What’s an illustration agent ?
During a conversation I had with a young freelancer, we talked about several subjects such as How to acquire more customers, have more visibility or create an appealing illustration book. Indeed, when starting as a freelancer, whether you want to become a graphic designer, an illustrator or a web designer, one has to cope with uncertainty. The main one being: Will I be able to make a living out of my work?
I want to make this point very clear: with some exceptions, you will not make a living out of your work straight away, so let me give you some advice : you have got to do some bread and butter work on the side or stay at your mom and dad’s for as long as it takes to get yourself a client portfolio. This is the hard reality I’m afraid ! We are more and more seeking jobs and graphic art and communication schools have popped up like mushrooms. However, when you will start making a living out of your illustrations and graphic designs, it will feel amazing !
Let us return to the matter at hand which is: the illustration agents. As illustrators, we can choose to be represented by an agent who will promote our work to advertising, communication or event agencies…
What’s an illustration agent’s role ?
What is an illustration agent exactly ? What is his role ? How does he make a living ? An agent promotes your work, looks after your interests (negotiation, invoicing, rights-of-use) and takes a percentage out of your earnings as an artist, within a range from 25 to 35%. It can seem like a lot, indeed but also yes and no.Actually the agent will negotiate better than you (especially if you’re a junior illustrator) and has a true knowledge of rights-of-use. Can we do without an agent? Yes of course, however you risk getting less visibility and you must also note that some advertising agencies only deal with agents.
Can an agent take a percentage out of a job he didn’t find you ? This may seem like an interesting question, but actually some agents consider that they have to be included in every quotation request an artist receives. These are obviously practices from a previous era as in the internet age, your potential client could just google “illustrator”, “freelance illustrator” or “brand mascot designer” and come across your illustration book, then I believe you should be free to deal with him directly. However if you’re not comfortable with negotiating it can be interesting for you to work with an agent. I would also advise you to negotiate the exclusivity rights before signing the contract. However, please remember that one agent alone will not bring you a liveable income ! This is why you should negotiate to remove the exclusive arrangement.
Polishing your portfolio
First thing first: The illustration book. Before approaching any illustration agency you need to ask real professionals what they think about your work, does it stand out ? Is it too “scholastic” ? If you contact an agent with a sloppy portfolio, don’t not expect to get a positive reply (if you get any reply at all)
Approaching illustration agencies
Now that your portfolio’s finished and neat…. let’s start canvassing clients. Here again be careful. Why? Before contacting illustration agencies, take a look at the work of the illustrators they represent. If your style looks one way or another like one of the illustrator’s the agency already represents, do not expect a positive reply. An agent’s goal is to gather as many different graphic styles as possible to appeal to the largest audience possible, which is logical!
A lot of applicants are competing to get noticed by agents. Just remember that the agent is the one choosing you, but you also have to choose them well and create a real connection with them, as the relationship you will build with them is essential !
Okay so now you are working for an agency and you’re happy. and ought to be. However you notice, after one or two years, that you’re not getting as many contracts as before…and sometimes no contracts at all. Don’t not expect miracles, as I said above, the illustration and graphic design area is a true jungle. There are dozens of illustration agencies and hundred or even thousands of illustrators / graphic designers in France alone. You will need to develop your network.
To conclude I’d say that while having an agent is great, it’s not always enough! You need to stay motivated, curious and informed about your job: the prices, rights-of-use…I encourage you to talk with other professionals, to travel, work and then, work some more…
I wish you good luck and do not hesitate to ask me questions 😉
Following several questions I received from both confirmed and junior illustrators, I have selected a few that I found interesting.
- My agent requested I include a link to his website on my portfolio book, should I accept?
It depends on what you agreed on in the contract. Some agents do ask that you put a link to their website on your web portfolio as a way of saying to potential future clients “ hey yo, this illustration is mine, so you gotta contact me first”. If it is not mentioned in your contrat and that you do not wish to do it, you don’t have to.
- Do I have to include my agent in a project if a client contacts me directly ?
The answer is a big NO! However if you are not comfortable with quoting and invoicing, it can benefit you to use the help of your agent.
- My agent takes 30% of my earnings even when I bring him a new client, is it normal?
It would be very strange indeed that an agent would claim this percentage and only does half the work (the invoicing part but not the client finding one). However you have to consider that an agent’s skills and experience is still valuable not to make any mistakes in your invoicing process. In my opinion, you have got to agree on a clear arrangement with your agent when bringing him a new client.
- Why doesn’t my agency give me any work?
Either they do a terrible job or their clients are not interested in your graphic style. But don’t you worry as it is only rare that one agency alone brings you enough outcome. You need to think about your agency as the icing on the cake and still be proactive to find your own clients.
- My clients do not want to deal with my agent, why?
There are several possibilities here. Either your client considers that it will cost him more money, or they don’t want any intermediaries, or had a previous bad experience, or they just don’t see it as useful. In that case, just ask your agent if he knows your potentiel client and if he can help you settle down a price for the future briefing.