Every so often, someone will come out of the blue and contact me about doing a piece. These emails are remarkably similar in their content. The person contacting me will talk about an exciting image they have in mind, trying to hook me on how cool everything could be. They'll give me specifics about the publication (if there is one) — you know, dimensions, how much room to leave for typography, etc. Sometimes, they'll give me their credentials to sweeten the deal. And almost without fail, there is one piece of information that is missing: the budget.
So, I reply. And in that reply, the budget is one of the very first things I ask about — it's an important part of the business, after all. Not uncommonly, what I get back is some variation of the following:
Well, what would you charge for that kind of thing?
Now, I understand that the original omission was intentional. Maybe it's because you're hoping I'll come up with a lower figure than you had in mind. Maybe it's because you're embarrassed by how little you have to offer. Or maybe it's just a basic gimmick to get me to email you back in the first place. I'm not sure what your motivation is, but no matter what you do, the budget is something we're going to be talking about in pretty short order, and I recommend you be prepared.
Personally, I don't know an artist that isn't at least a little irritated when the question of budget is put back to them. In fact, instances like these often set off a flurry of emails and phone calls behind the scenes where we consult one another on the details of the job and potential fees. We're creatives — what do we know from money? Many of us like simple transactions:
Here is a job. I have X dollars. If I give you X dollars, will you do this job?
Look, I'm not going to pretend to understand people's motives (or lack thereof) for how you're dealing with the question of budget. Frankly, your motive is none of my business. But I can tell you this: we don't know what you, as the client, can afford. If the job is compelling enough there's a real chance that some of us will work with you on budget, as long as it's within reason. What we don't want to do is play 20 questions, and I'm guessing that you really don't want to either.
I think it's important to come to the table with a number prepared. Having that figure ready allows for a faster transaction, and the faster the transaction the better for all. It either allows for the maximum time for the artist (should they agree) to get the job done, or it allows for the maximum amount of time for you to find a different artist who can give you what you need.
However (and this is the important thing), this does not excuse the illustrator from knowing their fees.
Tomorrow - Illustrators: Know Your Fees