A Picture’s Worth 1000 Words

Today a fellow writer on the NaNoWriMo Facebook page made the following comment:

Paying for artwork… now this has been a hot topic with me before (not sure if it was on here), but I don’t believe any drawing, no matter how good (unless you are friggin Royo) should cost 300 dollars/euro’s/pounds or more. I understand that you want to cash in on your abilities and get paid for the hours you spend drawing, but as a writer, if I calculate an hourly rate of the work I put in it a book would actually be impossible to are willing to trade me a small mansion in the south of France for it. I write because it is my passion, you draw because it is yours. I am not getting vast amounts of cash because your artwork is on my cover (again, unless you are friggin Royo), it’s just something nice to wrap the words in, so be reasonable. A 50 for a drawing is plenty. End rant. Peace.

As you can guess this created quite the debate. For the most part people were advocating that artists get paid a decent amount for their work. The definition of decent varied between 50$ and $300 depending on the size and style of the art, the medium (original painting vs print vs cover art vs digital etc), the talent of the artist, and the preceding fame of the artist. There was also intense argument over how much writers should make, and why the discrepancy between art and writing.

That’s all the recap you’re going to get. The rest of this is my opinion on a hot topic. 

Let’s start with artwork, shall we? Artists are talented individuals, some more than others, and each in their own area. I know many artists, some who work with traditional drawing mediums such as pencil, charcoal, and coloured pencils, some who do graphic design, some digital artists, a few photographers, and a couple of painters. These are people trying to make a living in the artistic world (except the two painters, they aren’t “professional” artists per say but that’s off topic), most of them work as graphic designers for local businesses, taking care of web page maintenance and updates and helping with ad campaigns. They work a 9-5 job for a wage doing graphic design related work. I can’t tell you how much they make because I don’t know, but since they’re all less than 10 years out of college I’d say they’re not making the BIG BUCKS yet.

So, when you buy a book cover, or hire a photographer, or buy a print of a picture in any medium, what are you paying for? Just an image? Just a few hours of someone’s time? Or are you also paying off the four year art degree? And the equipment and supply costs? Look at any other commodity. When you buy fruit at the grocery store the cost includes the produce, the cost of shipping it to the store, the wages of the person who put it out on the shelf, the wages of the person who supervises the shelf stocking staff, and a portion of the costs of maintaining the store (electricity, janitor, water, etc). When you pay for a university course you are paying for the professor’s time and knowledge, access to the classroom for one hour, the wages of the person who has to keep that room clean, the electricity for the lights in that room for one hour, the heating of that room for one hour, and the upkeep on the desks/tables/chairs. When you think about it, there are a lot of hidden costs to everything we buy. And artwork is no different. 

My sister is a photographer. For a one hour photo session she spends 30 minutes checking her equipment and loading it for the session, 15-45 minutes driving to the session location, 15 minutes setting up, 15-30 minutes in conference with the client deciding on poses, locations, group configurations, etc., 60-120 minutes actually taking the photos, 15 minutes packing up, 15-45 minutes driving home, 60-120 minutes reviewing and editing the photos to correct lens glare, red eye, over saturation, under saturation, and blurs, 15-45 minutes loading the photos onto a transportable medium, 15-45 minutes driving back to the client, 30-60 minutes reviewing the photos with the client and collecting the money, and 15-45 minutes to get home. Plus wear and tear on the equipment. Plus fuel costs. Plus someone has to watch her daughter while she’s working. Plus she has a student loan to pay off. So for a 1 hour in home photo session she puts in 5-10 hours of time plus additional costs. And most people want to pay her $20 for one hour of taking pictures. 

Do you think she’s getting paid fairly?

Other artists are putting time and supplies into their artwork. Plus the costs of making prints, and paying for a booth somewhere or internet hosting costs. They have to put those costs into the price of the artwork or they’ll lose money.

How many times have you seen someone ask a friend to do their photos for free, to design something for free, because they’ll get “exposure” for it? When my sister was still in university she would do my family photos for free because she was building her portfolio and because there was no travel time or client conference time since we lived together and we could talk over dinner. But now she’s trying to make a living at it so I get her to do my family photos only if we’re going to see each other anyways (she’s coming over for dinner this weekend and bringing her camera) and I pay her for the time, and I get my own prints at my own expense, and I still let her use the photos for advertising herself. They’ll pay $15 for a 6000 word erotic story – no credit to the writer. 

I work an average of 4 hours per day when I’m on a deadline (two hours while my daughter naps and the other two either before the kids are up or after they’re in bed), 6 days a week. It takes me just over a week to write a 6000 word erotic story. It takes me 5 weeks to write and edit a 40,000 word novella. So at 24 hours per day or 144 hours per week, that would work out to 1440$ per 5000-6000 word short story and $7200 per 40k novella – and that price includes all the editing and formatting. But I’m not getting paid that. I’m getting paid 15-75$ for a story and $400 for the novella – with no royalties. 

Besides time, what are you paying for? I have a BA in English Literature so I understand the mechanics of a story, character building, imagery, subtlety, etc. I took courses in grammar and punctuation and I do take on work as a freelance editor. I have a laptop that occasionally needs work. I have to pay for a word processing program. I have to pay for an internet connection so I can communicate with my clients/publishers and deliver my work on time. I have to spend time managing my various networking and job search accounts so I can promote myself and find more work. And I have a naturally creative imaginative mind which I am putting to work for you – in other words, natural talent and ability. Other writers are also paying for editors and cover artists.

If I self published a novella I wouldn’t charge $7200 for it. The difference between art and writing is that art is a one time sale (for the most part, or a limited sale in the case of prints) They rarely get royalties, even for book covers, and they don’t mass produce. But I have 127 friends on Facebook. Considering that some are related to each other and live in the same household even if every one of them bought a copy of my book out of support that would be 110 copies, tops. Add the 10 copies that other NaNo writers might buy in support, and maybe another 10 that my blog followers might buy in support that’s only 130 copies. Add another 15 for friends and family who aren’t on Facebook and that’s 145 copies. And this is thinking BIG. Realistic would be 75 copies. That’s right. Out of 200+ friends, family, and acquaintances I could count on less than half of them to actually buy a copy of the book to show support and of that 75, only 5 will go back and post a review. Anyways, that book is worth $7200, and I would get about 35 CENTS per copy in royalties through Amazon if I self published it. And we said a guaranteed 75 copies sold? $26.25. To get paid a decent wage for that book I’d have to sell 20571 at $1.99. And I have to do all my own marketing. If I pay for any ads or bookmarks or posters that means 100 or 1000 more copies before I see a profit. 

If you have any friends in the Indie publishing biz ask them how many copies of their books they’ve sold. I’m better 90% have sold less than 2000 copies. 

That $7200 was just for the story. It didn’t include the editor (which runs $50-$300 dollars) or the cover art (which runs $50-$300 dollars – and was the start of this whole debate) because as a freelance writer I’m not expected to provide those things. As an self-published author, I am. So now we’re looking at $7800 for all out of pocket expenses, including time, which is 22,285 copies. Or 22,200 copies more than I know I can sell. 

What about traditional publishing? At least then I’ll get a four figure advance and some chance at royalties. But even at a $2000 advance and $2/book there’s this clause that says the advance is against future royalties, I need to sell more than 1000 copies before I see any extra money. Still, at $2 per printed book, that’s 3600 copies to make back that $7200 figure we’ve been using as an example. But of course you have to pay taxes on that like everyone else, and EI, and CPP (I’m Canadian), and you pay your agent out of that so you’re only getting $1.50 per book before deductions (now we’re looking at 4800 copies). But you don’t pay for the cover and you get the book into physical stores. Still, that’s 4725 more copies than I know I can sell. Which is why it’s so hard to break into traditional publishing.

And it all comes down to the fact that people don’t want to spend 2$ on an ebook by an author they’ve never heard of because if the book sucks they’re out 2$. People don’t want to chance it on a $20 book because if they don’t like it they’re stuck with the book cluttering up the house and they’re out the money. At least with artwork you can preview the piece in its entirety before buying. Same thing with music. It doesn’t help that writers and artists aren’t supporting each other – advertising for each other, providing word-of-mouth recommendations for writers they like, liking pages and blogs, sharing links and release news, BUYING from each other. It doesn’t help that so many non-creatively engaged people are surrounded by so many “starving artists” and “starving writers” that they can’t support all of them. It doesn’t help that we’re under-pricing ourselves in the market place. It doesn’t help that our culture no longer values books and art. 

I suggest we work to change things. Charge what you’re worth. Advertise for each other. Let’s put some value into art and literature again.



5 thoughts on “A Picture’s Worth 1000 Words

  1. As the starter of this topic (oh yes), I was honored to have a blog page explain more about the costs and values, and how artists do not get what they have coming to them. I totally agree with this. Not everything can be brought back to hours spent in creating the item, or else a book would have the value of a small mansion in the south of France. My opinion was (and still is) that when an artist of any kind overprices their product, they are likely not to sell, or at least not to me, which was the baseline for my post. If they do manage to sell them for that price well then cudos to them, I will respect and applaud their marketing scheme and/or the quality of their art.
    Casia, thank you for doing the math, I will put you on follow and will keep up with your blogs when you post them as I enjoyed your insights and neutrality in such a sticky topic.
    Kind regards, Martin


    • Thank-you Martin, I’m surprised I achieved neutrality. This is something I feel very strongly about for many reasons. With my sister and I both being involved in the creative sphere we’re very aware of how hard it is to be respected, supported, and properly compensated for the work we do.


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