Frequently Asked Questions
Do I need an agent?
Not everyone needs, or even wants an agent. But if you’re an illustrator who would like to publish books, there are two reasons you should consider getting one:
- Selling a book directly to publishers can be difficult, especially because many publishers are closed to unsolicited submissions—this means you need to have an inside connection to submit. An agent is your inside connection. Agents have relationships with editors at various publishers and can help you prepare your manuscript and get it in front of the right editors.
- Agents are also helpful in contract negotiations, especially if you’ve never sold a manuscript before. Publishing contracts can be hard to interpret for a newcomer; you may not know how to negotiate for a better advance, or you may accidentally give away rights you didn’t know you had. An agent will help protect you from bad deals.
There are many more considerations to take in getting an agent. Be sure to ask questions and do your research.
What’s the difference between a literary agent and an artist representative?
A literary agent specializes in selling books, so that is what their clients mainly produce: picture books, novels, memoirs, graphic novels, cookbooks, art books, so on. An artist representative finds art assignments for you. They can range from editorial (newspapers and magazines), to greeting cards, to packaging, and even to books, but assignments are not restricted to any one area. Each type of representative has its advantages. Consider your needs in choosing the best fit for you.
How do I research agents?
Here are a few suggestions to get you started:
- Agent Directories: QueryTracker and AgentQuery are perhaps the most well-known. This is the quickest way to begin your agent search.
- Writer’s Market: Writer’s Market publishes a catalog of agent and publisher information every year. These books are a great primer if you’re new to the industry, but information can become obsolete very quickly, so it’s important that you always look at the most recent edition. These books are available on Amazon, in major bookstores, and in many libraries.
- Interviews: There are a number of websites that house agent interviews and guest posts. This is an excellent way to look deeper into an agent’s career and preferences. Literary Rambles (note: children’s books only) and First Five Frenzy both have tons of great interviews.
- Discussions and Recommendations: It’s a good idea to read what other writers are saying about the agent you’re interested in. There are a few online writing forums where agents are discussed. I recommend Absolute Write and the SCBWI Blueboard (created by Verla Kay). Many agencies have active threads where writers discuss their experiences with agents, from querying to representation.
- Twitter: Lots of agents hang out on Twitter! Following agents is a great way to get to know their preferences and about the industry at large.
- Google: Last but not least! I do not suggest Google as your first resource, but it is excellent for filling in the blanks once you have a few names on your list.
Why do I have to query agents? Why don’t agents reach out to me?
Here are some reasons you want control of this process:
- Just like there are all kinds of artists with their own styles and preferences, there are all kinds of literary agents with their own styles and preferences. The best author-agent relationship is one where there is some compatibility between those styles and preferences.
- Some agents do reach out to artists, but just because an agent has sought you out doesn’t make them the right agent for you. You should not take the first and only offer you receive just because it’s convenient. Always research and ask questions to be sure you and your prospective agent are on the same page.
- This is your career! Querying agents can be a time-consuming process, certainly, but submitting is part of being a working illustrator. Querying gives you the opportunity to make an active choice in who represents you to the world.
What if I query an agent and get rejected?
Illustration is a competitive industry. Sadly, rejections are a difficult and constant part of the profession. If you receive a rejection, remember these things:
- You are not alone. We all get rejected. I’ve published multiple books and I still get rejected! When I feel disheartened, I remember that Pat Zietlow Miller received 126 rejections on various submissions before a publisher finally made an offer to publish her debut book, SOPHIE’S SQUASH… one of my favorite picture books!
- A rejection does not mean your art is bad. It absolutely does not! A rejection CAN mean that your art does not appeal to this particular agent. A rejection can also mean that the agent DOES like your art, but it’s not quite what the agent is looking for at this time, or they might not know how to market it, or it doesn’t quite fit with their client list. A rejection can also mean your submission is not quite polished and needs more work and time. Art is subjective and a rejection can mean any number of things, or a combination of things. Art that one agent may reject could be exactly what another agent is looking for, so it’s best to set rejections aside and keep moving forward.
- Sometimes, a rejection means that this agent is not the right one for you… and that’s not a bad thing. You want an agent who loves your work just as much as you to, and will advocate for you just as strongly as you’d advocate for yourself… maybe even moreso! You are better off finding an agent who is the right fit for your career rather than one who will represent you halfheartedly.
- Rejection may make you feel foolish, unwanted, and disheartened. You may feel as if the agent who rejected you doesn’t care about your feelings. But agents get rejected, too! Just as you are hoping an agent will make you an offer, when agents make offers to artists, they are hoping the artist will accept. Furthermore, agents submit book proposals to editors on behalf of their clients; it’s like the next step of the querying process. When agents receive rejections from authors and editors, they might also feel disheartened. So make no mistake, agents understand how you feel!
- Some authors say that rejections are actually GOOD. I won’t say that, necessarily, but I will say that a rejection is a sign that you’re fighting for your career. You’ve put yourself out there, which is something that all professional illustrators must do, for better or for worse.