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How to Get an Illustration Rep

Working with an illustration rep might not be for everybody, but for those who are interested, an agent can be a great asset. But how does an illustrator go about finding a rep? Let’s discuss the ways your work can stand out from the crowd.

Become established

The first thing to note is that it can be difficult for someone just starting out in their career to find a rep. For the most part, agents are typically interested in taking on illustrators who have already established themselves to a certain degree. This doesn’t mean that you need to have worked for the highest profile clients in the world, but you do need to have some jobs under your belt. If you haven’t done any freelance work yet or have only worked for a few small clients, it might not be the time to do an agent search. Consider building up your client list and portfolio a bit first before pressing forward.

Be irresistible

Regardless of whether or not you’re established, finding a rep shouldn’t be any problem if you offer something so amazing that an agent knows he or she will be able to sell it. This could be:

  • A killer portfolio that’s marketable, unique, and on par with the best in the industry.
  • An idea that an agent feels is so strong he or she wouldn’t have any problems finding a buyer, like an awesome children’s picture book, or a middle grade novel, or a unique product.
  • Enough promise and drive that an agent feels like the effort of nurturing your career would be worth the time and effort it would take him or her.

Get a referral

While most illustration reps have an open door policy towards submissions, you can find more success if your work comes to them through a friend. If you can get a referral from an associate who’s already represented by the same agency, do that before hitting the general “submit” button on an agent’s website. Your chances will be a lot better.

Don’t be a creep

Agent relationships are like every other kind of relationship in the world. If you come off like a nutcase who’s difficult to work with or you have unrealistic expectations, that can be a huge turnoff. When approaching agents, make sure to keep the ego in check and not seem like you’d be an overly demanding client who’d suck their time and energy. Have good work, a positive outlook, and a willingness to listen and learn.

Let them come to you

Finally, you might not even need to search for an illustration rep at all! If you focus on your work and building your brand, eventually—if your art gets enough exposure and is of outstanding quality—agents will seek you out instead. For many, that’s the best way to go about this process.

Final thoughts

Finding an illustration rep is actually a fairly simple process, assuming, of course, that your work is strong, has had decent exposure, and you’re not difficult to work with. If you’re ready to start inquiring, check out my resources page for a short list of some of the more well-known illustration agencies to contact (although there are certainly a lot more out there).

One thing to note before you begin, though, is that, while we’ve discussed things you can do to find a rep, we haven’t actually talked about whether or not it even makes sense for you to have one. In future posts, we’ll highlight the pros and cons of working with illustration agents and what to look for in prospective ones you’re considering.

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Neil Swaab is a freelance illustrator, art director, author, and educator based in Brooklyn, NY. He's an instructor at Parsons the New School for Design and the illustrator of the New York Times bestselling book Middle School: My Brother is a Big, Fat Liar by James Patterson and Lisa Papademetriou. His new authored and illustrated book, The Secrets to Ruling School: Class Election, comes out this September from Amulet Books.

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