TABOO TOPIC 1 - The Taboo Topics about creating for Self Publish clients. - Pt 1

Or... How to scare away most potential clients in just a few minutes.

Or...The main differences between working for established Publishers and Self Publishing indie clients
and why that is important.


As I mentioned before on this site, the arrival of Self Publishing and Print on Demand created a new market for freelance illustrators. Not so long ago, professional illustrators only worked for professional companies; and by that I mean, publishing houses, graphic arts companies, software companies, marketing companies, or any established professional business that needed the type of services or specific artwork which only specific (professional) illustrators could (and can) deliver.

The following texts within the "Taboo Topic" are not aimed at any professional established traditional, trade publishing company, graphic design, or software studio out there.
Professional employers already know how to deal with professional illustrators and everyone is well aware of how to interact with each other, either on the business or on the creative side of things.
So, this "Taboo topic"  now is not for the pros of any creative area that deal with illustrators.


This topic is for the amateur newcomers, particularly newcomers to the Self Publish field. Those that post adds on the internet looking for an illustrator for their project; usually a children´s book. Those who manily fill countless Facebook groups asking for an illustrator; particularly asking for a - cheap - illustrator...

The self publish is an area that, creatively has very little to do with the traditional way illustrators always worked (and still work) with publishers or vice-versa; although this is not really acknowledged, perceived, or realized by the common folks out there which happen to have a book to Self Publish and either have very erroneous ideas of how the creative process needs to flow or have zero clues on everything; (some people don´t even care to learn nothing). They just want the work done because - they´re paying for it - and that´s it.

So right now, with the following Taboo Topic, I guess my goal is to scare away most of all my potential clients and I can bet some may even feel insulted by what I need to explain next.
But it needs to be done.
Particularly because it´s very common to see this discussion on Facebook groups and it´s incredible of how cyclical all the arguments get to be at the end of an endless topic thread.
Mostly reaching conclusions that on a professional context would never happen but these tend to actually feel really logical to most inexperienced self-published authors on the web; therefore in their mind, it must be true.

I write this against advice from a couple of my art directors friends (particularly one which shall remain unnamed) who think there´s no way this type of info should be put out there on the argument that self-publish clients for illustration (in my case ) mostly will have a hard time to understand the logic behind most things that need to be explained.
Why ?...



Taboo Topic - The remotely controlled artist - Part I.

From my experience (and from endless private conversations with other illustrators), it seems the self publish client is (now) divided into two categories.
1. We have the typical common person that had a good idea for a book, wrote a really good story, and just wants to develop the whole thing into a professional-looking self-publish edition; maybe to sell it out there in a limited edition, maybe to create a few copies for friends and family.
2. And then we have the entrepreneur author, which may already know how the self-publishing market works, what can be done to sell a book and mostly functions almost as an indie-company; a self-publish-stay-at-home-independent-publisher within its own right. Some do so well that actually end up creating "real" indie-publishing companies later on, just with the profits of what begins to be a simple self publish hobby.

Within these two types of clients then we have two more ramifications:

  • TYPE 1 - The ones which although having a vision of how the book can be worked out to look like the image they had in their imagination while writing it, understand that the illustrator is a professional that is there to help them in creating the most professional looking product at the end.

  • TYPE 2 - The ones who think that when they are hiring a professional illustrator they are just hiring someone to draw for them, sometimes a book already based on some initial amateur sketches and where no margin for input from the artist is allowed. In short, they just need someone to use as a remote-controlled pencil; usually to achieve their exact vision. Those tend to be the ones that then later scream for professionalism from artists they sometimes pay less than $15 per pic.

The difference between the self publish market and the traditional market is that a TYPE 2 "client" does not exist within the traditional work an illustrator does for a publishing company for example. Only exists within the amateur self-publish field.
In fact...the second type of "client" is the reason, publishers usually buy the rights to the stories and then keep the original writers well away from determining how their story will be rendered visually.
And why?
Well, some relationships between this second type of self-publish client and an artist explain it very well, why´s that.
Their vision many times is not either professional, commercial, or has any way of working visually within a quality objective.
And this leads me to the next taboo topic.

Taboo Topic TWO - "It´s my vision" versus "it´s my reputation".

Let me give you an example that is the most common of them all. Many times, the TYPE 2 client comes already with a ton of "drawings attached" after hiring a freelance illustrator. What´s wrong with that? - You ask.
Well, nothing. Except for one specific detail...a detail that is incredibly common with
TYPE 2 clients as such.
A specific
detail that will even determine the overall artistic quality of the final work before the hired freelance illustrator even puts the first brushstroke to the canvas.

It´s almost inevitable in this setting. The client presents the illustrator with some character sketches of their own and asks (demands), that the end result needs to be exactly like that when the character´s look is concerned.

Usually accompanied by the phrase: - "You just need to make my original amateur drawing (character) look professional".
Once again... what´s wrong with that? Isn´t the client paying for the project? Was it not because of that that the author hired an illustrator in the first place?
What does the illustrator care if he needs to paint a character the author already sketched or had to create one from scratch ?...

The problem is a really big one and one that is actually a topic of endless discussions between professional illustrators and art directors off the record, far from the public Facebook illustration forums.
The big problem is this...
What if that original character sketch needs to be followed to the millimeter when the artist is trying to "make it look more professional" ?...
What if the reason why the character actually looks like that and has that particular visual identity imagined by the
TYPE 2 client it´s because it´s really badly drawn and filled with amateur mistakes that cannot be fixed?

The moment the artist picks up on that original character sketch and corrects all the mistakes present on the original amateur author drawing the character cannot look like the same anymore. Why?
Because that character,(that - "vision"), only looked like it did originally because of the way all the badly executed line drawings were rendered in the original sketch.
The moment the illustrator follows the
TYPE 2 client wishes of - "making the character look more professional" - and in the process, needs to correct all that was amateur in the original -"character design" - it becomes almost impossible for that character to look like the same exact one from the drawing the client presented to be leveled up into a professional publishing look.

The character will be technically perfect, it will still be the same, with the same characteristics, the same vibe, the same color, but visually there are very good chances that it may need to look different. Simply because the wrong stuff in the original design was corrected.
For example is very common for an artist to receive an original drawing where the author tried to render the character from the side and front at the same time. And that is the reason the character has that look. A look that will be lost once the professional illustrator corrects all the perspective, volume, or anatomy mistakes.
And then the war starts.

TYPE 2 client will inevitably insist that the character needs to be revised once again because: - "It does not look like my character (my vision) at all anymore and I want it back !" - and then two things happen:

  • The freelance illustrator gives it another go just because ;(maybe the client is actually a really cool person, the story is a good one, etc);  but in doing so will waste weeks just sending revisions back and forth trying to - "put the character back as it was" - while forcing himself to "professionally" disguise each original bad line drawing the client insists on being there (knowing exactly that is an impossible task).


  • The artist simply gives up on trying to make the TYPE 2 client realize that he can´t have it both ways and the artist quits the project because the artist will not be able to make the client understand that, we cannot have an amateur character design sketch - fixed from all mistakes (to look professional)- and still have the same original line work in there somewhere; because, without it, it won´t look like the original character author´s - "vision".
    A TYPE 2 client will never admit or even recognize that the problem was on the original "vision" being rendered visually wrong from the beginning. Either on paper or inside the author´s imagination.
    So wrong that it was not possible to make it look - "more professional" - and still retain the original visual identity.
    And then, the client goes away sure that the problem was just that the illustrator was not "professional" or "skilled" enough and that is one of the most annoying things of encountering
    TYPE 2 clients within the self-publishing market.

And then you ask: - "But why does not the illustrator in these cases, simply draws the character as the client wants using the original sketch; if that is so important to the commission to continue?"
For a simple reason.

It does not matter if the project is being done for a private self publish client or not. In the end, it´s work being done by that artist. That professional freelance illustrator will have his work out there. Not to mention that we as illustrators need to keep updating our portfolios with new pieces.
No professional illustrator can afford to have work spread around filled with mistakes because an amateur client has "a vision".

True, most people won´t even notice stuff, BUT... there are a lot of professional artist scouts out there on the web that do.


Facebook groups about self publish and illustration have plenty of members that never participated and are just there to watch and find new artists. Trust me, I know.
I´ve worked on a project for a Hollywood concept art company because the owner of that company happened to be an "invisible" member of one of the concept art Facebook groups I´m part of.
The same goes for children´s book groups. One of the reasons I also work now for one of the major Portuguese publishers is actually because their art director saw my work posted on an American children´s book group. :)

Therefore, the worst thing a freelance illustrator can do is cave-in to all independent clients "visions" believing it´s more important to
grab onto a TYPE 2 client commission that ultimately will make him put really bad work out there than making sure his illustrator portfolio is consistently good.

It´s at this point where most new wanna be self-publishing authors, particularly in Facebook groups aimed at the creation of Children´s book all get together on the same conversation thread and bombard the post with the typical argument:

 "It´s my money, I´m paying for it, I have the right of demanding the illustrator executes exactly what I have inside my vision! It´s my book, not his! "

Yes, you do. Not it's not.
You do, but not in the way you think things are done, just because they seem "logical" to you.

And here lies one of the biggest differences between working professionally for a traditional publisher and trying to work on the same professional level to a TYPE 2 self-publishing client. The type of situation a professional artist faces as I´ve described above does not exist when we work with an art director from an established company.
And dealing with this is something that no artist can learn in any art school and only comes with experience.

I´ve lost count of the times we illustrators and art directors have talked about this away from the public eye and this is actually one of the main arguments which people in the professional field will have against the Self Publish market.

Every time you see a bad Self Published book, illustrated by a good illustrator out there, you can bet that behind will be a typical
TYPE 2 indie-client that the illustrator simply could not deal with anymore and stopped trying to prevent the - paying - author from creating a technically bad book just by insisting on following a personal vision which was technically wrong from the beginning.


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