Several years ago when I was still finishing up high school, I was pretty well known around school as an artist and sometimes did commissions to help with medical bills. One of my classmates approached me about designing a book cover for her poetry book.
Client: How much would it cost to commission you for a book cover?
Me: Depends on the design, size, time, etc…. What’s your budget?
Client: I don’t know what my budget is, yikes.
Red flag, but she’s a friend. She gave me a bunch of specifications and examples of poetry books she liked, which happened to include covers from none other than Rupi Kaur. I didn’t know who that was at the time, but I can now guess why this client’s poetry didn’t sell. After she detailed what she wanted, she summarized it with:
Client: A’ight, so literally like thirty-minute minimalist shit.
The type of intricate flat line art (not my speciality) and custom designed font that she wanted was in no way “thirty-minute minimalist shit.”
Like a fool, I began doing the design before we discussed prices, partially because I was happy to have something to do and partially because I wanted to avoid commissioning the family member on my waitlist. I would ask for specifications and sent her progress pictures frequently.
Me: When would you like it finished by, and can we discuss pricing?
Me: *sends a progress picture*
Me: How much would you be willing to pay for this? Are you going to sell the book?
Client: Yeah. Just a heads up I don’t get paid for like two weeks so I can’t pay you until then. Umm. Is $35 okay? I can give you a cut of the profits if I figure out how to do that.
I, having little idea how much I should be charging for this, decided that this was fine because I really needed the money and she’s my friend. She said she’d get it to me when she got paid but that date came and went with me supplying the finished piece, and a few months later I asked her for the money again.
Client: I literally have no idea when I get paid so this is fun. Do you want cash or Paypal?
I was freshly eighteen at the time and hadn’t gotten around to making a Paypal yet because all of my commissions were done in person. My client was seventeen and I figured she was using her parents’ account.
Me: Preferably cash.
Client: Okay I only have $20 in cash right now.
I didn’t get any of it. I contacted her eventually yet again and mentioned that I had medical expenses that I really needed the money for.
Client: Okay would Paypal work? I’m getting paid tomorrow and I can Paypal you the money then.
Me: Wait, you mean it’s your own personal account? You know that it’s illegal for you to have one of those if you’re under eighteen, right? It can negatively affect you in the future. I’d delete it if I were you.
Client: Shit, thank you so much.
Guess whom I never heard from again? I graduated, and years later heard from mutual friends I still keep in touch with that she cut everyone off and followed her new boyfriend to college and lives with him. I’m not that upset about the money, because it’s only $35, and I’m not a confrontational person so I let it go.
But I googled my own name when applying for a stable job recently to see what potential employers would find about me and guess what one of the top results was? Her poetry book on Amazon, the cover of which was credited to me.