If you are are reading this and trying to figure out how to start getting jobs as an illustrator, then I have three words for you:
the post office
What has that got to do with it? Well every illustrator out there sends postcard after postcard to art directors and agents and editors from all corners of the country (and a few in other countries) in an effort to get seen, to get their work in front of the right set of eyeballs that will land them the dream book deal or at the very least a piece of spot art that will pay the light bill this month.
The question is how do you know who to send to, and where do you get that information? Recently, while investigating my own options for increasing the quality of my contact list, I got some interesting answers from other illustrators and decided to write an entry about the illustrators number one source of publicity: the mailing list.
For starters, I asked around if anyone had ever bought a mailing. I polled about a dozen colleagues and all said no... (but they all wanted to know what I found out if anyone else did.) Then I posted some queries on a few illustrator boards asking for anyone to comment on whether they had bought a list. No one had, or at least they didn't admit to it. So I started asking how did you get your list, how big is it? What surprised me was that most illustrators responded that their lists were quite small. Alabama illustrator Elizabeth Dulemba said her list had peaked at two hundred names but now was about hundred of her favorite art directors and editors. Another answered that her list was about sixty names. On the other end of the spectrum Orlando illustrator Chad Thompson says he has close to a thousand names on his list. Thompson said he leans heavily on his mailing list, and admits that almost 100% of his projects come from regular mailings. My own personal list is not quite 300 names, a combination of publishing art directors and editors, agents, and agency designers.
So then I wondered - if no one buys lists where does everyone get their contacts? Again the illustrator community had some interesting answers. Elizabeth Dulemba responded that she studied a lot of industry news portals such as GalleyCat, Publishers Weekly, and Publisher's Lunch. Chad Thompson had good luck meeting art directors through some of the larger booksellers associations. Everyone agreed that the Children's Writers and Illustrators Market was a great resource but could become dated quickly. I've learned to follow the CWIM blog to catch updates. My own additions to the list were the SCBWI Market Surveys as a good resource for cross referencing, with the Edited By survey being a unique resource for seeing what kind of books might attract particular editors. Most illustrators were familiar with the mix of blogs and sites I mentioned in this post and everyone confessed to having to scramble to stay on top of changes recently.
With a hodgepodge of places to glean information from what should an illustrator keep in mind when putting a list together? Dulemba stressed research, "It takes studying to build a list like that, but it's much more effective." I've always googled any name I come across just to see what else will come up. With the wealth of social networking these days its not unbelievable to find that the editor you'd like to mail to is in a colleagues friend's list. Besides research, keeping it updated, of course, is paramount. "I learned early on that you'll waste a lot of stamps (for returned cards) if you're list is even a few months old." says Thompson, "There's always someone moving, closing or merging."
While all this sounds like (read: is) a lot of work, it pays off. Every art director I have spoken with references the piles of postcards they get in a day as place to find new talent. Of course you should make sure your samples are relevant to what a particular house is looking for, and make sure you send at least some samples with children on them. As elementary as this sounds, I've heard more than one baffled art director comment on the piles of cards they get with no children or friendly animals. And finally you should make that trek to the post office regularly. I'm currently mailing every other month mostly because I have an overstock of postcards and I hate to have them sitting around gathering dust. Most art directors say mail at least 3 to 4 times a year and I've found its a good idea to print cards ahead of time and have them labeled and ready to go. If a contact changes you can always re-label the card. That way if you do get busy with projects you won't let your mailing schedule slide. "Keep it up." says Thompson, "The more mailings you can do, the more often art directors can see your name and your work." He's right. With this kind of publicity it's a numbers game - the more often people see your work, the better you chances of finding a dream book deal.
ps. thanks to contributors Chad Thompson and Elizabeth Dulemba. Check 'em out.