To agent, or not to agent: that is the question

Star Monster by Jason Heglund

Image credit: Jason Heglund

Following a conversation about illustration agencies with one of our lovely members, we’ve decided to publish and share the advice we offered. This is a subject that gets brought up a lot with illustrators, new and old, and we thought it was about time we did a post on the subject.

I’m curious to talk to someone about getting portfolio advice and what to look for when seeking out an agency to represent my illustrations.

If you’re looking for an agent, first of all you need to look around and make a list of agents who represent illustrators with a similar style to yours, but not too similar. You also need to search online for forum posts and comments where illustrators are talking about their agents and their experiences with them; it’ll be very telling as to whether an agent is worth signing up with or not. There’s such a mixed bag of agents about these days that you really only want to sign up with one who has a good reputation, rather than having an agent for the sake of it. Signing with just “anyone” who’ll take you is a sure way to be taken advantage of. Agents who represent illustrators are as varied as the illustrators themselves in terms of business prowess and that’s not even taking into account potential personality clashes.

Here is a link to get you going… http://www.thelittlechimpsociety.com/agents/

Note to HAI members: Every so often we’ll send a list of illustrators who’re looking for representation to a selection of agents who we trust. So, make sure you’ve marked that you’re looking for an agent in your profile if you want to be included in those lists.

Ideally, representation sounds best for me as I’m not 100% sure of how to bring in projects. A rep will have contacts and be able to find good matches for me. Also, my assumption is that being represented would make the work more steady.

I hate to scupper your plans, but you’ll probably find that until you have steady work coming in, you’re not going to find an agent willing to take you on. It’s a bit of a catch 22 situation. I’m not saying an agent won’t take you on, but they’re more likely to when you’re more established (unless they’re generally unestablished themselves). Don’t get me wrong, there are exceptions, but this is normally what I see happen in the industry if you’re looking for a top notch agent. There are some agencies that take on large numbers of illustrators for the sake of quantity rather than focusing on quality. If going with an agent is the path you really want to take, then this may be a compromise you’re willing to make. However, you may find there is a small group within the agency who get all the jobs and the rest will get the odd scrap.

As there are so many illustrators who represent themselves these days, it’s not necessarily a case of an agent opening doors anymore, it’s all down to marketing and time management. Normally an agent takes people on when they’re pretty sure the illustrator is going to bring in lots of work and when the illustrator is happy to hand over their 15-40%, as it means they’ve got someone handling the contracts and billing for them and they can focus on the creative side. Some agents are good at marketing their illustrators, others aren’t. It never does any harm to ask illustrators what they think of their agents before you agree to join the agency.

Things to note: Agents tend not to take people on who produce stock illustrations as it devalues the illustrator’s style. Agents tend to take people on who already have lots of work coming in or if they think someone is going to be the next big thing. The other reason an agent might take an illustrator on is that they already have an illustrator on their books that gets requested more than they can handle and you have a similar style to them. If an agent can recommend another illustrator on their books so they don’t miss out on a job, they will do. If you do sign up with an agent, make sure you’re happy with the contract you sign with them, as some of them can put you in a very tricky situation if things don’t work out as planned. Cover your bases and ask questions before you put pen to paper and sign away your first born. In the same way you can negotiate terms with a client, you can negotiate a contract with an agent.

My long term goal is to primarily illustrate and write my own picture books while still illustrating books for other people. I’d also like to manage and grow my own brand. Do agencies help artists develop with these goals in mind?

Agents will only tend to help you develop the aspects of your brand they can control and take a cut of. Generally, helping you to become independent isn’t in their interest as they want people to see the agency as the one fulfilling the client’s brief, not the illustrator. Some agents are really good and will support the illustrator and their growth as much as they can, but the agency still needs to make money and build their own reputation. As far as they’re concerned, illustrators will come and go and it’s the agency that’s important, not the illustrator’s growth. Agents are supposed to work for their illustrators, but in reality a good number of agents will treat their illustrators as if they are employees. A nice balance is when it becomes a partnership between the two. Just remember that in the same way there’s a huge variety of illustrators, agents are just as varied.

Final thought…

Make sure you’re only contacting agents who you think will take you on based on who they already represent, and only contact agents you actually want to be represented by. There’s no need to waste anyone’s time if you’re not a good fit! If you put no thought into your initial contact, they’ll put no thought into their reply (if they even send one).

The best way to get an agent’s attention is to start by making sure your website and portfolio is up to date. Don’t forget about your social pages, either – if an agent is savvy and serious about taking you on, they’ll check everything. Once your side of things is ready, visit the agent’s site, search for their submission criteria and make contact with them. Normally you’ll need to reach out to them; things won’t magically happen and don’t forget they’re probably receiving anything from ten to several hundred submissions from illustrators per day. Most of these submissions will have been done without any research and the illustrators are just getting in contact with every agent they can find. Be patient for a reply and make sure your email is crafted to the recipient and isn’t just a one-size-fits-all message… The less spammy, the better. Lastly, do try to look objectively at what you’re offering from the agent’s point of view. The opinions of family and friends don’t really count when it comes to business, so unless your mum works in the industry and is willing to tell you if your work isn’t a good fit with an agency or that you’re not established enough yet, ignore them and trust your gut.


If you’re an agent and would like to become a member of HAI like these guys, send us an email to get the ball rolling. Likewise if you’re an illustrator and would like to join our ranks, fill in an application. ❤️✏️ #loveillustration

Professional conduct for freelance illustrators

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If you create artwork or illustrations based on instructions or a client’s brief and you get paid for it, you’re a professional illustrator. So with this in mind (regardless of whether you personally consider it just a hobby or yourself an amateur), you need to treat all of your clients and potential future clients with respect. I’m not saying that you won’t continue to get paying work if you don’t show respect for your clients, but when you don’t you’re damaging the general image people have of professional illustrators as a whole and this does have a knock on effect.

We’ve seen an increasing trend in recent months where freelance illustrators are just letting off a bit of steam by the way of posting rants or comments on their social profiles. This is fine if their privacy settings have to been set up to only allow their actual friends see their posts, but with a good number of illustrators this isn’t the case. Their profiles are public for all the world to see. As a company that promotes illustration and helps connect illustrators with clients, it’s quite disconcerting to see people moaning about clients in such a public way.

The bit that normally riles people up on both sides, when it comes to commissioning an illustrator, is budget and what a client can afford. This is where an illustrator’s professional conduct needs to come into play. It’s quite simple really…

Scenario A –
Client: I need this and have £600.
Illustrator: I’m afraid I can only do what you’re after for £1400.
Client: I’m sorry I can’t stretch to that, maybe next time.
Illustrator: Thank you for your interest.

Scenario B –
Client: I need this, how much would it be?
Illustrator: I can only do what you’re after for £1400.
Client: How about £600.
Illustrator: I’m sorry £1400 is the minimum I charge for this sort of job, maybe next time or let me know if you can find any more for your budget. Thank you for your interest.

Scenario C –
Client: I need this and have £600.
Illustrator: I’m afraid I can only do what you’re after for £1400.
Client: How about £900?
Illustrator: If you can stretch to £1200 you have a deal.
Client: Yes, I can do that.

Scenario D –
Client: I need this, how much would it be?
Illustrator: I can only do what you’re after for £1400.
Client: How about £200?
Illustrator: Thank you for your time, if you have a more accommodating budget in the future please keep me in mind.

Clients either have a set budget for the job or they’re looking to get what they’re after at the lowest possible price. There’s no reason to be offended if they can’t afford you. That’s just the way things are.

How to burn bridges and put people off hiring an illustrator in the first place…

Following any of the scenarios above, the illustrator then hops on Facebook, Twitter or any of the other social networks and shares something like… “Client wanted me to illustrate 4 covers for £200! LOL.” … This status update is public and then gets 200+ retweets or likes, as people enjoy gossip and coffee shop chatter. It also gets 30+ comments from other illustrators saying how disgusting and insulting an offer like that is.

Now, all that’s been accomplished is that the illustrator’s ego has had a jolly good stroking. The illustrator could have made sure their privacy setting were set to allow only close friends to see the comment if they only wanted to let off steam, but many don’t even touch their privacy settings and they post comments like that for anyone and everyone to see. If potential and future clients see the comment it’s not going to put them in their place and make sure they offer proper remuneration when they approach an illustrator, all it’s going to do is leave them with a sour taste and doubts. I wouldn’t say it would be an extreme case either that someone thinking about hiring an illustrator might see that and then decide to hire a professional photographer instead or (heaven forbid) go with stock for their project.

Professional illustrators who make sniping comments like that have a lot more influence on the industry as a whole than they realise. The price range that illustrators charge is so much wider than in other professions due to the uniqueness of the work they produce. It’s not easy for a client to compare one illustrator to another, but they often still do. This means illustrators need to keep themselves in check at all times and not just when dealing directly with clients. By all means let off steam, have a rant and chat with your mates, just make sure it’s in a private forum rather than a public circus.

Positivity breeds positivity; don’t get stuck in a social network echo box for the sake of a like! Showing people what a joy illustrators are to work with shouldn’t just be the task of a few, it should be the default setting for anyone who loves illustration and working in this wonderful industry. Don’t get pulled into the gutter, reach for a higher standard. Be a professional.

Image Credit: Andy Potts (2011) for the Design Week Supplement

Have you found what you’re looking for?

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Following on from the recent redesign and rejuvenation of our website, we’ve continued to make modifications as the dust has settled and we’ve seen what worked and what needed to be changed. Our first stop was a small modification to our search criteria that should have a big impact on usability. When the redesign was launched we suddenly allowed all of our members to select a job title from a predetermined list and this was then searchable on our search pages. This didn’t work as the majority decided they want to just be called an illustrator, so now the job title is no longer searchable, but is displayed in their portfolios next to their name. What has been added to replace the search aspect are two searchable job descriptions. This should allow members to add the terms that help people find them without feeling they need to keep their options open by not committing to a specific title. This change in the options available to our members and within search system inspired a blog post I wrote about job titles for the LCS a few days ago. Read: Finding your niche as an illustrator!

Self-Portrait

As a side note: Since the redesign had been a longtime coming, I decided early on I would try to remove as much of the 9 years worth of bloat as possible. I may have gone a bit too far. Information about our postcard printing and mailers has now been re-added to the members’ administration along with a viewable archive of all the previous member-only updates. A new addition though is a series of downloadable and useful content that should be in every freelance illustrators’ digital toolbox. If you’re a member, login and have a look. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

Image Credits…
1. ISO&AGENT Magazine cover (cropped) by Mario Wagner.
2. 2010 Self Portrait by Marcus Cutler.

Wishing everyone Happy Holidays and a wonderful New Year!

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Well, we can hardly believe it’s that time of year again already! It’s been another super-busy year and we have had the privilege of working with so many fantastic illustrators, animators and clients over the past 12 months. 2016 will see even more things happening, including a faster, swisher and generally more fabulous website, and we’ve also started planning the next Showcase 100 exhibition, which we’re very excited about!

We’ll still be working over the holidays to help with job enquiries, but may be a bit slower to respond on the following dates due to an excess of mince pies and Christmas cake:

24th, 25th & 26th December
31st & 1st January

Please note that any other non-urgent emails will be replied to as soon as possible over the holidays, but it may take a wee bit longer for us to answer than usual. Also, please be aware that news submitted over Christmas and the New Year period may not be published on the site until 2nd January.

We wish everyone an extremely Merry Christmas and a happy and prosperous New Year!

The wonderfully festive illustration at the top is by Kevin Myers – check out his portfolio for more of his amazing work!

Server Maintenance

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We’re planning on moving to a bigger and better server, so if you’ve tried to log into your profile and have been redirected to this blog post we’re in the process of migrating at the moment. It should only take an hour or two to make the move and once complete you’ll have full access to your profile again to make changes and submit news.

It’s always a worry moving from one system to another, as you know if you’ve ever done it yourself. We’ve moved servers several times over the last few years as we’ve out grown old machines, or new technologies have become available. Moving a small site is easy-peasy, but when you’re looking at moving the equivalent of 300-400 small sites in one go with hundreds of clients relying on you as part of their business, there’s no shortage of pressure to make sure everything runs smoothy with minimal downtime. Although the tech industry would like you to believe everything is just point and click these days, doing a server migration just isn’t that simple and requires a lot of prep work.

We’re really excited about the new system, we’re going to get a bump in RAM to make everything more spritely. Plus we’re getting super-fancy Solid State Drives to replace our old fashion HDs, again this should give us another bump in speed.

Image by Emory Allen for the Pacific Standard (September 2014).

Hiring a children’s book illustrator FAQ

Illustrators tend to be bombarded with the same questions over and over again from clients looking to hire them to bring their children’s book manuscript to life, and from publishers looking to have them work on a future project or their next release. With our illustrators being the pros they are, they tend to send a personal reply to every query that comes in regardless of whether they’ve answered the same question half a dozen times that week already.

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So, here are a list of questions you need to ask yourself before you hire an illustrator, and some answers to questions that clients commonly ask illustrators during the course of hiring one.

These questions were devised and answered by Ginger Nielson (illustrator of almost 40 children’s books), and edited and updated by Darren Di Lieto & Jane Di Lieto-Danes.

Should you hire an illustrator?

If you have a finished, edited, and great manuscript, by all means submit it to a publisher. If they decide it’s right for their line up and marketable, they will normally pay you an advance followed by royalties in exchange for the right to print and sell your book. They will also hire an illustrator, pay the production costs and help you market it. You do NOT need any illustrations to submit your manuscript to a publisher unless you are an author/illustrator yourself.

How do you find a publisher?

To find out who might be the best publisher for your book, get a copy of the Children’s Writer’s and Illustrator’s Market or the Children’s Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook. They list publishers, their contacts, their terms, and what they are looking for. It also includes international markets, magazines, contests, agents and wonderful articles from artists and authors as well as publishers and editors.

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What to do if you’re self publishing?

You need to be very sure of your own work and you need to be ready to invest your own time and money in making your book a success. You will be choosing your own illustrator and paying for the artwork and license or rights to use it; for the book printing; to have it proofread; for distribution; for all your own advertising… and you’ll be doing your own sales. Your local indie bookstore may be happy to host a signing. You might be able to market your books at a local craft fair or market, or at any event with the right setting and clientele. Some schools have book nights where you can sell your books too. Self publishing is often sold as the easy (and cheap) way to get your book published, but don’t let all the hype fool you. The more work and money you can invest in your book, regardless of how good it might be, the more chance it has of being a success.

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How much does a children’s illustrator cost?

When you hire an illustrator remember that you are hiring a professional. You need to be prepared to pay a fair market price. Depending upon the length of time it will take to illustrate your book, the amount of research needed, and any unusual requests, the cost could be a few thousand pounds/dollars or many thousands of pounds/dollars.

OK, so how much will it cost?

Most illustrator’s rates are only shared with a potential client after they have seen a finished manuscript or at least a detailed outline of the work. The illustrator also needs to decide if their skill and style is right for the story and that they’re a good fit for the client. Some illustrators also do the design and layout for children’s publications, so will provide a print ready PDF on completion. If this is not the case, the client will also need to hire a designer who’ll turn the artwork and manuscript into a ready to print product. The illustrator may be able to recommend someone for the design/layout part if they’ve worked with self publishers in the past and do not do the design themselves. Working with a separate designer will increase the overall costs, but you will benefit from the skills a well trained graphic designer brings to the table and you’ll probably find you’ll have a quicker turn-around time too.

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Really, how much does it cost?

The GAG (2013) says a colour 32 page children’s book will cost you between $3000-$60,000 USD + 3-5% royalties while the AOI (2008) says it’ll cost between £3000-£5000 GBP for the advance plus royalties. It really does depend on who you want to work with, the type of style you’re after and the experience of the illustrator. You may find a really talented young illustrator fresh out of university, but as with fine wines that get better with age, all illustrators get better as they hone their skills and gain experience.

How long does it take?

A contract is issued with payment dates, artwork dates, and copyright restrictions for both the author and the illustrator. Work will normally take from 3 to 6 months to complete, give or take a month depending on the illustrator. Payments will normally be made at different stages throughout the project as work is completed and approved. There will normally always be an upfront percentage to pay before work is started too. This upfront fee will normally not be refundable as it’ll also be the kill fee if the client decides to scrap the project or work with an alternative illustrator after work has begun.

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What about changes and artwork revision?

Any artwork that has been finished and approved by the author/client is final. However, if changes are requested after the final approval a fee per hour for any changes may apply. Revisions after approval will also be subject to an illustrator’s availability.


If you’d like more advice on hiring an illustrator for your children’s book, check out Dani Jones’ blog or Randy Gallegos’ PDF Guide For Publishers via the links below. And obviously if you’re ready to hire an illustrator have a look though our children’s illustrators or submit a job request and we’ll help you find one.

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Dani Jones’ blog…
Part One: How to find an illustrator for your picture book
Part Two: How to find an illustrator for self-publishing

Randy Gallegos’ Guide For Publishers…
PDF Guide For Publishers: Learning How to Commission Illustration

Image Credits…
1. The Waif by Peter George
2. Caterpillar for Target by Lee Cosgrove
3. Tiger Character by Marcus Cutler
4. Dogolate by Michael Slack
5. The Butterflies and Millie by Corey R. Tabor
6. Happy-go-lucky Unicorn by Sophie Burrows

Exclusive Member-Only Discounts

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We all love a good deal or bargain, and this is why HAI has teamed up with a number of reputable companies and organisations to bring our members some very nice discounts. On your behalf we’ve negotiated deals on screen printing, on and offline art-related educational courses, merchandise and hosting. All our members need to do is visit our discount page while logged into their account to reveal the discount codes.

http://www.hireanillustrator.com/i/discounts/

We’re always on the look out for new discounts and offers that we can arrange for our members, which means we’re going to be constantly updating the discount page as new partnerships are formed. So keep an eye on it and check back from time to time.

If you’re one of the companies or organisations offering us a discount on one of your products, thank you kindly.

Ch-ch-ch-ch-Changes, New Search Categories

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We’re always making updates on the site and with the service for members of Hire an Illustrator, but when it comes to adding or removing the categories our illustrators use to define themselves on the site it’s actually quite a big deal. We never add new categories lightly and normally only when there’s enough demand from clients for them. Over the last 12 months we’ve found there have been more and more job requests asking for the following three areas:

  • Dark & Otherworldly or Surreal
  • Anime & Manga
  • Retro, Vintage & Antique

So from today, our illustrators can add themselves to one of these categories if that’s what their artwork fits into and clients can now do searches based on those areas.

Search for an illustrator or tell us about your project and we’ll find one for you.

Post-Showcase 100 normality

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So, it’s been a couple of weeks now since we were in London with the Little Chimp Society for the Showcase 100 exhibition. The dust has finally settled and we’re pretty much back to normal here now (or as normal as things ever get!) 🙂 We had a fab week and a really good night on the Thursday for the private view – it was wonderful to meet everyone and we’d like to thank you all again for coming. It was very busy and we certainly had a great time – we hope you did too!

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The Framer’s Gallery were wonderful yet again (the LCS held the last Mail Me Art show there) and it’s definitely our favourite venue in town for this kind of thing. It’s easy to get to, everyone there is so helpful and the space itself is perfect for arty events of all sizes.

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A number of the 100 prints were sold on the night, but the rest are now for sale in the LCS shop at £40, unframed. They are very high quality archival prints and there’s a wide range of subjects and styles, so there’s sure to be something to tickle your fancy. Can’t decide which one you want? Then why not buy the SC100 book and be able to peruse them all at your leisure? There are still some books available to buy here.

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We hope to make Showcase a two-yearly event, with the LCS continuing to run the project for HAI members. Being able to offer opportunities like this to our members is really important to us. It adds an extra dimension to our community and provides the chance to meet-up with people and celebrate the wonderful illustrations that they create.

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Finally, a special thank you is in order to the lovely Eleanor, who travelled down from the Midlands for some gallery experience and did a sterling job taking photos on the Thursday night!

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