The One Thing You Need to Do to Convince the Perfect Yaoi Artist to Work on Your Project

OK, so you’ve found the perfect artist to work on your book. On creator forums, the second most common request I see coming from writers is “How do I convince an artist to work with me on my graphic novel?”

Yes, you should tell them that you think your project is great fun and sure to earn you both millions (if you truly believe that…) Absolutely, you should show them a full script that’s tight as a drum — engaging, thrilling and dead sexy with cool artistic challenges that will take your artist’s gallery up to the next level. Certainly, you should pour on the charm and keep your communications upbeat, pleasant and professional — always and forever.

But all of that is not going to get you very far if you forget to do this one thing:

Show them the money

First off, the biggest hurdle I see most writers facing when it comes to finding an artist is the expectation that they will (and should!) work for free. Now, I’m all for collaborating with a creative partner for the love of Yaoi (and the possibility of future publication), but if that artist isn’t a personal friend of long acquaintance, asking her to create more than a couple of pages of art on spec just isn’t realistic. It typically takes a professional, experienced artist 10 hours to pencil and ink a single comic book page (longer if they are not very experienced). That means that if she is creating 4 finished pages a week, she is putting in a 40-hour work week on the project. Bear that in mind when you ask her to work for free (or for the potential of a “big publisher paying once they buy the book” which is enough of a long shot to essentially translate to “for free”) on your “short” 80 page Yaoi graphic novel. If you aren’t paying upfront and you aren’t close personal friends, consider yourself lucky if you get your emails returned.

Now, I can hear your objection: “Hey, as the writer, I’m not getting paid and I’m working hard, too!” Baby, I’m with you. Writing is hard work. “A Shot in the Dark” — a 16 page script — took me over 40 hours to write. And nothing gets my blood boiling faster than the perennial forum topic/flame war on comic book sites promoting the claim that writers make a lesser contribution to comics than artists. But no matter how you slice it, creating great drawn art does seem to take more time, artists need to eat and chances are, if you are the writer, it’s your baby that you are looking to someone else to help you with — why else would you be looking for an artist in the first place? There are a lot of flakes in this business — the fastest way to show you aren’t one of them — and the fastest way to interest those artists who are pros — is by offering money upfront.

Now, what form should that money take? For me, the most straightforward way to compute how much money to pay to create art for a script is to offer a “page rate” — that is, a lump sum of money for every finished comic book page the artist is supposed to deliver to you. The amount of this page rate is something you can negotiate together based on her experience and your budget, but try to again bear in mind the 10 hours/page I was referring to above for pencils and inks and realize that even though this is supposed to be fun — and will be 🙂 — this artist needs to eat and make rent just like you do.

What about payment on the “back end” — meaning a percentage of the profits after a publisher has bought your work? If you want to work that in as part of your negotiation, that’s fine, but as far as I’m concerned — and perhaps this is as much from my experience in independent film as with comics — receiving actual payment on the back end of a creative project is about as likely as getting trampled by a unicorn. It’s not something that I consider as a real factor or incentive when someone tries to hire me and when I’m hiring someone else to work on a project of mine, I’d rather come up with a fair rate for all their work upfront than make promises about future profits that in all likelihood will never materialize.

But don’t get burned

One of the biggest laments I hear on creator forums is “I found an artist, she seemed great and then she totally flaked on me!” This lament is often (sadly) followed by “And I paid her everything upfront!” — at least by first-timers.

Developing a business relationship — and yes, an artistic collaboration where money exchanges hands is a business relationship — should be a process of building trust. This is doubly true with someone you found over the internet and who perhaps lives far enough away from you that you may, in fact, never meet in person.

When you’ve found an artist whose work you really like, it’s time to begin an email correspondence. Let her know you are serious, that you will pay some money upfront and that you expect work delivered on time and on budget. Show her your script (perhaps after having her sign a Non-Disclosure Agreement, something I’ll post about later) and try to get a feel if it’s something she will enjoy working on. Don’t drag things out unreasonably, but take your time here to get to know each other — does she respond to your emails quickly? Does she seem enthusiastic about the project? Does she seem professional? Does she have a large enough body of work — and is she updating her online gallery frequently enough — so it seems reasonable that she could complete a project your size within your deadline? Has she worked with other creators before and can you get referrals? Spending a month or two corresponding through email and chatting on IM during this period is not at all out of line if you are a serious employer. You are about to send money to a complete stranger and this is the time to really check in with your gut — if you at all feel like this person might flake, move on. Don’t let your enthusiasm (or desperation) cloud your judgement — the last thing you want is for an artist to flake on you with only half the pages done.

If she seems enthusiastic and professional and your gut says she’s the one, then it’s time to set up the terms for payment and delivery. I suggest a 20-20-60 split. 20% upfront upon your physical receipt of the signed contract, 20% upon approval of the Preliminary Sketches (character designs and all page thumbnails) and 60% upon approval of the Final Pages.

This is a nice split for two reasons — it provides immediate compensation for her work and it gives strong incentives to finish that work. The 20% upfront shows you’re for real and gives the artist some money right away to compensate her for her time — while not being such a large percentage that you’ll be ruined if she just takes the money and runs (which hopefully won’t happen if you’ve taken the time to establish a rapport through email and IM.) The second 20% compensates her for the fair chunk of work the Preliminary Sketches involve and gives a nice moral boost in the middle of the project. And having a nice large lump sum at the end is strong incentive to slog through the hard work of actually finishing the pages. When I’ve approached artists with this breakdown, the response has been very, very positive — often the “big” publishers don’t pay a cent until well after completion — so it can also be a good way to start your business relationship and artistic collaboration off on the right foot.

So the secret to interesting experienced artists in working on your project? Treat them like pros right from the start — show that you yourself are a professional and offer to compensate them for their time.

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