-By Dan dos Santos
The most important part of any commission is undoubtedly the invoice. Yet, the topic seems to be overlooked in most art educations.
After you've received a commission, done the sketches, and painted your heart out... you need to bill the client. If you do not send an invoice, you will not get paid! I have learned this the hard way. I once handed in a job while I was suffering from a nasty stomach flu. I feel like I barely survived the ordeal, and after the job was completed I slept for days. As a result of the illness, I totally forgot to send the invoice. Since I didn't send a bill, the client never sent a check, and it went unnoticed for over a year! Eventually it came time to do my taxes and I noticed the discrepancy. I contacted the AD, and she fortunately was able to confirm that Accounting had indeed never received a bill, and the matter was quickly solved. But had I never noticed, I would have done all of that work for free, and been out of several thousand dollars.
I usually send the invoice about one or two weeks after completing the commission. I do not send it immediately because if there are late revisions on the painting, I would have to revise the invoice as well, and now Accounting has two different copies to deal with. I was also taught by my Mentor that it is simply more tactful to wait a few days.
So what should an invoice look like? The short answer is, pretty much anything... so long as it gets the job done. Attached below is a copy of what my typical invoice looks like. I believe that this format contains all the pertinent information that a good invoice should have, and can serve as a decent template for your own.
A little bit about some of the reasoning behind it:
Artist Invoice #: Often times a client will provide you with a Purchase Order number. You need to include this in your invoice if they give you one. However, regardless of having a PO number, I still include my own invoice number as well. When you receive payment from the client, the check will not describe what painting it is they are remitting payment for, or give it's title... it will only note the invoice number. If you are doing multiple jobs for the same client over a period of months, it quickly gets confusing as to whether or not you've been paid for a particular job. I work for 3 or 4 different imprints all under the name of Penguin, so it's important I be able to keep track of any outstanding balances. By having my own invoice number, I know exactly what painting the check is for when I get it.
Typically, I use the first 5 letters of the book's title, followed by a numeral. The numeral denotes how many times I have sent the bill. If the bill is unpaid after 90 days, I will send a second copy called XXXXX-002.
Item(s): It seems obvious, but be sure to let the client know what it is you are charging them for. This part is especially helpful when selling secondary rights to an image, as you can make note of it here. I just change the words 'Full-color Illustration' to 'Secondary Rights'. That way, the client is acknowledging the rights restrictions before they send payment. In essence, it serves as an agreement.
Amount: Most Publishers will provide a small expense budget for models, props and the like. It is important to itemize these expenses so that the client knows exactly what they are being charged for. I sometimes attach a scan of the receipts if there is a particularly unusual expense.
Artist SS#: Most Publishers now have a vendor application that an Artist needs to fill out before working with them. This application will have your SS# on it for tax purposes. However, this is not always the case, and so I usually include it directly on the invoice for trusted clients.
Payable To: Again, it seems obvious, but if you don't give them a mailing address, the client won't know where to mail your money.
Lastly, most clients now accept invoices through email. If you choose to do this, remember to save your file as a PDF or DOC file. Even though the Art Director can easily view/print jpegs, the Accounting department may not. So be sure to use a format that caters to the typical office personnel.
The goal of an invoice like this is to keep things easy and efficient. If the AD has to email you a million times asking for more information, you are simply delaying the payment process. By streamlining your invoice, you not only make the AD's job easier, but you are ensuring a smooth and prompt payment.