Why Writers and Artists Need a Signed Contract

I was a graphic designer before I became an author, and book design and publishing is a service Good Oak Press offers other authors. However, from time to time I get rather, shall we say, unorthodox, requests from people who simply do not understand how the business works.

The other day someone e-mailed me, wanting to see some samples, so I sent him a some examples from my portfolio. Then he wanted me to create a “sample” for him, designed at his specifications, and oh, by the way, would he actually be expected to pay me for my time and effort if he decided to hire someone else?

I wonder if he goes to several different income tax preparers, has each of them file his return, but only pays the one who got him the biggest refund? Probably not. So why is he treating people who perform creative services any differently? I have my suspicions.

I politely explained that under no circumstances do I work on speculation, (it is highly unethical and unprofessional), and that services are only performed with a signed contract. You’d think that would be the end of it, but no. He contacted me a week later. He found other people, who were (stupid enough) to give him his free samples, but if he didn’t like any of them he’d get back with me.

I explained I run my business by the highest ethical standards of my profession, as defined by the Graphic Artists Guild. I then thanked him for his interest and declined his project. I had his number.

There are people out there who think they’re entitled to get something for nothing. They’ll approach an artist, or a writer, and ask about their services, but seeing your work samples isn’t enough. They want you to do the project, or a portion of their project, as a “sample.” They’ll say they just aren’t sure about you, and they want to make sure that you can really do “their” job. Of course, once you’ve done the work, gratis, there will be some reason why they don’t want to hire you. Next thing you know they’ve copied your work. This is why working on spec is unethical, and good luck on that one, since you didn’t have a signed contract.

This is why writers and artists need a signed contract. If you’re a writer, a book designer, or an artist, only give a prospective client a sample from your portfolio. Never, ever do something on spec, unless you want someone to steal your work.

My tip for the day.