The following was inspired by William Palacio and Elizabeth Struck who asked what my thoughts are on partnering with authors on indie books/ebooks and accepting illustration assignments.
1. Don't Be A Robot
For some strange reason humans often think they must set their humanity aside when they deal with someone in a business situation. Phone conversations are awkward and one or both parties is so uncomfortable -they can't wait to get off the phone. I must admit this happened to me early on but over time I've learned that my relationships with clients are not only essential for success - they've become an enjoyable social part of my life! I've even gone snowboarding with a client who flew out here from Chicago.
So when you first make contact don't go for the jugular buy blurting out business stuff right away. That tells the other party you don't care about them - the ONLY reason you're on the phone is to get the transaction over with. Treat them like you would if you were meeting someone for the first time at a party. Get to know them with small talk a little before you start discussing project details.
2. Talk About Your Fear
(This is mostly for working with indie authors) Any time you enter into any kind of partnership you have fears - and if you don't you're crazy. You were afraid of group members in school when you had to do a group project, afraid of your college roommates, afraid of band members and the members of your sports team, afraid of your fiancee, etc. We've all been let down, lied to, cheated, hurt, burned, and screwed by people we've partnered with in our lives. So when you get on that phone with a potential client or partner you're carrying all that baggage into the conversation - AND SO ARE THEY.
You're both afraid of each other - so why not talk about it. Get it out there - you're both thinking it. Your potential client/partner is thinking you'll quit half way through the project - that you won't come through with sketches on time - that they won't be what you agreed upon - that you just want to walk away with the money. You're afraid that the client/partner will ask you to do endless revisions, will decide to cancel the project mid way, won't forward royalties, and won't pay the agreed upon price.
I operate under the assumption that most people are basically good and want to do the right thing. Going into the relationship this way I talk to the person on the other end of the phone like this: "I know you're probably worried that I won't do what I say I will do - that's a very valid concern since we're just meeting each other over the phone. I pride myself in how I conduct business with other people and treat them as I would want to be treated. I do what I say I'm going to do. I'll keep my end of the bargain. I expect to be treated the same way so when we set the schedule it's very important for both of us to meet our deadlines because this will help us gain trust for each other. I know you're afraid I won't come through with the art but you need to know that I'm afraid that you won't come through with the money." If you get the conversation started this way both parties should be converted to the mindset of proving to the other party that they can be trusted by fulfilling their agreements.
3. Have A Contract
I often do not work with a contract when I form partnerships - always with clients. Perhaps I've been lucky but in over 2500 illustration assignments and projects I've never been screwed. Closest I came was long ago a magazine was going under and they split up my payment - but I still got paid. Check out the video above where I"ll tell you a hum dinger of a story and why a contract won't always protect you. If I were partnering with a total stranger I would get a contract however.
4. Trading Art For Money
It's the classic transaction - "First give me the money and I'll hand over the ______." "No, give me the _______ and you'll get your money." Is there a clean way to do it? NO! Life is risky. You can't win without risk - but you can minimize it. So...split up the payments into thirds or even more. Many of my book contracts with publishers are set up this way. I get a payment up front - that's the publisher's way of saying, "I know you need money to live on while you work on my project and you can trust me." I also get a payment after I complete the sketches and the final payment after I turn in finished art. This way if the client welches on the money you don't get burned on the entire project.
5. Profit Sharing
The arrangement I have with the programmers I'm working with on apps and people I've partnered with in the past is a pure revenue sharing model. We never exchanged money up front for services rendered but have agreed to split profits with certain percentage deals. This has been somewhat easier since I live close to my partners. Also I've partnered with friends or been introduced by friends so there is already a higher level of trust. None the less you always want to make sure everyone feels safe so what I've agreed to do for each one is provide monthly profit statements from the retailers we are doing business with. Since these retailers like Amazon provide digital spreadsheets it's pretty easy to forward them along. I've also promised to meet up with them and log in to our account whenever they want to so they can get a first hand look at things.
6. Get A Good Start
If I were going to illustrate a manuscript for an indie author I would not begin work until:
I had received a good faith payment - they contacted you - so they should put up or shut up.
The manuscript is totally finished and the author agrees not to make any text changes.
You really like the manuscript or the compensation you've agreed upon.
They agree that they are in charge of the words and I'm in charge of the art. non-negotiable.
You have a signed contract that explains exactly what both of you own.