SOS! I’m Stuck in Infinite Revisions

SOS! Posts: Quick tips for getting through creative crisis.

There’s nothing more demoralizing than when a good job goes bad. Then you find yourself stuck in infinite revisions. Everything started off so well: you were excited about the client, you agreed on terms and signed a contract, and they loved your thumbnails…but suddenly you’re stuck in the artist version of Groundhog Day. Suddenly every time you send a revision, you get more notes. You keep thinking this will be it, but changes keep appearing out of the woodwork. The job drags on and your agreed fee is looking less and less worthwhile.

You are stuck in the hamster wheel of commissioned art. How do you get yourself out?

  • Too Many Cooks in the Kitchen? If a company has a long approval chain you might find yourself with the problem that your revisions are coming piecemeal. You’ll revise from one person’s feedback, get past them, then hear new feedback, and please them, and then you’ll hear even more. In the worst case scenario, you’ll have a later approver that will completely contradict what an earlier approver says and you’ll end up going backwards. In this case, you can say “In the service of finishing this job for you as quickly as possible, can you combine all the feedback from all the approvers into one round?” and let them do the work of combining the feedback into one direction.
  • Lack of Vision? In the case of inexperienced clients or being directed by people who are not artists or art directors, you often find that they are less capable of imagining what a requested change will look like. They just “want to see it” and “want to see options” before they decide. A little bit of this in small doses is ok, especially at thumbnail stage when you’re trying to nail down the major composition points, but at some point the client is going to have to trust your expertise. Especially when they are asking for things that you know are going to be a major waste of time. Remind then, gently, that you are a professional and this is a collaborative project. Make sure you explain in words, succinctly, why an option will not work (unbalance the composition, red will buzz over green, etc) and then say something along the lines of “I know it is difficult to make decisions without seeing every option in full, but you hired me for my expertise, and you can trust me to weed out the options that absolutely will not work and keep us on track.”
  • Pay to Play? Often you are working for a bigger company and you must sign their contract (which rarely will have a revision protection clause) but in the case that they are signing your contract, you should absolutely add in some wording about how many revisions are included before a fee is charged. Check out the Drawn + Drafted Onesheets on Contracts for a template on how to structure that. In short, you are going to say something along the lines of “After each stage (thumbnail, final, etc) is submitted, 2 rounds of revisions are included. If more revisions are requested, there will be a X% fee per revision round.”
  • Should You Stay or Should You Go? As a last resort, you give a gentle threat of defeat. You want to show you are getting frustrated enough that you are ready to walk…without actually sounding like a jerk and giving them an “or else” statement. Remember, in most cases the client is not doing this just for fun, they’re trying to get to the best final art just like you are. This is a delicate moment, but you can say  something very diplomatic along the lines of “I feel like these revisions keep coming and are dragging down the project. I very much want to get to a final that we are all happy with, but if you feel you will have more success with another artist then let’s admit defeat and we can settle with a kill fee.” Hopefully there is a kill fee clause in the contract already, but either way, it’s rare that a client will agree to kill the job. Usually this just jogs them into realizing that they’re in danger of losing all the work everyone has put in and they have no interest in going back to ground zero, and you’ll usually get one more round of revisions and be settled. Read the SOS post about getting out of a bad job for more tips on a graceful exit.

Remember to always keep your professionalism, and do as much as you can to be diplomatic, but you have to get out of that hamster wheel. Don’t stay stuck in infinite revisions forever!

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