To be or not to be (represented)? That is the question.
Many illustrators dream of being represented by an agent. However many questions abound about getting and working with an agent.
What kind of agent is good for me?
There are two main kinds of agents that deal with illustrators.
Illustration agents specialize in, you guessed it, illustration. Most exclusively represent illustrators, though some agencies also represent photographers and animators. Illustration agents work to get their clients jobs across the board. This can include editorial, advertising, corporate and packaging illustration. Illustration agents can also help their clients with book-related illustration.
Some literary agents also represent illustrators specifically for book illustration. Many also represent illustrators who choose to write their own stories as author-illustrators. Their core focus is the book market.
If you are an illustrator that is looking for an agent to help you grow your general illustration business, then an illustration agent may be a better fit. If however you want to specialize in book and book-related illustration, or if you are interested in being an author-illustrator, a literary agent who handles illustrators may be a better fit.
Do I need an agent?
No, you do not NEED an agent in order to be an illustrator. However, having an agent has some benefits. Agents can help get your work in front of buyers who may otherwise overlook your portfolio. A good agent will have connections within the industry, and some may have particularly strong ties with certain segments. Agents also bring their expertise in negotiating and facilitating contracts, which can be a difficult thing for an illustrator.
When is the ‘best’ time to get an agent?
There is no ‘best’ time to get an agent. However, most illustrators would have developed a professional body of work and some clients of their own before signing with an agent.
The reason for this is simply practicality. Agents need to be able to sell their illustrators, as they earn commissions on the jobs they bring in. They also need to feel sure that the illustrator is professional enough to be able to work with a variety of clients, mostly without supervision.
Ironically, the ‘best’ time to get an agent can be argued to be when an illustrator reaches a point when they simply have too many clients wanting to work with them. At this point, an agent can help by sorting out poor clients or job offers, while negotiating better fees and contracts for the good ones.
How do I find an agent?
If an agent or agency is open to submissions, they will have submission guidelines listed on their websites. In some instances, individual agents may also have further instructions for submissions.
Read the submissions guidelines carefully before sending in your material. Take a good look at the agency as well. For illustration agencies, look at the other illustrators they represent. If there is a news blog, go through that to see what kind of jobs they have been getting for their clients. Consider whether your own work would be a good fit for the agency.
For literary agents, check to see if they represent illustrators in the first place. Literary agents may also include additional information regarding what kinds of stories they represent, which may be important if you are considering being an author-illustrator.
Where do I find an agent?
The simplest way is to use a search engine to look up ‘illustration agents’ or ‘literary agents’.
Members of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) have access to an annual publication that includes, among other things, a list of literary agents. Check the list to see which ones also represent illustrators.
The Children’s Writers & Illustrators Market is an annual publication that has a list of agents.
Manuscript Wish List (MSWL) maintains a searchable database of literary agents. You can search for agents looking to represent picture books, and see if they have submission guidelines for illustrators.