The business of storytelling is evolving to take advantage of new technology and business models. It’s creating new opportunities to get stories in front of people by breaking down the old barriers to entry. Self-publishing and independent projects are growing at a record pace, thanks to digital distribution and micro niche marketing.
Creators are now in a better position to publish books on their own without traditional publishing houses to act as gate keepers. Some artists are releasing their own comics to build their reputation in the industry and break into the mainstream. Some writers are self-publishing their books to retain more profit and control. But with great power comes great responsibility (sorry, that was too tempting to leave out).
Artists and writers who used to be forced to sign a publisher’s work for hire agreement are now in a position where they need their own work for hire contracts to protect their rights. But what are the key elements that need to be in this kind of contract? How can you protect yourself in both the short term and the long haul? How can you be the type of creator other artists want to work with? When artists hire artists, they need to take care of their world, their defenses and their reputation.
When you create a story, you have the power to define what happens. When you have your own creative project, you have the power to define your relationship with your artists. The three key factors you need to deal with are:
- Defining the project: Spell out in as much detail as you can what the artist is working on, what kind of work they’ll be doing, when the work is due and how much they’re going to get paid.
- Owning the Services: Make it clear that your relationship with the artist is a work for hire. This means they aren’t going to have any ownership or control over the property itself or the underlying characters or stories they’re going to be working on.
- Own the use and distribution: Reserve the right to use any work the artist does for you in any and every way you can think of. You might only be planning to do a web comic now, but you don’t want to limit your options to do a deal with Netflix or whatever the next hot media turns out to be
Producing your own book opens you up to a certain amount of risk. You could pay for work and never get the finished product. Your artist could deliver artwork done by someone else. There are all sorts of pitfalls in publishing, but certain terms in the contract can help protect you from trouble.
- Payment: If you tie payment to delivery of work, you are more likely to get the services you commissioned.
- Representations and Warranties: If your artist makes promises to protect you and your work, they’re less likely to screw you over because they’ve been put on notice
- Indemnification: If they do break their promises to you, an indemnity (just a fancy word for repayment) gives you the ability to resolve your dispute in a court (which is one place artists don’t want to go).
These protections are not perfect. People breach contracts all the time. But when all the terms and conditions are spelled out, people are more inclined to see you as a professional and treat you in a professional way.
Clear and consistent contract terms will remove most of the confusion and doubt that comes with making a business deal. As more and more people do business with you and get exposure to your business practices, the better your reputation will be in the industry. The creative world of books and comics is a small one if you stay in the game for a while. A professional reputation as both an artist and a publisher can be just as critical to your long term success as your ability to write or draw.
Independent creators need to tailor each work for hire contract to fit each new creative project. Larger publishers work better with form agreements and economies of scale, but until your publishing evolves into that level, a custom agreement is probably your best bet.
P.S. I’m going to be attending New York Comic Con on Thursday, October 9th, 2014. If you’re going to have a booth in Artist’s Alley or you’d like to set up a free consultation, please leave a comment and let me know.
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