These days I'm getting a lot of emails from fellow artists asking about agents. Do I need an agent? How is your experience with your agent? Do you think I need an agent? Truly, I'm not expert here, but I'd like to share what I know from my experience so far.
If you're an illustrator considering whether or not to work with an agent, here are some tips and things to consider:
*Some publishers, especially in the educational markets, will only work with an artist through an agency. Educational publishers seem to assign large bundles of work to several illustrators at once, so it makes sense for them to work with an agency who can provide more than one illustrator for them. Additionally, some larger publishers of picture books will only consider your work when it's submitted through an agent, so having an agent can open doors that you may otherwise not be able to peek through.
*In general, an agency may have access to a larger list of publisher contacts in general. They may also attend trade shows and book fairs that you may not be able to attend or that you may not be interested in attending. For me, traveling is not my jam, so I love that my agents at Bright are taking my work around to various events for both publishing and licensing.
*Some agencies, like Bright, handle multiple aspects of promoting your work across publishing and licensing, while other agencies tend to focus on either publishing or licensing. What you need depends on the type of work you are doing.
*An agent can help to ensure you are being offered a fair fee for a job. Sometimes as an illustrator, it's tough to know if what you're being offered is in line with the average rate for a certain kind of job. Because an agent is constantly assigning work, they have firsthand knowledge of going rates for different project types. An agent can also help you negotiate a better deal. If you're not much of a negotiator, like me, you should probably consider an agent.
*An agent can also handle the sometimes tricky area of making sure you get paid. Is there anything more awkward than having to contact an art director about late payment? Like negotiating, dealing with payment issues is not something I love, so having an agency to take over that aspect is appealing.
*Of course, your agent won't do all of this for free. You can except to give up anywhere from 15% to 50% of your earnings to pay your agency's commission. You'll have to consider whether an agent will bring you enough new work to make their commission worth while for you.
*Signing with an agency is a big decision, so before you make the leap consider asking these questions:
- What is the agency's commission and what, if any, advertising or promotional costs would you be responsible for?
- How many artists does the agency represent?
- Contact some of the agency's existing artists to inquire about their experience.
- How does the agency work with their artists? Will they help with portfolio development and other aspects of building your career?
- How will the agency promote and share your work?
- Do you get to keep your existing clients or will the agency be taking commission on those as well?
- What kind of work does the agency think they can get for you? Does this mesh with the kind of work you want to be doing?
- Read and reread the contract before you sign. Make sure you understand everything and be sure to ask clarifying questions if something in the contract isn't clear.
*Don't feel like you have to accept the first agency offer you receive, especially if you have doubts about it. Be smart about your choice.
For me, it comes down to how I want to manage my art career. In any business, it's smart to figure out what you're not good at and then find someone who is good at that thing to handle it for you. I'm not fantastic at negotiating or marketing, and would rather be making art than worrying about those things, so an agent makes sense for me. If you're an illustrator who loves the challenge of marketing and negotiating, then maybe an agent isn't necessary for you. In the end, it's all about deciding what is best for you, your sanity, and your art career.
What about you? If you're an artist with an agent, share a bit about your experience in the comments. Or if you're considering an agent, feel free to ask any questions in the comments as well!