Illustrators Pitching to Indie Authors: Learning what not to do, the hard way
Within the past few months, I've joined various Facebook groups for children's authors and illustrators. Every few days an author will post searching for an illustrator. The speed and intensity of the replies is overwhelming and quite frankly intimidating. But after a couple months I'm starting to understand the system and have developed a couple tips and insights worth sharing. Now it's important to note that these are my personal experiences and are no way extensive. Do you have more tips? Let me know!
First let's start with the DOs:
-read the brief: is the author looking for a certain style? Is it a style you want to work in? Yes, a job is job but there's nothing worse than dedicating 2-3 months to working in a medium or style you don't enjoy.
-Post examples of your own work: While I always link to my portfolio, I find I get the most feedback when I put samples up right away. If you receive 100 replies to your post, you're not going to have time to go through each portfolio extensively. You need to be eye catching and effective in your post
-Be personable: Another way to make yourself stand out is to be a nice person. Find something about their post you can relate to. Are they looking for an illustrator for a yoga book and you love yoga? Include a sentence about it when you send your portfolio
Working with a self-published author is a partnership and requires a lot of communication. They need to know they're working with a real person they can trust and it works the same way the other way around. Like any business, professionalism is key.
Now for the DON'Ts:
-Don't undersell yourself: I see on average of 10 posts per week looking for illustrators. If an author is not working within your budget, it's okay to pass. Another job will come along. You don't have to say yes to every opportunity that comes your way (I'm emphasizing this as a reminder to myself. Got that Kristina? It's okay to say no)
-Don't harass an author: Authors often have a very specific idea of what they want their book to look like and that may or may not coincide with your style. If they decide to pass on you, that's okay. It's not personal and there's no need for extensive follow up. (That being said, I would not apply this rule to working with agents or publishing houses)
-Don't work for free, unless you're comfortable with it. Which means you should find out the full details of a project before providing any samples.
This last point is the part I have struggled with the most starting out and I thought I'd share my experiences as no one really talks about this part. What do you do when an author asks you for a sample?
Now first of all, I have some gripes about this. If I'm contracted to do a book I'm doing extensive research beforehand. I've put together moodboards, I've played with different styles, decided colour palettes, I've done extensive style and colour studies and storyboard to determine flow and pacing and I've extensively read the manuscript. If I'm asked to do a sample page with the context of 'we'll just use the page for the book if you're chosen' No, chances are we won't so any work you do as a sample will not likely be used.
In my limited experience I have made 3 big mistakes:
I didn't ask enough questions. I ended up doing a character design/pitch for an author without really understanding the context of the book. (This was at the very beginning of my participation in these groups, and I was just very excited to be generating interest) I personally don't like to affiliate myself with anything political or religious and it turns out this book was both. From this experience, I have learned not to provide samples without first discussing the storyline extensively or reading the manuscript.
I didn't work in the style the author wanted. In this next situation the author was very specific on style and I didn't think it was appropriate for a kids' book so I tried to take that style and kid-i-fy it. Surprise, surprise, it was not what the author wanted because it was not what the author asked for.
I did too much, for free. I had an author approach me with a lovely idea. She was very thorough, asked a ton of questions and gave me all the info I needed to know if it was a project I'd be willing to work on and then asked if I would do a sample for free. I said I would, but when I received the brief, it was extensive. We're talking a double page spread fully formatted with excessive details, down to the Himalayan salt lamp to be placed on the desk. (This is the point where I should have said no, I knew she had at least 3 other illustrators also competing for the brief and I knew just how much time this brief would take me) Two days later, I've completed the spread. I didn't get the job but I gained a bit of perspective. I have no problem doing samples for free. Character creation is my favourite part of story development, it's fun to play with but as an illustrator you need to decide how much you're willing or not willing to do for free and that may be different for everyone.
Now that project wasn't a complete waste of time, because I took process photos to show how I would go about working on a large piece like this digitally
The thing about working for self-published authors is that there are no rules. Industry standards that you would find while working through publishing houses don't always apply. You need to make the judgment on what's okay or not and how you're willing to work. Anyone else made so big mistakes when getting started? Feel free to share!