an old promo of mine . . . I’m siiiinging in the rain! © 2009
Last week, one of my most entertaining publishing blog reads, the INTERN, posted a piece called “The Ten Best Things You Can Do For Your Manuscript“. There are some similarities between the teeming slush piles of art and word, but a lot of the process is actually very different. So, artists, let’s hear it for your list:
The Ten Best Things You Can Do For Your Illustrations
1. Find your style
Not to get all “follow your bliss” from the beginning, but there is nothing more important than being amazing at your own personal style – the way that characters and actions come to you naturally. Trying to show an art director that you can do every style just leaves them unsure of how you would approach a project. Instead, let them come to you for what you do best!
2. Hang out with other artists
You’ll be motivated by association, gain more constructive critiques than your grandma telling you how “darling” your illustrations are, and share insights on the industry as you get rich and famous – together.
3. Be in three places at once
Don’t just focus on one opportunity. Share your art everywhere – your local coffee shop, an illustration annual, your friend’s neighbor’s band’s show’s posters… everywhere you can. You never know when the right person might see your work!
4. Draw in stories
In children’s books, it’s not enough to create one epic piece. You have to be able to keep the characters animated and flowing, with the same level of quality, for 6 months and 32 pages of your life. Whenever you begin a new character, draw them in at least 3-5 complete scenes, with different expressions, so an art director has everything they need to know to sign you. A dummy book of sketches (with at least 2 finished pieces!) is even better.
5. Bring your portfolio to the local bookstore
No, don’t show it to the clerk eyeing you behind their Buddy Holly glasses! Put your portfolio under your arm and, literally, put it side by side with art that is actually being published. Are your stylized cartoons as naturally clever as Mo Willems‘? Or do you think your colored-pencil portraits of your dogs just aren’t as action-packed and engaging as the rest of the picture books about puppies? Be honest with yourself!
6. Target your audience
There is no point soliciting 100 different imprints if the imprint wouldn’t publish the kind of work that you do. Do research on what kind of books are already out there, and be specific to whom you submit. Tell them why, briefly, in your cover letter why your book would be perfect for them.
For instance, at our imprint (but not for others, mind), if a submission does not include a self-addressed, stamped envelope, it is almost guaranteed to get thrown away. Give them the opportunity to send the dummy back to you, and at least you could get helpful feedback from the rejection letter.
8. Present your work like a graphic designer
You don’t need to spend a lot of money to submit a dummy that is clean and neatly printed and presented (just order a paperback from Lulu or even make your own). A designer is more likely to pass along a book that has a great design than one that was garish, messy, or worst of all, had typos! Are you amazing at acrylics but can’t typeset to save your life? Coerce a designer-friend to help you out!
9. Drop off your portfolio
Postcards are a great start to reach a lot of contacts, and you’re not even a real person these days without an online presence. On the flip side, repeatedly cold-calling designers and insisting you won’t hang up until you’re published is the fastest way to get on their imaginary blacklist. But with the flood of emails and cards, what will get you that extra 3 minutes of their time to actually have someone look at your work? I hesitate to say this for fear of finding 15 portfolios on my desk next week, but setting up a time for a portfolio drop-off, if the publisher still does that kind of thing, might be the trick to get a timely and informed response from someone in publishing.
10. Never stop learning to draw
Even the most accomplished illustrators still spend their free time practicing their craft, learning the latest technique and lounging around the Society’s Sketch Nights. Don’t get discouraged because your art isn’t yet the awe of every art director in town, and don’t get complacent when it is! Just keep drawing, okay?
photo credit – this artist/Pratt alum’s postcard (not shown, too lazy to scan) is my favorite ever, and has sat in my cube since before my time. But check out Evah Fan’s awesome 3-D work!