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Negotiate That Contract

Originally published in the Guild’s Contract Monitor.

When the whole is greater than the sum of its parts —if the contracts you get are always written exactly the way you like them— boy, are you lucky!

However, more often than not, there’s a problem with at least some of the terms of the contract that’s being offered to you. But you don’t want to reject a job just because part of the contract isn’t perfect, do you? What to do?

Negotiating at its simplest means discussing the terms of the contract with your client, with the goal of fixing the problems. We offer three tips to help you to be a good negotiator.

TIP #1: Understand the Terms of the Contract

You already know this is important, or you wouldn’t be reading the Monitor. Contracts are often loaded with words and phrases whose meanings are, to put it mildly, not completely clear. You have to consider every clause, and ask yourself, If I agree to this clause, exactly what am I promising to do? For example, if you read in a contract that the work you will be doing is “work-made-for-hire”, you have to know what that phrase means in order to decide if you want to agree to it. The phrase “work-made-for-hire” has a specific meaning that is not immediately obvious just by reading the words. (See the Glossary of Contract Terms.)

TIP #2: Consider the Contract as a Whole

Another way of saying this is, think about the connections between one clause and another. For example, fees are often covered in one clause, while the project deadline is covered in a separate clause. But a tight deadline might be worth a higher fee.

TIP #3: Know What You Need

We can almost hear you saying to yourself, “I need what every other artist needs: lots of love and a faster internet connection.” But you also need at least one of the following: more money; more clients; more time. If you can prioritize your needs, you can negotiate more effectively.

Lots of books have been written on the subject of negotiating. One that we found helpful is Getting To Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In, by Roger Fisher, published by Houghton Mifflin, (c) 1991.


So what do you do if I get a contract full of confusing legalese and buzzwords that is ten pages long? Do you sign it, or not? Here is a handy checklist to go through — an easy way to examine carefully that contract your art director faxed you at the last minute.

We recommend, whenever possible, that you use your own contracts with clients — refer to your copy of the Graphic Artists Guild Handbook: Pricing and Ethical Guidelines for standard contracts for freelancers.

General tone, Appearance, and Readability

  • Is it a mean, punishing contract? Is it confusing? Or, is it simple and straightforward?

General Practices

  • Cancellation/Kill Fee

Standard: 25% upon assignment, 50% after sketch, 100% after completion of final art. How does your contract differ?


  • Warranty/Indemnification:
    > Is the contract binding for projects other than the current assignment?
    > Binding for all work done for company in the future?
    > Retroactive for work done for company previously?
  • What is the provision for return of artwork?
  • When is payment due?
    > Standard
    > Net 30 days.


  • Is the contract specifically stated to be “work for hire”?
  • Rights requested:
    > North American (Print)
    > World
    > Beyond the World
    > Electronic Media
    > All Media
    > Media not yet invented
    > Unlimited reuse by company
    > Re-licensing to others
    > Syndication
    > Derivative works
    > Display of artwork
    > Ownership of Artwork
    > Advertisements/Promotions
    > Other
  • Is there a re-licensing fee paid?
  • Is there a limited time period specified for these usages?
  • Is there a specified period of exclusivity?
  • Does the contract place reuse beyond the period of exclusivity?


  • Is it possible to discuss the contract terms with someone authorized to accept changes? If yes, who?
    > Art director
    > Accounting department
    > Publisher
    > Other
  • What was the process like?
  • Are they receptive to artist’s counter-offers?