2017 will be our tenth year in business and it finally feels like we’ve hit our stride! This year has been a fantastic year for us and our members; job requests are way up, social interactions are continuing to rise and member satisfaction has never been better. We relaunched our website with an improved interface and administration, and knuckled down on improving our social media presence with more regular updates and the inclusion of more videos. We simply took advantage of what was available to us to further our reach and improve the efficiency our service. Our clients and members are happy, which means we’ve been doing a good job.
What was important to us in 2016 was building our community and really making every single one of our members feel like they were part of HAI. We did more portfolio reviews than we’ve ever done before and responded to twice as many emails as we did in 2015. We even sent out a customer satisfaction survey that received a very positive response. By highlighting the things people had issues with and where we could make improvements, the survey shaped and dictated the website maintenance schedule for the subsequent months, as well as letting us know the areas members wanted us to continue to focus on. However, primarily the survey gave us a greater impression of the love our members have for the HAI community and what we do.
This year we worked as hard as we could to make HAI as effective as possible and we will continue to put in maximum effort during 2017. Next year is going to be bigger and better, we have no doubt about that. We’re looking forward to a new year and our tenth anniversary and we hope you are too. During the following dates we’ll be operating a skeleton crew with regards to job requests and members’ questions… and our laptops will be turned off completely if we find we’ve eaten too much Christmas pudding or become a little too intoxicated.
Most illustrators, if not all, display enough of their work online for a client to make an informed decision as to whether they’d like to work with them or not. I’m not talking about how much an illustrator will quote on a job or whether they’re affordable, but whether an illustrator’s style matches what the client is looking for. When those elements line up, it’s time for the client to get in contact and this is where things can sometimes go wrong or trip up a commission before it’s even got started.
The way the messaging system at Hire an Illustrator works is that you hit the “Message Illustrator” button on an illustrator’s portfolio page and this will email them the message you want to send. Simple, right? Most of the time, yes, but not all of the time.
When composing your message to an illustrator you should include the following information:
A short summary of what you’re actually after.
How and for what you intend to use the illustration.
Your deadline for completion, especially if it’s soon.
And, if you’ve worked with an illustrator before, your budget.
We don’t specify exactly what you should be emailing our illustrators, as everyone works in different ways and we’re all grown ups. But you wouldn’t call up a plumber if you didn’t know what you wanted them to fix or have enough money to pay them. Just telling a plumber to come to your house isn’t enough information. It’s the same for an illustrator; just telling them that you like their work or that you want to work with them isn’t enough. They need to know what you want them to work on and you need to be specific.
The initial message doesn’t really need to be more than two or three sentences. Once you’ve sent it off to the illustrator, they’ll probably get back to you with several standard questions that they send to all potential new clients. Each illustrator has their own set of questions, but they’ll all be in a similar vein and it’ll allow them to work up a preliminary quote. If the illustrator doesn’t reply to a client, it’ll either be because the client’s message made no sense (which happens more than you think) or the client didn’t even bother looking at the illustrator’s portfolio (which also happens a lot). Illustrators tend to work in the same specific style as seen in their previous pieces, so although you’ll be hiring them for a new custom piece, it will reflect their established style and that’s the reason an illustrator is normally hired. You shouldn’t be asking an illustrator to work up free samples of the image you’re after just to see if they’re the right person, because if you can’t see whether they’re right for a job from their current portfolio, you need to hire an art director to work with them on your behalf. Plus, no one should be working for free in a profit driven industry.
The length of time it takes for an illustrator to reply to an email can vary; some may reply within 10 minutes, others can take a week. A digital artist, for example, might see your message pop up as soon as you send it. One of our more traditional illustrators, who works in a studio with oils, might only check their emails once a week. You just need to be patient and take a guess at a reasonable length of time to give them before following up. Email is also a fickle thing, so if you feel you’ve given it a reasonable length of time for a reply and (as far as you’re aware) your message made sense and wasn’t confusing, send us an email and we can check in on the illustrator on your behalf. You never know, their email might be down or their spam filter might be being overzealous. Patience is a virtue, persistence gets things done!
Fees vary drastically from illustrator to illustrator depending on their style and their experience. Some might have a very labour-intensive style, or something that’s more niche. The thing is, until you’ve worked out what you want and a number of details have been pinned down, the illustrator can’t actually give you a quote. So if you’ve not even got the initial contact points mentioned above, you’re not ready to contact an illustrator. If you can’t fathom or work out those details yourself, as mentioned before, hire an art director or an illustrator who also has experience doing their own art direction, which many have. You just need to be prepared to be very hands-off when it comes to the direction and choices they make with regards to the illustrations. You’re paying them to do what they do best, so trust them and let them do it.
Now, once you’ve said your hellos and both parties know what the situation is and are on the same page, it’s time to talk about money and contracts. This ground work should be established before the creativity starts:
How much is the illustrator being paid?
What are the terms of the license?
Is there a kill fee and upfront deposit?
When is the deadline and when will the invoice be paid?
Have the contracts been signed?
Are revisions included in the fee, if so how many?
After that, you’re good to go! Follow the project, hit your targets and let the magic happen.
The accompanying illustration (2013) was created by Tom Holme for Creative England. We’re pretty sure Tom would love to hear from you if you’d like something similar.
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.
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.
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 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
What’s in a name? Well quite a lot actually. It’s one of those sticky subjects and no one quite knows the best course of action. What I’m specifically referring to are illustrators’ names. Are you an individual, are you a studio, are you a brand or are you using a persona? It’s a tough thing to decide, but for the sake of professionalism you need to make a decision and stick with it. For most people it’s a non-issue, they have their name and that is that. But illustrators as a group can be an insecure, reclusive bunch, so having a persona that can help you land commissions and be the face of your business can actually be a really good thing. You just have to make sure you do it right!
What I see quite a lot is talented folk coming up with a brilliant name for their studio, for example, but then hiding behind it like it’s a shield… protecting themselves from the evil overlords. The problem then arises that the client doesn’t know what to call the illustrator. This doesn’t hinder communication, but it does make it slightly uncomfortable. For example if the illustration outfit is called ‘Eye of the Beholder’, and that’s how the illustrator signs their emails and refers to themselves in their biography, what does the client call them? Eye, EOTB, Mr/Mrs Beholder… Does it really do that much harm to mention your name is Matt or Susan? You can always put ‘Matt (aka Eye of the Beholder)’. I know some people like to believe they’re magical creatures of some description, but generally people like dealing with people.
The thing is, your working name doesn’t actually need to be your real name, as long as the client knows who to pay at the end of a project. You can call yourself whatever you want. It’s just that people and clients in general need to be able to relate to it in some manner or you’re making things awkward before you even get started. Even faceless corporations have realised they do actually need to have a face if they want to connect with their customers.
We would like to welcome Tim Paul as a guest blogger on the hai staff blog. In this post New York illustrator Tim Paul has written down his thoughts and opinions for us with regards to illustrators and writers being paid an advance verses not being paid an advance on their royalties. Tim has worked as a colourist for Marvel Entertainment and been in the creative industry for almost 20 years, dare we say he could be considered a veteran… – Darren Di Lieto
So Where Do We Start?
Getting even a simple book out can take a year or more. It’s a long, slow road from concept to paycheck especially if there isn’t an advance at the beginning.
PART ONE: Necessity
These days you hear that publishing needs to evolve to survive. One way large publishers are trying to evolve is to copy smaller publishers in how they pay the artist/author. A smaller publisher, who doesn’t have the finances for an advance, will sometimes offer a higher cut of royalties. This can be up to a 50/50 split after costs. Larger publishers are beginning to follow suit, with inexperienced and untried creators seeming to be the main focus of this shift.
If a writer’s goal is simply to be published, self-publishing is an option they should consider. They’ll be published, and it will even bring in some extra earnings if their book sells well. But for artists and authors whose goal is to make a living at publishing their work, the no-advance option puts more of the risk on their plate. Publishers are looking to manage the financial risks they are taking. If a book fails to make the necessary sales to cover the advance, the author isn’t obliged to pay back the advance. That money is their’s regardless of the how well the book sells.
For the artist or author, the potential for a larger paycheck in the form of higher royalties can be very tempting. However, an advance isn’t a case of the publisher being nice to the author. It’s a way for them to work on the project, without the pressure of having to take on additional work to pay the bills. This way, the artist or author can work towards giving the publisher the best possible product, distraction free.
PART TWO: Business
Getting even a simple book out can take a year or more. It’s a long, slow road from concept to paycheck especially if there isn’t an advance at the beginning. A long wait for payday isn’t the only thing creators have to consider under the no-advance approach. What happens if the work is completed but, through no fault of the creator, it gets canceled by the publisher? Naturally you can try and cover these and other possibilities in a contract, but this does mean more time-consuming negotiations with both sides trying to protect themselves.
Publishers aren’t looking to screw or trick their artists and authors. They’re trying to do what is best for their company financially, as any business would. This doesn’t mean it’s the best course of action for the author or the publisher’s long term goals, but it minimizes the financial risks for the publisher. Plus with no advance, the onus is on the author to produce the work, because if they don’t there will be no royalties.
With an advance, the risk is moved back to the publisher, which means it’s easy for an author to work out what happens if a project gets cancelled by the publishing house… they get to keep the advance. But how is that going to play out with payment based solely on sales? There’s no way for an author to say if a book is going to flop or be a 50 week bestseller. It’s the publisher who will have the experience and expertise to make that sort of judgement, rather than the author.
Smaller publishers don’t normally have much in the way of a budget for marketing. They rely on word of mouth, reviews, and the creator promoting their books along with social networking. If this method of getting a book to market is picked up by the larger publishers, how much self-promotion will their artists and authors be expected to do? After all, isn’t the point of signing with a large publisher that a creator can use the publisher’s resources, connections, experience and knowledge to properly market their publication?
Should large publishers decide that all untried creators have to prove themselves before getting an advance, it could easily become, “accept this deal, or remain unpublished” for all. The no-advance model reduces or takes away the ability of the creator to remain independent of the business side and solely focus on the creation of their writing or imagery. If no advance was to become the norm, there would be no reason for it to go back to the old ways. In the struggle to make a living as an artist or author, getting fair compensation has always been a fight. It’s better to know what you are going to be paid, than the promise of a potentially higher paycheck in my opinion.
PART THREE: Final Thought
Part of being a freelance illustrator or writer is making a plan on how you are going to support yourself while creating. Advances allow artist and authors to plan their finances with solid numbers and a real income. For publishers to receive the best products takes time and dedication. Insist on an advance when the big companies come knocking. Don’t do yourself a disservice, believe in your work and worth, and the big publishing houses will believe in you too.
We really appreciate it when one of our member’s clients send us a nice email to tell us what a great job the illustrator did! Here’s one we received a few days ago…
“ While I was searching for an artist for my novel, The Vampire Girl Next Door, I came across hireanillustrator.com and looked through the portfolios of many artists on your site. I had a particular style in mind, so when I found an illustration by Jose Pardo for a horror novel, Widdershins, I knew I had found someone who could create an illustration I would like for my own novel. Fortunately for me, Jose Pardo is not only a talented artist, he is also an easy person to communicate with. I had spoken with some other artists before him who may not have liked such a specific idea I had in mind for the cover. With Jose, he welcomed all my ideas and suggestions which were often quite detailed. The result was a cover just like what I wanted. It’s a cover I would have illustrated if I were an artist instead of a writer. In addition to the cover illustration, he also designed the cover with the lettering for the title and also the logo on the back cover. The cover is now a perfect match for the idea of my novel. Everyone who sees it compliments it and I know it will contribute to future book sales.
I belong to a local writers group and I recommend hire an illustrator in general and Jose Pardo in particular for their book covers. “
Being easy to contact when you’re a freelance illustrator, animator or designer is pretty important. If an art director or agency wants you for a job, they need to be able find your email address or phone number quickly. Otherwise, they might just pass you over for someone else…
It always surprises me how many creatives don’t make it straightforward to find their contact information on their websites. Or even on their business cards or promo postcards. Really, I hear you say? Yes, indeed. I’m not talking about the majority of people, of course, just a small number, but surely no-one should be making it difficult for potential clients to contact them. Over the years we have seen illustrator’s postcards with gorgeous images, but no contact details on them at all, or with just a website URL – which is fine, but doesn’t make getting in touch as easy as it could be. Make sure that somewhere on there is a name, email address and ideally your telephone number, as well as your URL. Make space for a contact section or page on your website too. You need to make it nice and clear who created all that amazing artwork and how ADs can get hold of you to produce some more for their project!
This isn’t just an issue with contact details, however. Very occasionally, it can be almost impossible to find an artist’s name. Presumably while maintaining an uber-cool, minimalist image, some people neglect to add their name to their website or other marketing products. This certainly isn’t a common problem, but when it does crop up it is very frustrating having to trawl through Google and other websites trying to work out who that person is.
Always remember that art directors are very busy people. They will not want to spend their time hunting around for either a name or a way to contact you. Make it easy for them. And once you are in contact with them, be consistent with the information you use. If you send a out a postcard to an AD, make sure your follow-up email uses the same name and email address that you used on the postcards so they can see who you are. And it may seem obvious, but don’t go and change which name or email address you use half-way through working with a client.
Keep your work visible, get your name known and make getting in touch with you a breeze!