Sage Advice from M.E.

July 9th, 2009 | Posted in General

Many times I have sang the praises of writer extraordinaire Mark Evanier‘s blog, an example of blogging at it’s entertaining and informative best.

Mark recently wrote about a topic he occasionally touches on… the dreaded “working on spec” issue. Well, not exactly working on spec as that implies working on an actual project for a professional client. I’m talking about the jobs that come along from someone with a million dollar idea but a ten dollar bank account who only needs your work to complete the idea and to make the millions… whereupon you will then share in the riches. I’ve blogged about these issues before as well, and on the actual “working on spec” issue as well as giving your work away for nothing or next to it.

Doing this is damaging to everybody, not just those who foolishly agree to work under such an agreement, because it devalues creative work in general.

Mark says in part:

I mention all this because first of all, we all need that constant reminder. If you think you’re creating something of value, treat it as something of value. No one else will if you don’t. That means insisting on being paid that value and not in hypothetical, down-the-road bucks. There are times when it makes sense to invest but when you do, you have to think a little like an investment banker. Their success is 100% contingent on knowing which stocks are good gambles and recognizing that many are not.

Mark links to several columns he’s written on the subject, which are must reads. He also mentions the blog of illustrator Colleen Doran, who has written about some of her bad experiences in the same area. Horror stories like this can really wake you up and give you the wherewithall to protect the value of your work and say “no” when these types of situations arise.

I posted this today simply because you can never have enough reminders or repeated discussion about this topic.


  1. Marv says:

    Just trying to put the concept in a different viewpoint regarding – “Work on Spec”. I just wanted to clarify the phrase by pointing out that SPEC is one abbreviation for two totally different words which mean two totally different things. Spec is short for “Specification” which would mean working within the clients wants and desires and I would assume you are paid for the full value of your work and effort. Spec is also short for “Speculation” which would mean working with the client in ‘partnership’ (by providing your work at reduced cost), betting on whether the project will to bring in a larger reward. You are obviously warning of the hazards of Speculation (not Specification).

    As you said, people need a reminder that speculation is a gamble and if you know the game and the risks involved, you can proceed with you own best decision. If it is a winner you may reap rewards with more profitable work, and if it fails, then you lost the bet… better luck next time or quit betting.

    • Tom says:

      I guess “spec” can be short for “specification” but I have never know the term “working on spec” related to anything except working for free or reduced cost in hopes of paying work down the road.

  2. Marv says:

    sorry.. it is not a different “viewpoint”, I miss-spoke, but just different phrasing. I agree with you fully…. Marv

  3. Monty says:

    Thanks, Tom. Always good advice in this neck of the web.

  4. Ray Gardner says:

    I’m one of those guys who failed to pursue their art into adulthood, and as such, I’ve went years at a time without drawing anything more than ballpoint doodle.

    So a few years ago, I get on a kick, do some drawings and wind up taking a pro bono gig doing a weekly editorial cartoon for politically based website.

    I never expected any money, and thought it was fun, and the exposure couldn’t hurt so worst case scenario, I have an outlet for my doodles, and just maybe I can get picked up by a newspaper or syndicate. (I did get on the short list of a major paper, but that didn’t pan out, and did some minor stuff for the AZ Republic.)

    Long story short, the more free work I did, the more I seemed to attract people who wanted me to do free work for them. The Republic was cool to work with, and paid regularly without complaint, but everyone else was a headache. Even the original website seemed to treat me worse at the end than the beginning. That’s why there was an end after all.

  5. […] and wants everything “for free”.¬¨‚Ć (Tom Richmond of MAD wrote a great blog about this HERE.)¬¨‚Ć If there’s more here to offer, I’d like to eventually “go into […]


New profile pic courtesy of my self-caricature for the Scott Maiko penned article “Gotcha! Mug Shots of Common (but Despicable) Criminals” from MAD 550

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