Contract crib notes & free videos

So, you found an artist, and want to use some of their art or commission a new piece for a cover. Great! What contract are you going to use? What rights are you going to license?

Yes, the shoe is now on the other foot – you, as the publishing house, are now licensing Intellectual Property from another individual instead of working on licensing your own IP! But don’t worry, you don’t have to come up with a contract out of thin air, or crib a bad one that demands things you don’t want to the detriment of the artist!

Instead, head to and take a look at their contracts tab! Here are some model contracts, designed to be a win-win for both parties, to make you and your artist walk away happy with the deal! While you and your artist will want to negotiate on a point or two – I do not recommend just copying the contract blindly – this will allow them to keep and license rights you’re not interested in, helping them make a living. (Also, in practical self-interest, let me point out that the more ways you leave for the professional artist to make other money by licensing the IP, the more you can negotiate the price. If you want all rights for life of copyright and the original piece too, the price they ask will reflect the loss of any potential future revenue!)

Hat tip to: Melissa Gay (who is an awesome person as well as an awesome professional artist)

Writing about Dragons:

Brandon Sanderson teaches a master class at BYU on writing. Unlike some people who are brilliant at their profession but not at teaching, Brandon is actually a pretty great prof. There are multiple years of this course online, but I’ll give you the best one for watching by topic instead of all the way through.

Here’s 2012 broken into a syllabus, so you can watch it by topic.

Or, if you want to watch it straight through, by 2016 he’s gotten more polished at teaching the material. First one here.

Dean Wesley Smith.

Dean is a career writer, who also offers advice, workshops, and lectures on writing. Well over a year ago, he decided he was going to prove that if you write every day, you can really rack up your output. Since then, he’s been writing and blogging about it every day, including a month where he had a challenge to write a short story every day, and another to write a novel in a week. There are a lot of motivation bits stuck inbetween the daily updates on his general routine and output.

However, I’m going to point you at youtube, where he’s been putting up some of the oldest lectures. The one on originality is complete, the one on essentials of writing is still being uploaded.

Two caveats: First, these are lectures that are old enough that they were phased out of paying. Therefore, especially on the “essentials of writing” video when he’s talking about the current state of the market in 2012, remember it’s been a turbulent 4 years and many things have changed.

Second, Dean and Kris have been in publishing for 39 years. They have a lot of very valuable experience from all that time, and a perspective of writing as a career that’s decades older than indie. They also have some views on the market and marketing that I don’t agree with at all, because I’ve seen going directly against their views leading to indie success. So listen to what they have to say, but don’t swallow opinions down whole without chewing over them.

That ought to be enough to keep you busy for a week, eh? Let me know if you found anything especially interesting in here!


  1. This is Larry Correia and other panelists at Life, The Universe, and Everything (LTUE, the big writing-n-stuff meeting in Utah) talking about firearms in fiction. He’s also got Ask Larry on his blog, but you’ll need to do a little archive skimming. There are a number of other LTUE panels on EweTube.

    1. Maybe I shouldn’t have watched that at work. The giggling was hard to explain… Thanks!

  2. Me personally, whenever I pay an artist to do work, it’s work for hire and I maintain and keep all the rights. I will let them show it as an example of their work, but if they want to sell it, then I expect to be paid.

    Why? Because I just hired them to work for me exclusively. I did not pay them to create something that they are going to sell to other people. I am paying for their time. I’m not subsidizing their work for other people.

    Some folks may have a problem with this, but that is the way things work in most of the world. How would your boss feel if you were being paid by other people for things from your workplace that you were selling on the side?

    Now, this isn’t to say you can not work out a deal with an artist to let them keep creative rights if that’s what you want. I did once do that for someone on a piece of art that I paid double the going rate for, and which they made tons of money. But they were a friend and I was helping them out, trying to clue them in on what they -should- be doing, in order to make money at their job.

    But when I hire someone to work for -me- I first and foremost want them working for -me-. Not some unnamed market or other customers. I have seen an artist commissioned for MAJOR publishing house turn in a covers (and get paid) that really wasn’t that good, for the book it was going on, because they were going to (and did) resell it immediately to another publisher in another market. They got away with it because they were ‘famous’ but the author was pissed because the cover didn’t look like her book, it looked like the bigger name author’s book that it was resold for in Europe. (Mind you, the artist NEVER told anyone they were going to do this, but they had planned it, because they got to keep the rights, because they were ‘famous’).

    Remember, the cover is to advertise -your- book, and make -you- money.

    1. That may work well for you, but from the other side of the coin – would you accept a contract from a publishing house that was work for hire for your IP? If you did, would you be likely to charge a much, much higher advance, knowing it’s going to be the only money you see?

      If you’re worried about the IP you’re purchasing as the publishing house being used for the same purpose elsewhere, then make sure you’ve got worldwide rights in the contract. That’s usually why people get away with things – not because they’re famous, but because they only sold north american rights in one contract, and european rights in another.

      As Sam Flegal has said, “When you’re working with a professional illustrator, work for hire is doable, but asking for it is like walking into the opening negotiation with both middle fingers upraised.” It’s going to color the entire approach they take, and what they charge.

      1. You’ve got it backwards.
        When I hire an artists I am not asking them to work for hire for THEIR IP, I’m asking them to work for hire for MY IP. So no, I don’t want them making anymore money off of MY IP than I paid them upfront, because it’s mine, not theirs.
        I’m hiring them for their labor.
        It’s like when I go to work for a company, I don’t expect to be able to sell the work I did for them, to other people. In fact, they often make me sign an agreement up front, barring me from doing just that. And in fact, people do take some of the techniques that I develop with them when they go to other companies and use them there.
        And yes, they pay me a lot more up front.

        And what Sam Flegal said is BS. No, I’m not walking in with both fingers raised. But if they think they’re going to make money off of what I already PAID them in full to do, then they’re the ones giving me the big FU. I’m buying illustrations, not art.

        1. I’m afraid we’ll have to agree to disagree on this one – because the painting the artist is licensing to you IS their Intellectual Property. Unless they’re using specific elements, like when painting for Warhammer 40K and using their races / armor / mech in the paintings, or when doing a specific Disney character in a painting – and even then, they may license your IP, but the finished work is still their IP with licensed elements. The fact that there’s a single hardcopy (if it’s not digital) somewhere no more negates the fact that they’re licensing a creative work than if you had a hardcopy draft of a story written longhand.

          You’re not buying art. You’re not buying illustrations. You’re licensing intellectual property in the form of art, and using it to license intellectual property in the form of a story packaged in some art worked into a cover design to readers via Amazon, Kobo, Nook, etc. This is why art falls under copyright laws, just like your stories – because it’s all intellectual property.

          If you are hiring the artist for your labor, then they are an employee, subject to you paying their social security witholding, and all of the employment laws. I doubt you’re putting them on they payroll and giving them a W-2 at the end of the year. If you’re not giving them a W-2 and paying the employer share of social security while reporting them to the IRS as an employee, then they’re still an independent contractor licensing their intellectual property to you. It may be in the form of a work-for-hire contract, but that is not the same as “I’m paying them for labor.”

          And it is, to many artists, the same as walking in with both fingers raised. Because you’re asking the artist to pay all of the self-employment taxes, all of the downside of being an independant, and then treating them like an employee, and removing any possibility of future revenue. Flip it around: would you accept these terms if a publishing house offered them to you?

          1. Sorry, but that’s wrong. Under US law, all work, unless otherwise mentioned is work for hire.
            And again, they’re not providing me with IP, anymore than a plumber is. They’re providing me with a skill and a product, and I’m paying them for it. I am not licensing anything.

            And no, it’s a 1099 contractual affair. I don’t withhold taxes, and I’m not required to. I’ve been doing this for quite a few years now, I’m very cognizant of all the laws and legalities involved.

            1. The otherwise mentioned is the contract that was in the post. No artist would do work without a contract if they have an idea of what they are doing. Yes, you are licensing the art. Take an actual look at the TOS of any stock site, some time. You’re not buying the art, you’re buying the license to use it under specific conditions.

              1. I commission covers all the time.
                By your logic then, an artist should be willing to do the work, no money up front (just like the author) and then be willing to receive a cut of the royalties.

                1. Sure, if that’s the contract you want to write up. More realistically, they get paid to license their work to you, for you to use on book covers. Some licenses will limit how many covers you can sell before they get another cut (10K copies is a common line in the sand for this). They also get to sell prints, or digital copies suitable for computer wallpaper, or the original art they created if it was a traditional medium.

        2. Yeah – no. I am an artist. You and I will never work together. I retain a lot of rights when I sell art, because I’m selling a license for someone to use that art on, say, a book cover. I am not, and would not, also sell them the right to create prints of my art and sell that, with no royalties coming to me. I would not sell the art and never expect to be able to use it again in any way. Any artist who has half a clue isn’t going to completely give up all their rights and walk away. If I offered you $125 bucks for a novella, you write it, I get to put my name on it, you never, ever get it back and see no other monies on it for the life of the copyright, are you going to be happy with that deal? You might be. Most other authors will not be.

          Now, you’re basing your argument on a flawed premise. That artist sold a license for a cover in an area – the US, and sold a license for another area – nothing wrong with that. If the person with the book cover wanted to pay for a worldwide rights to use the art on book covers (note: not anything else, just covers) then that is what should have been negotiated for.

          Abusive contracts don’t just target authors. They are also targeted at artists, musicians, and voice artists.

    1. IANAL, but I do know that under our current laws there are various degrees of ownership. This is especially true when we enter the realm of intellectual property. If I buy a book I can do what I will with it, read it, burn it, sell it to a third party. What I cannot do is copy and reprint the contents for sale without an explicit contract with the originator giving me those additional rights. Less of an issue naturally before our current digital age when it is so very easy to duplicate content. Scanning a picture or duplicating an e-book file has made IP theft ridiculously easy.

  3. Dorothy, thank you for these very helpful links. Should prove to be quite useful to me and to several writers I’m currently helping with beta reads, copy edits, and subject matter research.
    Forgive the impertinence, but having seen you and Peter in action in the last two Libertycon indie panel discussions I couldn’t help but wonder if you might be available as a consultant. I have one good friend, published and quite excellent writer, who simply cannot seem to get enough eyeballs on her work to grow the base she needs to sustain her career.

    1. Not impertinent at all, good sir. I’m not in the business of being an on-call consultant, because when I do something that’s fun for money, it quickly loses the fun. (This is why I don’t fly for a living, either.) This doesn’t stop me from doing it for a hobby, for friends, for the sheer happiness of seeing people succeed.

      I shall contact you for further details šŸ™‚

  4. Writing for Dragons is great when it comes to writing, but Sanderson’s advice on the business of writing (agents in particular) made me want to pull my hair out in terror.

    1. Yeah. What he has and does works well for him, but 1.) he came into the business in 2005, and it was a very different world then. 2.) He’s a bestseller. What’s working for him is not necessarily good advice for indies or midlist, or new entrants to the field. 3.) He knows this, which is why he brings in an indie to talk to the class – he’s trying from where he’s at.

      That said, no source of advice is going to be perfect and unalloyed instant success for you. Don’t trust everything I say! Always do your own checking and testing!

  5. Well, at the risk of throwing fresh fuel on embers here’s where I stand on this: You can say, “I want my artwork, period…” but you darn well better be able to pay for it. In every case I’ve gotten my rights, and I’ve paid almost another 100% for it. That, to me, seems reasonable–and the artist knows that I fully intend to sell their art, in person, at Comic Cons.

    As an indie, I’d say it depends on what you’re wanting out of the art as well. However, if you’re not going to get full rights, make sure the agreement states the artist cannot reuse the art in whole or part for another customer. There are cover artists out there who, shall we say, have “fraternal” covers. That’s led to some friction when Author A finds out Author B has a cover that looks surprisingly like theirs.

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