Wednesday, August 20, 2008

More Publishing Mysteries -

After this post on author-illustrator relations, Vickie asked: This is interesting to hear. I never knew it worked that way if you were the author. So now I'm curious to hear the other side, how did you and other illustrators come to be working with publishers. What route do you or did you go to get on there list of artists? It's always so interesting to hear about these things because for those of us not in the field it seems like some mysterious process.

The mysterious, once known, becomes mundane I'm afraid - so if you want to preserve that sense of magic and intrigue, stop reading now! :-) Since publishers are the powers-that-be who select the illustrators for their projects, the more you can make your work visible to them, the better. Here is a bit of my artistic-life-journey and some different ways that I have personally used to get my work in front of those who buy art.

Back in college we were required to take a class on business practices. Self marketing and promotion were a large part of that. This was 20 years ago - you know, the dark ages before the internet?- and back then one of the best ways for a starving young artist to be seen was to send out physical samples of your work.

I can't tell you how many hand-made cards, pamphlets and envelopes (including a 'response card') I assembled in these ventures. I did this quite regularly - at least once a quarter - keeping meticulous records of where these went and what the response was. I had two young children at the time, so initially I targeted small jobs, mainly magazine work. The Children's Writer's & Illustrator's Market was my best friend for contact information.

After I started getting magazine jobs, I would use 'tear sheets' (copies of printed illustration) in promotional mailings. This would show 1.) that I had actually *been* published and 2.) how my work translated in print. This process kept me quite happily busy in the magazine realm until my children started getting a bit older. Using this same technique, I tentatively began to target a very few book publishers with samples of my work. I began a dialog with one of them, and mentioned that I had a book dummy of an old Christmas carol, and would they like to see it? They did, and decided they wanted to publish it (looking back on this now, I can't believe how lucky and unusual that was. Friends of mine have gorgeous book dummies that they have been shopping around for years...)

I had published my first book, but it about killed me - it is so difficult to work on large projects when your children are still young - so I decided to hold off on books or *any* big project until they were older. I did however, want to continue illustrating in more manageable scenarios and find ways to continue growing as an artist.

I did continue to send out mailings to smaller venues. I attended SCBWI conferences, showed my portfolio and networked. I took art classes when I could. I also taught them. I got work in other markets - I created signage for zoos, designed scrapbook papers, stencils, rubber stamps, fabric, book marks, greeting cards, product labels, company logos and many other assorted items. Anything I could think of. And I created promotional materials specific to whatever market I was targeting at the time (fold out samples made for a SciFi/Fantasy convention I attended shown above).

By the time my kids were both teenagers, I had more experience and a little more time to dedicate to illustration. Of course by now the internet is a huge thing. I design a website for myself. I decided to see if I could get an agent so that I could have more targeted exposure. Wendy Lynn & Co. agreed to represent me. (A big part of their job as agents is to promote their clients, so now all those mailings I used to do? They do it for me. This can be very helpful - the art directors for most publishers get hundreds of mailers like I used to send a week. It's very easy to get lost in the pile as a single individual.) Through them, I also take out ad space in Picturebook or Blackbook every year. I have a portfolio page on ChildrensIllustrators. I try to network through various other online venues - this blog, LinkedIn, Facebook and Jacketflap for instance. I use the books I have just published as promotions for more opportunities.

With all of these efforts in place, sometimes it is a bit mysterious why you are chosen for a particular project, actually. Sometimes the art director can tell you exactly where and what piece they saw that lead them to you, sometimes you don't ever find out. Maybe the stars aligned and your promotional piece ended up on someones desk the very day they needed someone to do a job that looked just like *that*.

The more places you can be seen, the greater your odds of *being* seen.

All that said, I still send out 'real' Christmas cards, but that's the only physical promotion that I do anymore. Everything else is through the agent or online.

OK - never start a blog post at 2 am... They get awfully wordy and disjointed! (sorry Vickie). I may have to delete this all tomorrow, but for now, I'm going to bed!

(This is studio kitteh, and she approves this mailing)


Joanna said...

No don't delete, its very inspirational, I should try some of those things and see if I can push my work forward. Thank you for sharing

Eric Orchard said...

Very informative Tara. I'm really glad to know this, it's so interesting to know what steps people took to form their illustration career. My beginnings were along the lines of my wife knew someone who knew someone. Everyone's a contact.
Sweet cat.

Anonymous said...

Please don't delete! I love hearing how you started. Sounds like you worked hard! I really appreciate that effort. Lots of footsteps my goodness and doing it with two little ones! I'm hoping to find some technical classes this fall. Generally I haven't had much luck. It is someone who wants to work in abstract and then tell you you did a great job! Tells maybe they don't know the technicallities and that they don't want to critique either. I love that you recognized the horse. I drew something out of Brian Froud's book and now my husband is wondering if I'm going to draw everything upside down :D

BOKY said...

Hello :)
This is an inspiring post, please don't delete it! Starting (and maintaining)a freelance career is always hard. It's very encouraging to know how well organized and persistent you are about promoting your work...but like you say, one could never really write down an exact recipe for success in this market...



PS IMC sounds really great! And congrats on the Epson, I could definitely use one of those...:)

d. moll, said...

I love hearing how people got to where they are, and kitteh approves so it's all good. You seem to really be able to keep your eye on the prize and really believe in yourself too.

Sandi McBride said...

What a wonderfully informative post...but you know, I do my best thinking after midnight...not sure why that is, lol...I intend to reread this, probably several times, lol...
ps, I love the cat...but you knew that didn't you?

Christina Forshay said...

Thank you so much for your post. It's inpsiring to hear details and process steps from a successful artist. It's even more inspiring to know that you were doing it with two small children! I've got a 20-month old, and sometimes it can be very hard. This post has been encouraging to know that it can be done!

Thank you

Anonymous said...

Very helpful, Tara, especially for those unaware of the "gold mines" that are SCBWI and CWIM.
I've been a long time away from the field, but you just may have tweaked a nerve!
Studio kitteh looks a little sleepy.Wonder why!

clairesgarden said...

well i type with one hand here over the top of a cuddly kittie, hairs shedding on keyboard.
glad you had the drive to keep 'sending out' your work, you're very talented and the world is a better place for it.

Amy Sullivan said...

Thank you for your story & Thoughts on this subject.
Eric sent me your way. I am not sure,
but, something must be in the water that artists are drinking lately.
Everywhere I read, thoughts on goals
and who am I as an artist, is in the air.~ Including myself~ How do I make this work?~ Like you~ I love so many different art forms.I am noway near being a success, like you.And, I struggle.
I am realizing that too much of my art is left up to fate.
I am a portrait artist, a painter.
But, I have been Master Scenic, for theatres, I love fantasy drawing, I am selling my angel paintings on ebay.(just started doing this, it is fun)the list goes on.
The cold fact is that I need to make money.I still have 4 children at home, my oldest is 18, he will be off to college next year.Then 15, 14 & my 40th birthday present, Rowan, she will be 8 in Sept.So, I am all over the place.And, working on my art.
I find artists who are or seem solidly grounded in their art and I think why can't that be me.Why am I so easily distracted, at my age? I pray alot. :)
So, the search goes on.Today, I am refusing to leave the house & will paint all day. ~Amy~

The Art of Kim Kincaid said...

Thank you for this post Tara. I'm so impressed with the body of your work and your generousity in sharing this useful info. Considering your family obligations and art commissions, it's no wonder you are posting in the wee hours of the morning. "Night Owl" seems to be a job requirement for most artists.

Soozcat said...

studio kitteh thinks

krismus cards

r teh NOM.

Thanks for posting all this. I've often wondered how the whole writer/illustrator process works (though from the writer end of things). Kind of frustrating, since I know a few talented illustrators (including yourself) that I'd love to collaborate with, but apparently that's not how the publishing industry works. Meh.

Anyway, let me add to the clamor of voices urging you not to delete!

andrea said...

Holey moley Tara -- just quickly browsing blogs as I return to blog land and I see a book I once knew *so* well as a primary teacher -- The Friendly Beasts. Your work! What a small world! I love that. (And I LOVE your work still.)

ruthie said...

thank you! My real (artistic) self has been postponed for sooo long but is finally starting to take shape again. Your work and your words are inspiration when inspiration is most needed from !

Merisi said...

I am so glad you left this very inspirational post in place!
Thank you for taking the time to share your experience.

Have you ever had the feeling that, as a mother, time to do things that are not necessarily for others, usually comes at the cost of sleep?
I still remember the moment, when my children were very young (I have four), when I realized that. I still have a hard time to simply take an hour "off" during the day, even though the kids now don't need my constant attention anymore. ;-)