Royalties for Artists

Written by Martin Shapiro on Monday, 02 September 2013. Posted in Publishing

Royalties for Artists

When hiring an artist to draw your book, the subject of royalties may came up during contract negotiations. As a publisher or a writer who's doing a creator-owned book, it's up to you whether you're willing to give back-end royalty compensation in addition to a work-for-hire page rate.

At the risk of upsetting some artists who frequent this website, my suggestion to most writers of independent, small press comic books is to not offer royalties if you're already paying a respectable upfront page rate.

If an artist or an artist's agent asks for royalties, I would say no unless that artist is a well-established "name" artist who is in high demand and has a large comic fan following based on their previous work for big publishers like Image, Dark Horse, Marvel, and DC.

It's an extra bookkeeping hassle for you and the publisher to accurately track and calculate these future payments, so avoid them if you can.

Most artists, even if they have royalties in their contract, probably won't ever see any additional money above what they get paid upfront for services rendered. The main reason is on most independent books there simply will be no significant profits after all the production, overhead, printing and marketing costs are recovered by the publisher (which could be you in a "self-published" scenario.

The reality in today's tough book market is that most comic books and graphic novels barely break-even and many lose money.

If you do decide to offer royalties, make sure that royalties is clearly defined in the written artist agreement as royalties on book sales ONLY, not any portion of future movie or licensing rights. An artist generally only gets a percentage of movie rights if they are working for free through a collaboration agreement. Remember, a typical "work-for-hire" freelance worker contract means no ownership in the intellectual property.

Some people who are new to book publishing don't know what to include or how to properly word the language when it comes to a royalty clause in a contract, so here is a commonly used paragraph you can insert into your artist agreement contract:

Royalties: The Company shall pay the Illustrator a royalty of five percent (5%) of the adjusted gross receipts received by the Company from the worldwide exploitation of the Work. Adjusted gross receipts is defined as the gross revenue actually received by the Company from the sales of copies of the Work, less any returns, marketing costs, distribution costs, printing costs and production costs associated with the Work. No royalties shall be payable on free copies furnished to the Illustrator or on free copies given away for review, sample, promotion or other similar purposes, or on copies destroyed. The Company will make royalty payments and provide accounting statements to the Illustrator or his duly authorized representative on an annual basis ninety (90) days after each calendar year. The Illustrator shall be entitled to have an accountant audit the Company’s books not more often than once per year.

Disclaimer: These are merely guidelines for you to consider when hiring an illustrator. I'm not a lawyer, so if you can afford it, I recommend that you have an entertainment attorney who's knowledgable in intellectual property law, to review any business contracts you sign with another party.

About the Author

Martin Shapiro

Martin Shapiro

Martin Shapiro created the horror comic book series Chopper, and sold the movie rights to it. The prequel to Chopper was produced as a web TV series starring Tyler Mane (Halloween, X-Men). Mr. Shapiro’s action-thriller screenplay Lair of the Fox was optioned by Ilya Salkind (Producer of Superman). Mr. Shapiro has written and developed projects for MGM, HBO and numerous production companies including an adaptation of Dragonlance, the New York Times bestselling series of fantasy novels with sales of 22 million copies. He received a Master’s Degree in Screenwriting from UCLA and now teaches classes at New Hampshire School of Film and Television.

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