I've been getting a lot of questions lately about art reps for people in the children's illustration business. Most people just want to know "how do I get an agent?" However, there are a few basic questions that an artist should ask his/herself first:
1) "Why do I want an agent?" - For most people, the answer to this question is simply "because I believe that having an agent will get me more projects." The reasons for deciding that being represented is right for you is a bit more complex than simply wanting more work. For me, there were several answers to this question that led me to believe that representation was right for me: "I live in the Midwest, and many of the publishers I want to work with are out east. I want to have someone who can personally represent me and my work to the clients that I wish to do business with." "Marketing myself effectively has become a full time job. I need someone with good connections who can focus on promoting me so that I can focus on projects and portfolio development." "I do not know all of the industry standards for pricing and practices across a variety of markets, and need someone knowledgeable and experienced to negotiate my contracts provide advice and perspective about new opportunities." And of course...."I want more work."
2) "What kind of relationship do I want with my agent?" - It's like dating. Most people have certain expectations of people they are considering dating, to narrow the pool. For some, potential dates must share his/her religion, or have a certain level of education, or share certain interests. It is the same with agents. Do you want someone who will take an interest in developing your portfolio, or do you want to be left to your own creative devices? Do you want your agent to be located in a certain region? How much experience do you want your agent to have? Do you want an agent who represents a large portfolio of artists, or do you want to be a part of a smaller more exclusive group? Do you want an agent who will only get you work from one particular market? Do you want an exclusive or a non-exclusive contract with your agent? Do you want to communicate directly with clients, or do you want your rep to handle all client interaction? These are all questions you need to be able to answer before you even begin to look for representation so that you identify agencies that may be a good fit for you.
3) "Why would an agent want to represent me?" - Remember, the dating analogy? You are not hiring an agent. Just as you are looking for an agent who would be a good fit for you, the rep you are talking to is also trying to decide if you would be a good fit for his/her portfolio of artists. Is your work professional enough to actually market? Do you have enough experience under your belt that the agent can feel confident that you can handle a project professionally? Are you easy to work with? Are you committed to working in this industry, or are you just trying illustration out to "see if it works?" Can you create on a deadline? Do you understand your work method enough to be able to give accurate art completion dates? Art reps don't want to waste their time marketing someone who is ultimately going to reflect poorly on them and their business.
4) "Do I know what agents do?" Do you know enough about representation to know if you are talking to an unethical agent? Do you know what the responsibilities of an art rep are...and what they are not?
OK, so you have decided that it is time for you to seek out representation. So, now back to the original question: "How do I get an agent?" There are a lot of ways that artists connect with their agents. Here is how I got connected with my agent:
First I went through the SCBWI publication about reps and agents. I circled reps that I thought sounded worth investigating. (I really wanted someone out in NY, for instance). Then I visited said reps websites to see how many people they were repping, and what the portfolio looked like. I crossed off some reps from my list. Then I began checking out their advertising. I went through ISpot, Picturebook, Directory of Illustration and other marketing venues to see where they were advertising and how consistent they were about doing so over the years. This also gave me a sense of their business brand as well, and how much exposure each artist got (For instance, did they consistently cram about 100 artists on 1 page of a printed annual, or did each artist get a full page to show off their best work?). I also looked their artists up on Amazon, to see is any of them were getting consistent work (hmm....that artist has not had a picturebook since 1985.....I wonder why their agent isn't getting them more?).
Once I had my list down to 4 reps, I queried them, and dialogue began. I had various phone conferences with them, talking about contracts, and the details of the relationship and the business. I also asked to interview several of their artists (my choice) to see how satisfied they were with the relationship. Finally, I entered into a contract with the agent that I felt was right for me. I've been represented since 2008, and love my relationship with my agent. For me, representation by the right agent was the right move for my illustration career.
But what if you don't love your agent? Representation is not a marriage. You do as much research as you can; you think about what you want, and when you find a rep that you think you can work with, you ultimately hope for the best. If the relationship works, wonderful! If it does not, the contracts have a termination clause, explaining the terms for ending the relationship. So, if it doesn't work out, you can always decided to stay un-repped, or find a new rep, learning from your experience. Agencies that are a good fit for one artist may not be a good fit for another.
Good luck, everyone, and happy illustrating!