How can I generate some money from all the portfolio building I'm doing?



  • So, I'm starting to feel more confident about the children's book illustration portfolio I've been building, but I haven't figured out how to reach out for work yet. I need some advice about where I should focus my efforts in the next month. Here's my site right now: www.valerielightillustration.com

    I've been posting daily on Instagram for a few weeks now, and just the habit of planning a new post every day has been really motivating for me! (And I love seeing everyone's insta posts! Some of y'all are basically famous on there already!) Anyway, I'm working more consistently and confidently than I was 6 months ago, but still honing my style, I think.

    In addition to polishing my portfolio, I need practice with communicating with a client, negotiating a price, and juggling overlapping deadlines, meeting expectations, etc.

    I'm sending out some post cards and inquiries to publishers and art directors I google up, and sort of starting to contact some agents, but I'm thinking maybe I should also start a bit smaller, too. Do you think I should try Fivrr or similar? Commissions? an Etsy store? Something else? Or should I just go full force on blasting inquiries to agents and publishers and try to get my foot in a door that way?



  • Hey Valerie,

    I think this tough to offer advice on because what you should do next really depends on your personal goals for where you want your career to go. It sounds like you're considering a couple options:

    • Sign up for a crowdsourcing site to get client experience and income
    • Open an etsy store to get "running a business" experience and income
    • Keep working on portfolio while querying agents and publishers

    Signing up for a crowdsourcing site will get you a ton of experience quoting jobs, meeting deadlines, and communicating with clients. If this is an area where you feel you need to grow this could be a good option. If you're trying to get portfolio-worthy work or make money, these platforms are not the place to do it. Often the deadlines are tight and the budgets are small so you don't end up being able to do your best work. If you are going to join a platform, I suggest Reedsy. I find that site is a tiny bit less of a race to the bottom. There is an application you have to fill out to join, I find this makes the authors and illustrators on this platform less flakey since they've already had to put in some significant effort up front.

    Opening an Etsy store is going to give you a whole different experience that's going to be a little less applicable to children's books. (but if you want to sell products this is still a great next step) The kind of art that is great for a children's book portfolio is often too specific to succeed as a print or digital product. You may have to rework/generalize old pieces or make a separate body of work to get your Etsy shop to be successful. The experience you'll get from Etsy is more customer service and logistics/shipping than client interaction.

    The third option you mentioned is to keep working on your portfolio and contact agents and publishers. If you want to traditionally publish children's books, this is a good option. Creating portfolio pieces where you are free to take your time and unconstrained by outside influence (like sales numbers or a client) means that you can do your best work and you can cater it to catch the attention of agents/publishers. It isn't going to start generating income for you anytime soon. It takes time for a publisher/agent to notice you and when they do, there could be another 6-8 months before you actually get your first job underway.

    If your goal is to make children's books but you're feeling like you aren't ready to reach out to agents and publishers yet, or you aren't getting the response you wanted, another option is to make a book dummy or kickstart your own project. These options will give you more control over the timeline and quality of work than a crowdsourcing site so you'll end up with great portfolio pieces. If you kickstart your project successfully you can end up making some money off of it and you'll have a finished product you can show to agents and publishers.

    What's the best next step is really up to you, hope my pro's/con's help you in your decision. I'm sure whatever you do next will be fantastic!



  • Thanks for a very thoughtful response, @StudioLooong . Your answer is helping me ask myself some more specific questions.

    I want to illustrate kids' books most of all. I think what I want to know is if I am good enough to be reaching out to publishers and agents right now, or if I ought to be focusing on getting some real work practice under my belt first.



  • @Valerie-Light Have you illustrated a children's book before? Do you have confidence in your skills to be able to do so if hired by a publisher right now?

    If you're questioning whether you're good enough or ready, why not illustrate a book? Give yourself a mock illustration job with a deadline -- see what it's like to go from start to finish illustrating a book. Or ask someone you know to be your "client" -- illustrate their "book" to see what it's like working in a situation where you're not the artistic "boss". Or you can bid on jobs on a crowdsourcing site to get some experience under your belt. (Word of caution from someone who started out freelancing on a crowdsourcing site: carefully weigh the pros and cons before jumping in.)

    If you've never illustrated a book from start to finish, if you're not familiar with the entire process, how can you really know if you're ready or if this is the path for you? It's one of those situations where you won't know until you do it.

    Anyway, that's what I would do in a similar situation. The first book I ever illustrated was for a client, and looking back, I wish I'd had more experience, knew what I was doing, knew what to expect. It would've made that job MUCH easier and much more rewarding, in every sense of the word!



  • @Melissa-Bailey-0 It's really good to hear from someone who's been there. No I haven't done any illustration work from start to finish for a client. Honestly, at this point I'd be pretty scared if I got a job doing a whole book. I think I could make it a next project to work through a book dummy and see where that takes me.

    That said, I'm mega unemployed and I also need to get some income going. Even if it's not anything close to a dream gig. As you said, I need to weigh some pros and cons about crowdsourcing work. I'm excited to look into Reedsy that @StudioLooong suggested. Are there others that you have strong opinions pro or con on?


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