Advice For New Illustrators

How do I get work? Argh, the age-old question which I thought long and hard over. It seemed like a total mystery until you start researching and making your first few contacts. This advice is mainly geared to picture book illustrators, but might also be useful to other types of illustrators too.

First of all, decide what kind of illustrator you are. Are you the whimsical and cute, the slapstick comedy, the romantic and mystical, the serious and scary, or the edgy arty graphic etc. Once you have settled on what you do best, go into a bookshop and see what is out there and where your style might fit in. Come up with your own briefs that will showcase your work best.

Then, after you have compiled a body of work (and you can never have too much) you will be ready to start approaching companies. Also, keep all your sketches and notebooks, as sometime they like to flick through those too, especially at the beginning of your career.

Try and stick to at most two styles; any more will confuse potential clients. They want to be 100% sure of what they are getting before parting with their money. You will find that one style will take off more than the other. When that happens drop down to one style. If you cannot help wanting to have more than one style, consider advertising under a different name so clients don't get confused. They are simple creatures. Although do discuss with an agent or the AOI what is best for you to do.

Buy these books:

- Children's Writers and Artists' Year Book by A&C Black (they also do a more general one too)
- Children's Writers and Illustrators' Market by D&C
- The Illustrator's Guide to Law and Business Practice by Simon Stern (printed by the Association of Illustrators)

They are the most valuable books to have. All agents and book publishers' addresses and advice are in there. The guide to law is essential too to make sure you don't get ripped off, so get to know copyright law like it's your best friend. It also lists what type of fees you are likely to come across.

Using these books, make a list of agents, publishers and design agencies you want to approach.

Design a letter head, business card, compliment slip and CV. Keep it simple, yet with little elements of your illustrations.
Scan your work into a computer and design some printout samples. It does not have to be fancy but must be clear, simple, easy to understand and above all must look professional. Take these sample printouts and make into a pack, tie it up with a ribbon or a simple sleeve or sticker or finishing flourish that demonstrates your personal style. Don't do anything that is too time consuming; make it easy for yourself as you will probably have to make 50 packs or maybe more. Look at for ideas. Maybe a CD slideshow presentation instead if you are any good with computers. It is something for them to keep and refer back to at any time. Don't give them originals.

Send a sample pack, covering letter, CV, and business card to all your favourite or most relevant companies and agents. Keep a list of who you have sent a pack to. Tick off each one as you get replies. Consider a follow up e-mail maybe 3-4 weeks later.

Go to the London Book fair, as it has all publishers under one roof. Go around and introduce yourself with your portfolio and give them a sample pack. Agents are there too, so go and see them as well. Other illustrators go there so it is taken as a given that new illustrators will go, hence most publishers will take the time to sit down and go through your work. Some publishers are so big and scary that you need an appointment, though perhaps that can be pre-arranged by giving them a call or an e-mail beforehand. They are always on the lookout for new talent. It is also a good place to pick up gossip and rumours.

Design a website, as it is the perfect place to showcase your work and to give your contact details. Although maybe it is better to wait until you get feedback and have done a couple of jobs. But it can't hurt if you do.

Join the Association of Illustrators: They have workshops for students and give advice on portfolios, business and legal advice.

Think about competitions and exhibitions that may be a good place to showcase your work. It's not essential but just another angle to try.

Read up on the Public Lending right:
Most useful once you are published as you can get money from the government every time one of your books is taken out of the library. Adds up to a lot of cash over the years!

Join DACS: Designers and Artists Copyright Society

Publishers often take on first-time illustrators and nurture their talent, which is brilliant. Others are little more hands off and some seem like they are only half awake. In any event you need to be proactive and hurry them along or ask a ton of questions. Getting a feel for their business and concerns is always good. They like illustrators who are open and flexible and keep them updated with what they are doing.

Agents: all I can say is my agents have been pretty good so far. Though you will still need to read all your contracts and keep them and sort out your own schedule. They take a large chunk of your fees but worth having as they get you work you would otherwise not get. They are a good place to pick up tips and find out which companies are completely untrustworthy. Can't beat word of mouth recommendations.

Best to try and get a publisher without an agent as they may take a large chunk of your royalties. Over the years it would add up to a fantastic amount unless you are very good at negotiating. Then again a good agent can negotiate deals you may find hard to do by yourself. Also, get the AOI to check your contracts, they are very helpful.

Once you get an offer, an upfront fee should be about £3,000-£3,500 for your first book and 5% royalties. They might not offer royalties as you are an unknown entity and a bit of a risk, but it's best to ask for it. Once you have a proven track record and good sales you can ask for more and you will definitely get royalties. Some publishers up your fee without you even having to ask, which is fab. If they see you as a cash cow they will want to keep you happy.

NEVER SELL YOUR COPYRIGHT! Unless it's for a huge amount of money. You don't need to register your work, it’s your copyright as soon as you draw it. A company cannot claim it as theirs unless you have signed a contract saying so. Plus, don't copy another artist's work even if you are paid to do so, as you may get into trouble (breach their copyright) and it's a bit frustrating for you too. It is essential that you get to grips with this, boring yes, but it will save you disappointment in the long run. Read up on Moral Rights too!

Don't be put off by rejection, you will always get rejected at some point; even the very best get a 'no' once in a while. If everyone seems to say no then maybe review your work and think about trying a different look or style.

Try and be a tough negotiator but always in a sweet, flexible way. Clients don't like prima donna's or artists not willing to change something. Be prepared to make compromises. They will ALWAYS ask you to make changes. Though if you think you are right stick to your guns as they may come round to your way of thinking anyway. If you are struggling with a brief or you have problems meeting a deadline tell your client asap! They will understand and will try and do their best to help you.

Never start a job without a contract or an advance of the fee (if it is a big job worth thousands). Don’t get caught out by trusting people who don’t hold up their end of the bargain. If they are a decent client they will not expect anything else. A client who faffs about or tries to fob you off is a client to ditch. For smaller jobs it’s maybe not so vital but nevertheless a confirmed written offer by e-mail should be expected.

Until your first job comes in get bar work, a shop job, or even better a job in an art shop to cover your needs. Don't work full time as you need some full days to do your freelance work. Consider signing on dole for a bit. Never get in debt, as the financial burden will be so great and patchy that you will fail before you start. You need stability for this to work.

Contact Business Link for advice about tax and marketing. Call your local tax office and tell them what you plan to do.

Find a place to work that is yours alone, your parents' house or spare room or a wee corner somewhere with good light. Keep costs low. Tell them you have to leave it as an office space 100% of the time. Having to tidy up and put away every day is annoying and offputting. That happened to me and it stopped me working completely. Put your foot down and ask for their support.

Work hard. If you know you might be on the flaky/lazy side, have an honest conversation with yourself, ask yourself can I discipline myself enough to do this consistently? If you can't sit every day and do something constructive for many hours then you will fail. I hate to say it, but I have seen friends miss out just because they were bone idle or too depressed or too intimidated to get off their bottom and work. If you are talented, passionate and determined you will succeed, it is just a question of when, not if. There is an element of luck, but ultimately it comes to hard work.

Be prepared, it will take 1-2 years until you get enough consistent work. It took me 6 months until I got my first big job but that is where luck comes in. Best to prepare for the worst case scenario because it’s different for everyone.

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