How to Ask for What You’re Worth

Illustration by Michelle Kondrich ©2016

Recently, I was contacted by a new client about doing some editorial work. Things seemed standard until they sent over their vendor contract, which I read (and which you should always read). This turned out to be a work-for-hire contract, which means they would own copyright for the work I was going to create for them.

Hold on. Work-for-hire? For an editorial illustration?  For most editorial work, there is little reason for the company to need the full copyright of the material. Most illustrators would be happy to agree to a universal license of the work without having to give up their rights to ownership of it.* So, what would you do?

Illustrators, particularly those who are early in their careers, often approach new projects and new Art Directors like fragile butterflies to be treated with the utmost care. Sudden movements could cause these little butterflies to flit off to another illustrator who is able to remain completely still.

This approach means that a lot of illustrators are reluctant to challenge any part of a new project agreement with a client, but this approach is rarely in their best interest.

Over the last year I have been making a conscious effort to ask for more money, when appropriate. This can be especially critical the first time you’re working with a client. What you agree to for the first project can often set the tone and budget for future work. For example, say a publication approaches you about doing a half-page editorial illustration for $150 and you agree to this clearly-below-the-going-rate fee because you are afraid that if you ask for more the client will get spooked and fly off to someone else. Now the client will expect you to work for that rate the next time they think about hiring you.

In my experience, most clients will respond politely to any questions about their budget without assuming that you won’t take the job and without changing their mind about hiring you (on the contrary, it will probably garner you some additional respect). You will likely get one of two responses: “I’m sorry, we have a tight budget and there is no room for negotiation” or “I’ve spoken with my editor (or whoever makes these decisions) and we can offer you $xxx.” Both completely reasonable answers that leave it up to you as to whether or not you want to accept the job.

If you have repeat clients and have worked for them over a span of a couple of years, that can also be an appropriate time to ask for a rate increase. Inflation, cost of living, or a history of delivering quality work are all good reasons to ask for an across-the-board rate increase with a regular client.

I’ve done it. It’s not always successful, but often it is and the twinge of anxiety you get when asking is certainly worth the money you would have missed out on otherwise.

The same goes for contract negotiations.

In my situation at the beginning of this column, I decided to ask about making changes to the agreement. Fortunately, they agreed to make the requested changes and the job moved forward as planned – the copyright firmly in my possession. Had they told me they couldn’t make changes to the agreement, it would have been my decision as to whether or not I was willing to work under those parameters.

So don’t be afraid to ask, because you might get exactly what you’re asking for and that’s good for the entire industry.

*I am not a copyright expert, by any means.




Tags: , , ,

Categories: business, New Illustration


Michelle Kondrich is a commercial artist and animator specializing in editorial illustration. She is also skilled at creating animated GIFs, storyboards, and whiteboard animation/video scribes. Her work gives a narrative feel to even the most conceptual ideas and she is passionate about solving problems in often surprising ways. Michelle is the creator and host of Creative Playdate, a podcast for people pursuing creative careers while raising children. You can find her portfolio and the podcast at

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2 Comments on “How to Ask for What You’re Worth”

  1. February 22, 2018 at 6:13 am #

    So true. I’ve worked for all the major record labels and their ‘standard’ contracts can be a nightmare, even more so in the past few years in fact. I usually read through contracts and note all areas I find unreasonable (and sometimes utterly outrageous), then I send my comments and requests back to the client. You’d be amazed how willing they can be to change these things. Not always by any means, BUT if you don’t ask you won’t get.

  2. Gustavo
    March 8, 2018 at 6:37 am #

    Real nice article. I am new to this field and I have a question: what is the best way to ask for a higher price without sounding arrogant/not willing to negotiate? Thanks


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