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An Agent's Advice on Selling Your Artwork

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

When I asked a trade picture book art director what she looked for from illustrators, she responded, "Good drawing, good composition, good color." Seems obvious, doesn't it? But it's amazing how many portfolios she and I see that don't have these basic elements exhibited.

Let's assume you have studied art technique and you practice to get better all the time. Samples are everything! It is very difficult to get a book assignment, or any illustration job, if the buyers are not seeing plenty of good pieces. Have 10-12 strong samples of your style in your portfolio. For children's publishing, these samples must show character development, interaction, real space and a narrative feeling. Character development can be shown by differing expressions on the same character's face and by body language. I like to explain interaction by noting that the characters in a story are not aware of our presence observing them. We are looking at them "acting" within their world. This is their "real space"… the foreground, middle ground and background of their lives. There does not need to be a written story, just the feeling of one which makes it a narrative.

You must have a promotional piece that the buyer can keep for their files. Printed color pieces are best. There are companies that affordably offer 500 large post cards for about $200 plus. But you can mount photos or good color copies attractively as well. I sometimes mount 5x8 standard white cards with a 4x6 photo and my logo sticker and artist's name beneath it. An 8x10 black page with perhaps two or three color copies cut and arranged on it is also most effective. Black and white composites on an 8x10 card stock sheet are nice too. It's a good idea to send a different promotional piece out two or three times a year to interested editors and art directors. When you can afford it (or even before!), DO take out a page in an appropriate promotional directory and order the reprint pages to send to buyers.

You must constantly study the market. Go to local bookstores once a month and look at all the new offerings. Go to libraries and study the good backlist classics. Why are the illustrations working? How do they flow? Look for styles similar to yours and notice who publishes them. If your style is terribly unique, look for houses that dare to be different. Call the publishers and ask for their most recent catalogue, or ask your local bookstore for old ones.

Send your samples to appropriate art buyers. A pet peeve of every art buyer is to have their time wasted by mismatched presentations. For instance, do not show ‘mass market' styles to a ‘trade' publisher, or adult samples to the K-3 art director. (there is some cross over, of course) And always send a SASE (self addressed stamped envelope) for the return of your samples, or a stamped post card for response if you do not want them returned but want to know they got there and were viewed.

As for response letters, being "not right" for the house or list may be just a matter of market timing. Positioning is all important. The "bottom line" is always looming for publishers. Books must sell so that more books can be published. The market may be saturated with a subject or approach. With the heavy competition of the past decade, quiet, sweet looks tended not to be "in". Then the adorable "love" books appeared at the end of the 90's. Whatever your style, if possible, go for the dramatic and memorable. This is how you will remain in the buyer's memory so they will call when a project comes up. Be aware of trends, but do your own style better and better. There are a wide variety of stories and they need a wide variety of art styles. Work on finding your own personal look, practice, get criticism, study the market and keep those strong samples in the mail to publishers. And be SURE your samples show those three essential elements of "good drawing, good composition and good color." The rest is imagination and story telling. All together, it's a children's book!

Edited: first appeared in "THE BASICS" in C.B.I. (Children's Book Insider) newsletter July 1996.
© Chris Tugeau. May not be reproduced or printed, except for personal use, without permission.

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