And Do I Really Need One?
I feel like this topic can seem so all consuming to some illustrators. For many it’s an affirmation that they’ve made it in their career if they are represented and for some, they constantly seek it out.
What about being happy where you are, right now?
How can we make being more present in our lives right now an every day occurrence?
Thats kind of why I wanted to write this post. To dispel some myths about being represented and to offer a way forward for those who aren’t.
So let’s get down to the nitty gritty stuff of this post.
Contacts. Since signing with my current agent I have agreed licenses and done book commissions with publishers I would have found difficult to connect with otherwise. My agents have many decades experience and have built lasting and trusted relationships, and being represented means you become part of that “family”
More time to work in your portfolio. This is for those lucky enough to have “free time”. I have a small baby, so have less of it now.
Your agents work hard to get you work. This goes off the back of the last point, because frankly, you aren’t going to get work if you don’t have anything to show in your portfolio. You need to be consistent and your agents will aim to bring eyes to your work which is ultimately the reason you may want to be represented.
A good agent will be industry trend aware and should be relaying that info to you on a regular basis.
Support and guidance. On the back of being trend aware a good agent will support and guide you throughout you career and throughout a project. You should never feel afraid to contact your agent whenever you feel like it.
Being represented by an industry leader in illustration can have positive effects for you. It gives you a reputation which can lead to bigger and better things.
Let's put the obvious first, commission. Commission ranges from agent to agent but generally it’s between 25%-40%. At this point you have to weigh up what feels right for you. If you are getting enough work that gives you a comfortable life then perhaps the higher rate does not seem so scary after all?
You get lazy and forget to promote yourself ever again. I can personally attest to this. If your agent is getting you all the jobs then there is no need for you to go out there and hunt down clients any more. Wrong. Particularly in the early phase of a relationship with an agent, it’s wise to still promote, send emails and connect. Keep getting eyes on your work from every angle possible.
You have to refer any or all new work connections you make to your new agent. In some contracts agents do ask that you send any contacts you make or have to them. That may mean clients you have worked with for years prior to being represented then have to go through your agent which means you get less of money than you may have in the past. This links to both above points about commission fees and finding clients. You’ll have to do some leg work to find out if this is the case for your agent or an agency you may be interested in.
The waiting for payment game. My favourite negative. It's sometimes a long while between some payments. Your agents have to wait for the client to pay them and then you have to wait for your agents to pay you. You are at the bottom of that ladder and it can be so frustrating sometimes. My advice is to have money coming in from a variety of sources. Don’t just rely on your agents. Open a print shop, sell on Society 6 or similar. Get creative to keep the money rolling in when times are a little quieter. If you need a part time job too, don’t be ashamed. It can be fulfilling to have both aspects of working for yourself and working with others and may also help really focus your mind when it comes to working on your illustration work, as your time available may be more limited.
Having an agent is like being in a long term relationship. It takes work from both sides and ultimately, you have to be compatible. I’ve had some terrible experiences so I know what it’s like when it just doesn’t work. If you can, cut your losses and move on. Don’t feel obligated to stay longer than is necessary and remember to check your contract for termination details.
The contract. The 20 page document full of legalese that makes literally no sense right? If you need someone to read it through with you, do so. It's better to be safe than sorry.
LIES AND FALSEHOODS
Being represented is not the be all and end all as some may believe it to be.
I am personally friends with many extremely successful illustrators here in the UK that have built up their reputation as the top in their fields all without agents.
They will attest that it's hard work. You have to put a lot of graft in.
Having an agent does not mean you will get consistent work. Some are lucky and this is the case, but you will go through lean periods. Make sure you have ways to cope when this happens. Other income streams, savings or a part time job.
I've made it! I can stop everything else!
The truth is you have made one step in your personal career journey. Does that mean you plateau and just cruise along hoping things will always come your way? You have to keep working, keep showing up and be consistent.
Without an agent I can’t ever be the illustrator I want to be?
Again false. You absolutely can! As mentioned above, with work, you can make a career in illustration.
Having or not having an agent should not stop you being the best version of yourself as a person or as an illustrator. Your career is what you make of it and ultimately, what you put in. If you plough a positive mindset into your work every day you will reap the rewards regardless of whether you are represented, and that's surely the best way to live, right?
If you have read all of this and still want to find an illustration agent here's my advice:
Research. Research. Research.
Identify wether you want an agent that specialises in advertising, editorial, children's books or art licensing. Some do a variety of all.
Follow their submission guidelines to the letter.
Wait for a reply and give it time. Often agencies process submissions at specific times (perhaps once per month) and so you may not hear back for a while.
If you need more support or guidance, consider my new mentoring programme or my 1 hour portfolio review.
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