least there isn’t money left on the table.

However, if he says, “Here’s my day rate…” and they say, “Oh okay, no problem!” Then you know you have left money on the table.

Jake’s day rate is based off of the industry that he is working for.

When he first started out at Blue Sky they payed him as a freelance artist before they took him on as a full time employee. Back then Blue Sky was paying him, $500 a day and $2500 a week.

Since then he has raised his day rate by about 20%.

Sometimes he will get a job and they will say that their budget is $400 a day. Then he will ask if they would be willing to pay, i.e. $2,000 for the project. Then it’s not a matter of how many days he spends and instead is based on how fast and well he can pull off the project.

Sometimes you can say “$2000” for the entire job. You also need to know the scope and talk about about revisions. I.e. Any revisions, $500 a day.

There’s back and forth, and that’s okay, don’t be afraid of negotiating.

Don’t be afraid to ask what you are worth.

The person on the other side, they might have a set budget for what they can pay, and sometimes they may have wiggle room, but sometimes they might say, this is all we can do, and then it’s easy: it’s take it or leave it.

This is often the case for children’s books, they have a set budget and you either accept it or decline it.

How much would you charge? You have to throw out the first number. That’s what we want to talk about.

What Jake is talking about, the day rate, is more for the entertainment industry. In that industry the day rate is more standard.

Lee and Will don’t like the day rate. The amount you make goes down the better you get. When you get faster and better you don’t make more for getting more done faster.

Some illustrators say, “take all of your bills and expenses for a month and then add that up to see how much you need to make and then divide that up by 31, and that’s your day rate.” This method is flawed because it’s totally subjective and based on your current financial situation.

Pricing Illustration Work

One big difference is that for entertainment, you don’t own the work. For illustration, on the other hand, we charge by usage.

How much to charge for a book cover? That depends. How many copies are being printed? Where’s this being sold? If they are printing 10,000 copies they might be making $500,000 gross versus printing only 2,000 copies, where they may only be making $100,000 gross.  

If they are making more money, we should make more money too.

We are renting our images out. So if they are using it more and renting your work for a lot more copies, then we should be compensated more for it. We charge by usage.

Lee likes to give an example to his classes: He shows two images, One is a generic smiley face and the other is a full Civil War battle scene painting, then he asks his class, “which would you charge more for?” They will always pick the Civil War battle scene painting. But that isn’t necessarily the right answer, it all comes down to: usage.

In the news this week, this exact issue came up. Toronto Raptor’s Kawhi Leonards used to have a deal with Nike before and he has his own signature signature that he made where he traced his hand and inside he had his jersey number and the year number and then they used his logo on their shoes. Then he left Nike and went to Adidas and he wants to use that same mark. That simple rudimentary mark right now is worth billions of dollars because of its usage. It’s clumsily drawn, but its usage is huge so its worth a lot of money.

Starting to price something, when you get a call or email from an agency ask:

How many copies? Where would the work be distributed? For how long?

Quantity, location and duration.

This can make a big difference.

I.e. You might say that if they want to use the work locally for 6 months you might charge them $500. But if they come back and say, “No, we need it nationally for 1 year.” Then you might say, well for that it would need to be $2,000. Then they understand more where you are coming from.

We are all in a very different position compared to a student who is just starting off and is afraid of losing the deal.

Pricing Work When You Are Getting Started

If you are in a position where you can’t say no, then you are in big trouble.

How to pitch the work so the work doesn’t get devalued?

If the client says they can only pay $500 and you feel you would normally need to charge $2000 and you want to work for them, then maybe on your invoice you write: “$500 (New Client Discount - $1500). Then the client knows how much you really value your work.

A perception that Will had when starting out and that many beginners have is, “I’d be afraid to ask for this because I’m afraid they will cancel the offer.”

Jake has never heard about anyone losing a job from having a hard time negotiating. If you ask for too much, they will usually tell you that they don’t have the budget for it, not that you no longer have the job offer. Unless you’re really hard to get along with you can work something out.

There are things you can negotiate besides the money. For example:

-For a book project, the lower advance they offer, the higher the royalties you can ask for. It becomes a win win situation, the more books they sell the more you both make.

-Full creative freedom.

-Put my work on the cover.

-I’d like 50 copies of the book to put in your shop to sell.

-Right to sell prints of the artwork.

The same is true and is great when renegotiating your compensation at a full time job. Oftentimes the company holds their checkbook tight and isn’t willing to give a lot more, but you can ask for more time off, more flexible schedule, etc.

5 Considerations When Pricing a Job

What is your going rate? How much should I charge for this? There are more things to think about when pricing a job. Thinking about it this way will help you come up with a price and decide if you want to take on the job or not.

  1. Compensation: Money.

  2. Recognition

  3. Service: Is it for a friend or family member? Or a foundation or charity you want to support?

  4. It’s a subject matter or story that you are really passionate about.

  5. Networking. Take the job for less money to have a relationship with the people or the company. To develop that relationship for the future. Jake considered a job recently even though it payed less because he wanted to work with an author. He probably would have taken it if he wasn’t in the middle of trying to move. Even though the pay wouldn’t be as good as normal, it would have elevated his status. He’s taken on freelance that didn’t pay as well as he would have liked, because he wanted to work with a certain team or company before too.

What’s Your Bottom Line?

We all have different bottom lines when it comes to our rates for children’s books.

It’s obscene how much Jake gets for his children’s book advances. The amount Will gets offered is enough for him, the royalty he is getting has a good potential to pay off, with Bonaparte, if they sell really well then Will is along for the ride.

Everyone has a bottom line.

You probably wouldn’t illustrate a book even if you were super passionate about the story if they were only going to pay you $1.

On the other hand even if you hated the story (as long as it was not against your morals) then you most likely would be willing to do it for a couple hundred thousand dollars, right?

For more information on pricing be sure to check out our past episode: “How Much Will I Make in Illustration.”

For a new illustrator just starting out you will probably get paid anywhere from: $5,000-12,000 for your first children’s book.

If you agree to do something for a price then most likely your bottom line is lower than that rate. Bottom lines fluctuate, there are times where you have lots of money, less money, more work, less work, etc. There are ebbs and flows to life.

Let’s say you made 30K on an advance last year, but now you don’t have any work and you are afraid you are going to lose your house and your car; if someone offers you half of what you got last year, then you will most likely say yes.

It can work against you too. Jake needed to figure out how he was going to make money for 6 months but wasn’t super desperate and he took a job for less than normal pay, but then after he had already accepted that work, another better paying job came in and he couldn’t take it because he had already accepted the other work.

Make the best decision you can, with the information you have at the time, and don’t feel bad with hindsight.

They might only have only $1000.

Would I be happy doing this work for ____?

Figure out what your bottom line is.

Bottom line changes based on a number of factors: your hunger, your current situation.

I used to work for that, and now I have tons of work, so your rate will go up a lot.

Contractors work the same way. Need work done on your home? Schedule your work during the fall, for most contractors their work is slower in the fall and early winter so you can get better deals.

Have you ever charged 3-4 times as much for work because you were already so busy and didn’t want the job?

Did you get the job? Lee: Yes, and rarely does getting the money make up for the pain of doing work you don’t want to do. I’d have to be REALLY desperate to take on work I didn’t want to do.

Will had this experience with a pharmaceutical company. Will donated his time to a soulless company for a few months.

He got paid 65K for a summer. Great money, but man it was rough, there was some emotional abuse that went with it too.

Play With Your Style

All of those things are like dials that you can adjust to get the perfect job. There is another thing that you can adjust to make sure the job is a good fit:

Play with your style and the amount of work that you will actually put into the project.

For example, do the job in a simpler style. Jake has different styles: one is render intensive, one is more graphic and linear, it’s an easier and faster style.


We’ve been talking all about how you can work it and negotiate it and get it all done yourself, but if you have a good agent or representative they can take care of that for you. They know the landscape and they have already negotiated 10 offers this week.

They also take 15-30% for doing the job. When you get into a long term relationship with an agent, it’s less about that first job, and it’s more about a career, they are looking at you as an investment. Maybe you only get 10,000 at first but after a while maybe you are getting 50,000 for your book deals and then they are making a lot more with you.

If it’s not working after a couple projects, you can end the relationship and look for a better agent. Just about everyone that’s doing really well in children’s publishing has a representative.

We’re trying to hit the sweet spot. Don’t leave money on the table while not losing the job. The further along you are in your career and the more work you have, the less money you will leave on the table. You have the confidence, track record, body of work, and other work coming in to better negotiate.

If you are starting out, then you have a greater need to be published.

There are different needs. Needs for the new person: they need published work, they need that more than money. Later on it’s more about: How creative is it, and how much does it pay?

Doing Work for Exposure?

Would you ever give the advice that an up and coming illustrator should work for free?

Pro Bono work. There is a grey area there, you cannot work for free.

“We’ll pay you in recognition, and exposure.”

An artist’s biggest problem isn’t money, but obscurity. You have to make a splash, you have to get on people’s radar, you have to do something. You have to do something for free, maybe its not for another client, maybe it’s for yourself.

Will opposes prominent illustrators telling students what they should never do. Instead it’s better to lay out the pros and cons of working for free.

Will did a job for The Delaware Lawyer, he did work for just $100, and he would have been willing to do it for free. Despite the poor pay, it paid off. The piece he did won the Art Directors Award, and the art director that saw that job helped him land a $40K job with M&M Mars.

There are some people who will prey on artists by offering them exposure.

In the beginning you need to claw scrape and scrap to get a published portfolio.

Your goal is to create a portfolio that doesn’t look like student work. Your goal is that when the art director sees your work, they wonder, “Who did they do this for? Oh, you’re already working. You’re already doing this so you aren’t going to be making all of the rookie mistakes.”

When you receive an opportunity to do work for exposure, look at what type of exposure they are offering. I.e. if they have big in roads with Industrial Light and Magic, and you want to make connections there, then it may be worth it. If they just say that they’ll share it with their 10K followers on Instagram, then maybe it’s better you just post it yourself. You can share it yourself and it’s not too hard to get 10,000 people to see something you posted.

Sometimes people say, “don’t do this contest, it’s a bad contest, they want to use your work for free.” Weigh the pros and cons. Make educated decisions.

You want to get on people’s radar and see if your work is up to snuff. If you want to do so here’s an idea: Take the 7 Harry Potter books and do your version of the covers, spend 40, 60, 80 hours on each. Take 7 months and do one cover a month. If you have a cool unique style, then you will definitely get on the radar of art directors.

The headline writes itself, “Check Out This Artist’s Crazy New Take on Harry Potter.”

A lot of people work for free, there are internships where people work for free, musicians, actors, and writers work for free.

If you’re a writer then you’re working for free until you find someone to sell your manuscript or book to. They are creating a product and wanting to sell it, they’re being entrepreneurial as well.

Should you join a contest even if there is no pay?

As long as the people who are putting on the contest don’t own the art you are submitting.

Contests are a great way to build up your portfolio, but make sure they don’t own the work.


Jake Parker: Instagram: @jakeparker, Youtube: JakeParker44

Will Terry: Instagram: @willterryart, Youtube: WillTerryArt

Lee White: Instagram: @leewhiteillo

Alex Sugg:

Tanner Garlick: Instagram: @tannergarlick

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