A Guide to Art Licensing & Publishing

Jan Weiss, an art publishing industry insider and veteran of 15 years, has written an ebook to help artists understand the world of publishing.

The Coexistence of Art and Money

Working with a publisher can be fabulous and frustrating and economically smart. You will need a serious reality check working with a publisher because nothing happens overnight. Instant success is a nice phrase but far removed from reality. Patience is key to your success as well as thinking long term.

There are advantages and disadvantages of choosing to work with a publisher. So let’s make a list:


  1. Big budget.
  2. They do all the marketing
  3. They deal with legal issues
  4. You can create while they do all the publishing work.


  1. Give up part of the royalty
  2. They can drop you
  3. They tell you what to do (this could be an advantage too)
  4. It’s takes a long time to see a return

Publishers are the ones making all the decisions about what to publish, when to publish and who to sell it to. You don’t get to control this however you get to make art and they spend the money to market it. Though you are leaving it in their hands you are also working with companies that have a long history (hopefully) and the know-how and brains behind the operation to figure out how to make money. If they don’t sell your art they don’t make money so it is of course to their advantage to sell it and then you get to reap the rewards by getting a royalty check. You will like that. I promise.

The disadvantages are simple. You give up a certain amount of control over your art. The publisher may give you direction and then you may be asked to revise it and maybe you think it’s perfect but they don’t. That’s the way the game plays. They aren’t perfect and the publisher may be going in the wrong direction. That’s why it’s important to have good communication with the art director. Don’t be shy about offering suggestions or reasons behind why you have rendered an image in a certain way. If the art director isn’t willing to listen you may need to rethink the relationship.

A publisher will usually work on a royalty basis so that you will receive a percentage of the sales. This percentage can be as low as 5% or as much as 20%. Make sure you know what this number is and are happy with it. A publisher may negotiate but there is generally an industry standard of 10% so expect that. Royalty payments are usually paid quarterly if a minimum royalty is earned.

If the publisher is not making any money on you they may decide to drop your contract. It is frustrating but they are making an investment and must believe in the investment. If that happens ask them to be candid and give an honest reason for dropping you. If you know why, this will help you in working with another publisher or going on your own.

Speaking of going on your own this is a perfect time to segue into the world of self publishing. Let’s begin with another list:

Advantages of Self-Publishing

  • Your own boss
  • Own direction
  • Own schedule
  • You get the whole royalty
  • Print on demand. You don’t have to keep inventory

Disadvantages of Self-Publishing

  • Getting the clients
  • Working alone
  • You are in charge of all bookkeeping
  • You have to do all the promoting and marketing.
  • You are responsible for having to pay all imaging costs such as scanning

If you decide to self publish the weight of everything falls squarely on your shoulders. That may be a good thing if you have business acumen and a realistic outlook. If you have stars in your eyes about becoming famous, then you might not be ready or mature enough to take this on yourself. If you have had some measure of success in marketing your original art then maybe you can seriously consider self publishing.

Because of internet access to printers and on-line galleries that world of self publishing has opened up. Years ago, it was nearly impossible to get a large print made. You either needed to order 1000 at a time or pay an arm and a leg. Not anymore. Many sites offer resources for you to upload high res files and order the print yourself or drop ship to a customer. And you do not have to hold inventory.

When your customer order is placed, then you send the files to your printer. This is referred to as Print-On-Demand. The time is right for self publishing. The major disadvantage you will find in this is that you do not have the marketing advantage that publishers have. They have the money to exhibit at trade shows and have connections to major retail sources. You are free to exhibit at trade shows and if you have the financial backing it’s an excellent way to get your art in front of potential buyers.

Self-publishing can be lonely. Join online art groups and connect with other artisans. If you live in a community with artists groups it might be a good time to join. Visit open studios to see what everyone else is up to. Listen and learn.


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