Monday 22 November 2010

Becoming a Children's Book Illustrator Part 2: Getting Your Work Seen

I'm getting more and more emails from people trying to get started in book illustration so, to save writing individual replies, here's some more general advice, this time about getting yourself noticed.

It's following up on my post about creating a children's illustration folio, sharing what I can about the next step, and what worked for me at least.

Firstly: spend some time browsing the children's section of bookshops. Familiarise yourself with what different publishers do. Bookshops are better than libraries for this, as it's all still selling, so never out-of-date.

Who publishes picture books? Who leans towards traditonal, beautiful, funny or off-the-wall? Who publishers chapter books? Which illustration techniques are used for which age groups? Note the websites of publishers whose books look a bit like what you do, then check their newest releases on-line to see what they're after right now.

Get a copy of The Children's Writers and Artist's Yearbook (or something similar - there are a few different ones). This has listings of all the publishers with their contact details, as well as more advice and guidance.

Make colour prints of maybe three of your best pieces, marked with your contact details or, if you have the necessaries, design an A4 flyer, like the one here. Post these with a short covering letter to the publishers you have researched.

Unfortunately, publishers get unbelievable quantities of unsolicited material, so you have to work very hard to catch their eye. Here are a few hot tips that worked for me:

1 - Make sure you contact a named Art Director or Commissioning Editor (never send a 'to whom it may concern': it will probably go in the bin).

2 - Ensure any samples you send are produced to high quality - first impressions DO count.
3 - Be funny or different or cute (I designed this letterhead for my covering letter, with the tied-up cat printed top-right and the fish swimming along the page bottom, with the header 'See me soon, or the pussycat gets it!' )
4 - Be persistent, but not boring: send a printed sample of new work (not just the same old stuff) once a month.

5 - Get on-line: set up a simple website, or a Flickr portfolio, to refer publishers to (but resist the urge to pad it out with your less-good work).

6 - Be proactive: phone the art director a week after they get your samples, to ask if they will see you.

7 - The scatter-gun approach: do all of the above for lots of different (but relevant) publishers.

8 - Don't give up too easily: take on board any feedback you're lucky enough to get, but don't be put off by lack of success - even if you're good, it might take a while for someone to bite.

Initial Contact:

If in doubt about which individual to contact, don't be afraid to phone the publisher's switchboard to get the relevant Art Director's name. In your covering letter, tell them you would like an appointment to show them the rest of your folio. This is important, even if you're not local: I have always found that face-to-face contact is the thing that works. For me, samples sent out and website links are all about getting publishers to ultimately let me visit them at their offices, to present my work in person.

Don't be too disappointed if the Art Director doesn't remember your samples when you phone - they get hundreds. Ask again if you can make an appointment to visit them with the rest of your work. Be ready with a simple website or Flickr page, so they can quickly check your work on-screen.

OK, now the bad news. Children's illustration is a very tough market to break into: there's so much competition and the standards are very high. My experience is that slogging round publishers and bombarding them with reminders about your work is the only way in.

However, if your illustrations are of a high enough standard, are interesting, clever and relevant (perhaps even a little bit different, without being too off-the-scale), you should eventually get your foot in the door, if you stick at it doggedly enough.

If you are successful in getting an appointment with an Art Director, you might want to read this post, to give you some idea of what to do and what to expect. Or why not read about how I got my first book?

There are lots of hot tips for new illustrators and demonstrations which you might find useful in the series of short films on my YouTube channel. Take a look - hope you enjoy them! Here's an example: a demonstration, talking you through how I create my pastel artwork:


Aleksandra Chabros (aka Adelaida) said...

Thank you for all those tips! :) I already have some publishing experience but since I don't see much progress with becoming a pro illustrator I'm still trying with few (maybe more than few) publishers over and over again.

ale balanzario said...

Thank you so much for these interesting tips.


Carrie Martinez said...

Thanks for the information. Very relevant right now, so I appreciate you sharing your experience. Love all of your work. All the best!

Shannon Gish said...

Love your blog not only for your incredible illustrations and art, but for your generous spirit. This is such a helpful post.

Caroline said...

Great - thanks for your tips! I've just spent some time catching up with your last few posts. Congrats on being a keynote speaker at the conference! I really enjoy your blog - so informative and amusing!!

Pierre said...

Thanks to a contact on Twitter i discover your blog. Great, great works, i love it ! And thank you so much for this article, really interesting.

Yasmin said...

Thank you very much for sharing yours it experiences and wisdom.
their teachings are a treasure, that is really important for me.
Now I need to also arrange courage to send my works.!!

Unknown said...

at last some really useful advice! Thank you Lynne, you are the only one who got it straight into the point!

Lynne the Pencil said...

Thanks so much Edyta - glad it's useful for you!

Anonymous said...

Lynn, is resume/curriculum not needed if one sends a covering letter with some sample pictures?

Lynne the Pencil said...

Not really. Tell them about your experience, if you have any, but only if it is directly relevant. The work is the main attraction and what will sell you.

Anonymous said...

thank you! you are brilliant!

Unknown said...

hi Lynn, many publishers put a comment 'no unsolicited MSS', the abbreviation apparently stands for Manuscript so what does it mean for an illustrator? thanks in advance for a help:)

Alexandra said...

I second asking about what Edyta just asked. Makes me nervous to send work anywhere it doesn't seem welcome (solicited lol).

Lynne the Pencil said...

Yes 'MSS' is manuscript and many publishers do say that. Some publishers have the same policy for illustrators, but don't use the unsolicted MSS guidelines as an indicator, as it is a different process and a different contact for an illustrator.

You want to show your work to the Art Director (or similar - their title may vary slightly in different countries), whereas a manuscript would go to the Editor. Make sure you are targeting the right people though - research the kind of books they do and get an actual name for the relevant Art Director. You can use the Children's Book Artist's and Writer's Yearbook to find out if they are interested in seeing the work of new illustrators. Some publishers set time aside for this process, some only use tried and tested artists.

Good luck!

Unknown said...

thank you very much Lynn, you have been a lot of help!

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