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The End of the Line:
Why Repped Relationships Fail

by Chris Tugeau
Chris Tugeau is an artist and artist's representative. This article is used by permission. It and other articles can be found at her excellent web site at www.catugeau.com
For years I have been asked by artists why it is that a rep and an artist, once finding each other, decide to go separate ways. I believe artists and writers would benefit from knowing a bit more about this process.

Artists easily comprehend that they might grow to dislike or not trust a rep and need to end the relationship. If they aren't getting the type and number of jobs they anticipated, it's easy to feel that it's the fault of the rep. And though that may be true, I've talked many artists out of "jumping" to my agency who were "fishing" for a new rep, by explaining that it's probably the market's "slow year" rather than their rep's fault. However, occasionally a fresh start is a good choice for an artist's career. The artist may want to expand into markets the rep doesn't handle -- advertising or international, for instance -- and a jump to another agent might be the correct move.

Representing artists (and writers) is a business of relationships. Reps must maintain and constantly expand their lists of industry clients. A large part of maintenance is consistently providing art buyers with talented and experienced professionals who can get the needed assignment done in the expected style and time frame. That is the job for which the artists are hired and paid. That sounds obvious, yet many assignments are not completed successfully. They are killed at the sketch, or even at the finished stage. Perhaps they are done without the proper "bleed" or positioning, or they aren't true to the expected style or palette…lots of reasons. The artist's challenge is to carefully follow the specs while doing great creative work. Assigning work is truly a leap of faith for buyers. They work with particular reps because they trust that their artists are more likely to get the job done right and on time. When this doesn't occur, it not only hurts the artist's reputation, but the reputation of the entire agency--it's unlikely that the buyer will call again! This is a reason that rep will have for releasing an artist.

A note about "team playing": Part of that is the ability of artists to separate the needs of the job from their personal creative needs; not an easy thing. Criticism from the buyer -- trade or educational -- is not only expected, but essential at times to get the job done right for the needs of the publisher. Although expressing your creative insights to clients is appropriate, "venting" is not. I find being a cheerleader and part-time therapist is part of being a rep, but ultimately artists who cannot separate their egos from the clients' needs will not last long in the illustration business.

At the end of each year, we reps write our reports for the 1099 tax forms we send to each artist. The earning power of each artist for that year is quite clear at this point. If an artist is under-earning, we'll look at past years' reports again, and other factors like health, type of jobs, job acceptance, etc. We reps can only manage a certain number of artists and do the job we expect of ourselves with each individual. If a couple of artists are not making a sufficient financial contribution, we must make room for artists who will.

The need to constantly offer clients new styles and talents is another important reason to release less productive artists. After ten years, clients know my "regulars," and if I hope to continue to catch their attention, I must offer new talent! Of course, "old" talent also needs to offer new looks and subjects. It would be death to the vitality of the entire agency if buyers lose interest in the rep. It has literally broken my heart to let go artists whom I'm personally fond of, but if the agency as a whole is to remain vital and of interest to the buying market, a rep must make many tough decisions.

I truly hope this will help to demystify a difficult subject and be helpful to all artists (and writers).

First appeared in the SCBWI Metro NY newsletter December 2003.
© Chris Tugeau. May not be reproduced or printed, except for personal use, without permission.

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