Self-marketing decisions



  • As my freelance business is picking up some, I wanted to share some marketing decisions I have taken in the past weeks - following dedicated conversations with my agent, other illustrators and art directors and my experiences both as art director and as freelance illustrator.

    • One major decision I took is to stop sending out postcards.
      Postcards are still mentioned as one of the few things that work, also here on SVS. The issue is, postcard campaigns cost a lot of time and money. I have only done two so far, sending out about 500 in total. It´s not a lot, as these things go, so it is maybe not surprising that I did not get any response. However, collecting and sorting addresses, printing and shipment are a major burden. My agent shrugs and says that almost no art director has a physical office anymore (I do not have one either!), so no place to pin cards anyhow. I had two conversations on top of this: an art director from the big 5s told me she nearly never chooses illustrators from postcards (more to that later) and a well established illustrator I talked with recently mentioned she probably sent out thousands of cards over the years and was only once contacted because of a card she sent. This makes me increasingly skeptical that this is a good approach to marketing - especially given the alternatives. So I decided to stop that and only keep a few for conferences, etc..

    So this leaves me some money, time and energy to do other things, but what?

    • It seems more and more that the number one marketing platform for art and design is Behance. I was introduced to Behance by my designer colleagues, then got a crash-course from a children illustrator who swears on Behance as number 1 source fo business and set up an account more than a year ago....As I was tasked with finding a pool of illustrators for the agency I work for, I turned to Behance - and made all my picks there. Behance is curated, so an art director´s feed only shows what the editorial team thinks worthwhile - the result is that you only see excellent work. It is not Upwork, so you do have to go through the actual work of setting up contracts with the artist or the artist´s agents at their fees. It´s like an always updated, highly curated illustration annual. While you do need an Adobe account, I do not think you need to pay anything to use Behance.
      As an illustrator, after one lackluster year (which still brought me a couple of leads, though they did not turn into jobs) one of my entries got picked by the editorial team for the (daily changing) “illustration gallery” and then I participated in a highly visible collaboration project. My Behance account got a lot more prominent, and, lo and behold, I have just signed a book contract with a company that found me via Behance. So it most definitely works! Behance has its spoken and unspoken rules, and it requires quite some effort to use it at best (layout and presentation are very very important on Behance), but this is one of the platforms where I am going to invest my self-marketing energy.

    • “Traditional social media number 1: Instagram. Instagram is turning more and more into a mini-portfolio site for creatives. After going through a couple of blogs and videos discussing just this, I decided to treat it as such. So I purged it of all the content that is irrelevant, deleted all work I am not proud of, changed the publishing strategy to honor the 3-column layout, updated my profile and switched to a business account (awesome analytics, direct links to your website on your profile and the possibility to do paid promotions). So far, the impact has been to bump the followers up by about 300 (without spending any money yet) - that was already quite interesting to see. As a note, I did two educational books earlier this year for a publisher that found me via Instagram. So that seems to work too.

    • Traditional social media number 2: Twitter. While Twitter seems awkward to use for art, the reality is that the majority of literary agents, editors, publishers and art directors “live” here. My agent and I got in contact via Twitter. There are regular “picture book pitch” parties on Twitter where publishers and agents tune in. The publishing world lives here, so if you are into publishing it seems worthwhile to invest in a well-curated Twitter account with regular, relevant posts - both with and without art. The big 5 art director I was talking about before mentioned Twitter as her place-to-go to find illustrators (sounds odd, but it is what it is).

    One common thing I can say. Social media for self-marketing is hard work and eats up a LOT of time. But it seems to be working for me and many others, while other more “traditional” tools don’t - so I am going to withdraw time and money from creating address lists and invest more of it here. One thing I still do is focusessed e-mails to publishers I would like to work with - especially local ones, who are maybe not likely to go online to find artists.

    These are my considerations from the last weeks and I share them not as recommendations but to hear your thoughts, experiences, opinions. I learned so much about this from other artists, so sharing further what I think or learned.



  • I forgot to mention - I am obviously a human, not a marketing machine, so I like to keep in contact with friends and family as well. I use FB for that - which does not work well as a business tool anyhow. So no more art and a lot more kids pictures on my private FB account. I do have an unused business account on FB, so maybe I will try it out and see if it brings anything...



  • @smceccarelli Your posts always make such interesting reading,wonderful information here.I recently joined instagram and love it ,a very friendly platform. Behance is very intimidating and I am not good enough yet-I am curious what are the unspoken rules you mention.I recently read an article saying Facebook was the best place for new artists ( I will get the link later for you).



  • @dottyp That's good to know! It has not worked for me so far, but that is probably because I used my personal account and was reticent of promoting it outside of people I personally know, Now I have separated out a business page, so maybe I will try using that.
    As for Behance - it is not a platform for "spontaneity". Everything is highly curated and you need to strive for the level of polish shown by the most successful profiles, or you will never make it to the "surface", that is to the feed. That means some effort in presenting your work at its best: layout, typography, texts (if any). You may need to do some product shots (or "comps" as they are called in agencies), or some nice pictures or videos of your process. Updating projects is not welcome, so they should be completed when you post them. I have heard designers spending several days of work just to layout their Behance entries. The editors also evaluate your level of engagement, so at the beginning is more of a hunt to get people to look at your projects and, hopefully, like or comment on them, so that you get your "stats" to rise. I got fed up with it after a couple of months when I started - it was just too much work. But after hunting for illustrators from the other side, I realised how cool of a marketplace it is and started working on it again - and then things picked up a bit more swiftly and now I got a really nice contract out of it, so it seems very worthwhile.



  • Thanks for all of the great info!



  • @smceccarelli What a great post! Thanks for sharing all this great insight.
    I've been wondering about the efficacy of postcards myself recently. It certainly does seem like a lot of work (and money! Especially if you're sending to American publishers yet don't live in the States yourself...postage is expensive!).
    It's funny you mention Behance - less than a week ago I signed up again after years of not being on it. For now I've just posted my graphic design related work, but now that you've had success with it for illustration, I think I'll check to see if there's different groupings you can put things into (so that I can keep the graphic design work separate from the illustration).
    Also... a HUGE congrats on your new book contract! I can't wait to hear more about it. Yay!!!



  • Thank you Simona for sharing your experience. I'm at the beginning steps of understanding how the illustration business works and this is exactly the kind of info we all need to share with each other. Very useful!! I recently obtained a little extra money and was on the fence between buying an iPad pro or using it for a postcard campaign. I decided on the iPad pro and I'm glad I did based on your experience. I found your comments about Bechance to be very interesting. I've had very little buzz with my account because I haven't spent time with the layout and presentation. Now I know. Thank you again. Between learning how to paint/draw/communicate, the business side of things also needs attention!



  • Thanks for this I've always considered Behance as an after thought it has always just been the little box that pops up after I update my Adobe portfolio it asks if I'd also like to post my work to Behance and I just click yes. Maybe only ever been to the actual site a couple times a long time ago when I first got my Adobe CC account....now I guess I better get over there and clean it up and start learning the ropes.



  • @evilrobot Keep in mind that I do not know how many publishing art directors are on Behance. Advertisement agencies are definitely moving there, and a bunch of other art buyers. There is a good selection of Children´s illustrators in the feeds as well. Are the big-name publishing art directors looking there? I don´t know. At the end of the day, you need many different ways to gather eyes around your work...



  • @smceccarelli Congratulations on your book contract!! that is so exciting - thank you for the great informative post too!



  • @kevin-longueil Thank you! I have to raise a cheer to my agent, who managed to get nearly double what I would have asked....



  • I guess I am still very unfamiliar with how of this works. If you already have an agent, why does sending postcards matter anymore? I assumed that once you have a rep, they get you the work.



  • @eric-castleman We agreed to share the marketing. My agent only targets Children´s book publishers and only on the US market. She is a literary agent and focuses most of her work on pitching book dummies - she is doing a great job with my dummy, showing it to pretty cool people (though with no success so far). She will handle other negotiations and contracts if they come along, but she is not that focused on getting “clients” - she is more a “career-building/coaching” type of agent. I sent postcards to magazines and to European publishers - the space that she does not cover. Fundamentally, she does the face-to-face and targeted interactions, while I do blanket marketing.



  • Well done on your success and thanks for sharing this information :-) I'm on Behance but it is really difficult getting noticed on it. I use it to find other artists and get inspiration a lot though.



  • @christine-garner I have seen your Behance account and you have beautiful work there! Here are a couple of pointers I got from the friend who helped me get on Behance:

    • A Behance project normally consists of a series of illustrations related to the same theme (for example all of your animal illustrations, the best of the year, a whole book), often arranged together with text or other materials to build a full presentation of a project. Single illustrations do not fare well on Behance.
    • Attracting eyes (and followers) and being included in other people’s collections is the focus of the first few months on Behance. The main way to do this is through interaction: making solid comments on other people‘s work, especially illustrators that have similar styles or work in the same area and have a good following. People look at the collections pinned by prominent accounts - similar to Pinterest - so getting on those collections is a good strategy.

    Again, it is a lot of work and takes a long time - Behance is much slower than other social media platforms.



  • @smceccarelli @smceccarelli I have never looked into Bechance before - i was just now scrolling through the curated illustration galleries to see if there was any possibility that my work might stack up to any of it and I bumped into your "Forest Kids" gallery - Which led me to your other galleries which led me to your Charlotte Holmes pieces! Those are SO good!! (here is the link for folks)

    https://www.behance.net/gallery/56713265/Charlotte-Holmes



  • @kevin-longueil Thank you Kevin! And your work definitely stacks up!



  • @smceccarelli Thank you for the advice, really helpful :-)



  • I wanted to mention what happened yesterday: it sort of makes the case. I put all "Alice" illustrations in a nice layout last week and posted them on Behance. Yesterday morning at 5 am (my time), the Behance editorial team featured the project on the Illustration collection - the feature time is 24 hours, so it ended at 5 am this morning. The pickup was really good (about 3700 views) - and during the past two days I have been contacted by six prospective clients. Most of these are uninteresting or plain weird (one Chinese company contacted me to do designs for children slippers ... !?), but I have arranged a couple of follow-up calls to discuss two potentially legit ones. So, yes - it's quite an interesting platform to promote on...



  • @smceccarelli Thank you so much for sharing all this information! This is very valuable to other artists. I was really wondering what to do with Behance, because it seems so overwhelming when you begin. I really like what you did with the layout of your projects, you gave so much ideas of how to approach it!


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