It can be a struggle to get the world to notice your artwork. Our skill set as illustrators may not include marketing — but you have to do it anyway. You may need to get over the hurdle of resistance to blowing your own horn… you may find that you’re good at promotion and enjoy it! I’m not sure I have much business savvy, but I do keep learning. The illustration world has gone through many changes while I’ve been doing this; sometimes keeping up is a challenge.
If you are unpublished, you may want to consider the work-for-hire as a way to get published pieces on your resume — that’s the way I started my freelance art career via greeting cards years ago, and it led to commissions of license-based work where the copyright now belongs to me. It is also the way that most magazine publishing works — they pay you, but then they own all rights to the work. In a way, it’s not a bad deal, money-wise, and it is good exposure. Examine the websites of greeting card publishers and magazines for children to get the submission guidelines.
You may remember, at our conference in September 2013, award-winning author/illustrator Susan Stockdale presented “Beyond Books: What I Have Learned About Licensing Artwork” where she discussed how illustrators can earn additional income from their images. This was really eye-opening! Susan’s award-winning picture books celebrate nature and help educate children in a fun way. Her beautiful images are also featured on puzzles, notecards, and other products sold worldwide. You can see them on her website.
A website is essential these days. Here are the basics from Jonas Sickler Illustration blog, Tips for Illustrators, February 2012.
When I first started out sending packets of printed samples to publishers, I would sometimes include a stamped, self-addressed reply postcard with boxes to check off to make responding to my query as easy as possible. This was eons ago, before email, even. Back then if they were not interested they’d send the samples back (if an SASE was included in the mailing) and some kind souls went so far as to write response letters. Amazing. But now you cannot send anything to be returned, and will only hear from the publisher if they are interested in your work.
I recommend sending postcards with your web portfolio address to art directors and editors at least a couple of times a year. Pick your best recent image and include all of your pertinent contact information. There are several online printing vendors; I use OvernightPrints.com and have been impressed with the prices and quality. Keep a mailing list from what you read and speakers you meet at conferences, and make sure it is up-to-date.
There are several great sites where you can display your portfolio for a yearly fee: The i spot is a proven site for all kinds of illustration, and I know it gets a lot of art director traffic. ChildrensIllustrators is more specific to what we do, and it is less expensive, too.
Having a Tumblr, Twitter account, Facebook page, etc. is a great way to keep people updated about your work. This is all pretty new to me, but I am learning.
I found a couple of good blogs on the subject of self-promotion. Here’s my favorite, from Neil Swaab’s Business of Illustration. His blog covers a lot of topics necessary to having a career as an illustrator.
What are your best ideas for self-promotion? Please share your comments.