Illustration Rep Query Letter... Help!

  • So I'm considering sending a link to my online portfolio to the appropriate illustration reps that I've identified in the "Children's Writer's & Illustrator's Market 2016" book. I thought to make it short and sweet, and am also wondering whether to include an illustration or 2 right there in the email. Any feedback on that, the email or other general suggestions are much appreciated.

    Dear ____________ ,

    My name is Shams Nelson and I'm an illustrator looking for representation in the children's book market.

    My style is colorful and eye-catching and I think that my work would be desirable to the right publisher/story.

    Here is a link to my portfolio:

    Hope you enjoy checking out my work!

    All the best,


  • SVS Team SVS Instructor Pro SVS OG

    Hey Shams,

    I think this is a great start. I think a few things should be included, like how many clients you have worked for or some other achievements to show what you are bringing to the table. Keep it short though.

    Please don't get offended with this next bit of advice, but I don't think you are ready for an agent right now. There is still some real polishing you need to do to the work before it's ready for that. Your portfolio lacks a few MAJOR things they will be looking for. Things like:

    • seeing multiple characters interacting in a scene
    • showing the same character over a number of pages in different positions
    • scenes that show a real sense of place and time
    • images that convey different emotions, etc.
    • the ability to draw scenes and environments convincingly

    These are just a few things that will really hold you back. I'd say you need another year or so to really get your portfolio ready for submissions to publishers or agents. This may be tough to hear, but I promise it will be time well spent. Enter (and hopefully win) some SCBWI contests and go to some conferences.

    Your style is coming along nicely. I like your use of line. It gives it a nice energy. I'd work on your compositions and storytelling to really start getting work. BTW, I'm just one person and maybe I'm totally wrong. Ask some other people and see what they say. Feel free to disregard anything you feel isn't correct. Ask people in the industry though, not other artists around you.

    Let me know if you have any questions at all. I'd be happy to help as best I can.


  • I like your style and you have some fun characters. Some of the best advice I've gotten was from a video/ interview with Marla Frazee. She said she spent 12 years trying to break into the children's market before realizing that her art wasn't telling a story, and that's what publishers in picture books are looking for. Unfortunately I saw that video a week before I was presenting MY portfolio of mostly characters with no stories to art directors and editors at my state's SCBWI fall conference. Not surprisingly, my art was forgettable and the critique I received was lukewarm at best, but it was an excellent learning experience. Hopefully when I attend this year my art will have more stories to tell.

  • Pro SVS OG

    Hi Shams,

    Great characters and fun style and line work! I think it's awesome that you are thinking about marketing your work. That takes courage.

    But I think Lee is right, take time to really dig in and build your storytelling skills. You really want to be ready, so you can set yourself up to attract the right agency to rep your work for what you want to do.

    Which is also very important. Right now if you gained interest from a Rep most likely it would be from someone with little knowledge of the children's book market and it would slow down your journey entirely.

    Most days, people see our work at almost any level and they're not publishing pros so we get a lot of...cute, fun etc etc and that is awesome, but it can be a roadblock to growth. It is crucial that in order jump to the next level visually that we have people/mentors and teachers like @lee-white who are willing to give concrete feedback that is not always easy to hear but will potentially help you grow by leaps and bounds.

    Also really study artists you admire in the children's book world. If you're not an SVS subscriber yet it is totally worth it.

    Before landing with the right agent, I spent 5 years and frankenstined my art/storytelling education. I took several of the SVS LIVE class, been a long time subscriber and am taking another one this fall and plan to do Lee's Watercolor Live class when that launches too. I spent a pretty penny doing a 5 day workshop at the Highlights Foundation Advanced Illustrator Workshop, along with a few SCBWI conferences. Plus, endless you tube tutorials.

    My portfolio is always evolving and my education has no limit. All the time and effort have been so worth it.

    This is an exciting time, dig in and really hone those storytelling, anatomy and composition skills. I can't wait to see what you come up with.

  • @Lee-White Hey Lee! Quite cool to have your feedback on this! 🙂 I totally appreciate what you're saying, and that is a great list that I will paste to my notes and work on. I've pretty much only done illustration work for 1 client that I'm working with now, so I probably shouldn't include that, huh? :S

    One thing (that another person commented on) is that most of my art doesn't tell a story, which is something I've been more recently working on.

    Interestingly I've been torn between 2 opposing viewpoints, both of which make a lot of sense to me. One is pretty much where you're coming from (I need to work on stuff like environments, perspective, anatomy, storytelling, and flesh out my portfolio more to showcase these things), but then on the other hand I very often see published children's books with quite "primitive" (I think that's the technical word, I hope I'm not being offensive!) art that is not technically difficult to create...

    My thought is that it can't hurt to send out some emails. Can it? Will I get a bad reputation or something?

    Also, my main plan is to send emails to the educational section of publishing companies, as you said they were easier to break into in your first video. This was kinda the long-shot plan. Could this same email work if tweaked slightly and directed towards educational book publishers?

    Thanks again for your feedback/advice. Means a lot 🙂


  • @Rebecca-Hirsch I totally feel you! It's been a somewhat recent revelation to me that artists are really storytellers first. It's something I feel l kinda struggle with... :S I'm always at that "once I can draw/paint this and that better then I will tell awesome stories with my art."

    I've been putting myself through this self-teaching program I call the "Neslon Academy of Imagination & Design" for the past year, and I haven't yet gotten to a lot of the classes like storyboarding/storytelling and environments yet. I've been re-studying from the ground up (because art school was .. eh... I wasn't really that invested in being an artist at the time) going much deeper into anatomy, figure drawing, perspective, and character design (you gota throw in a fun one!)

    But, yea, thanks for the great advice. I totally agree with you, and it's actually nice to know that my own thoughts about where my work is lacking is acurate.

    BTW I made a video about NAID (my self-taught curriculum) if you're interested 🙂

  • @Charlie-Eve-Ryan Hey Charlie! Thanks for the feedback. Makes a lot of sense, except for one thing I don't understand... How exactly would getting an amateur agent slow down my progress a lot?

    And yup I'm an SVS subscriber (I thought you had to be actually to use these forums) and an avid YouTube tutorial watcher. I even have my own youtube channel with tutorials that part of my self-imposed study curriculum (more on that in the comment above if you're interested). I discovered SVS through watching Will's videos, which are an awesome inspiration. In fact the video that made me finally actually decide to take art seriously and make it my career about a year ago was the great interview between Will and Mel.

    Oh, and here's the link to my channel if interested in checking that out 🙂

    I imagine you might think I am in no place to give advice, but I heard once that it's easiest to learn from someone who'd just one step ahead of you rather than a master, because the person who's just a step ahead remembers what it's like going through the struggle! So my videos are catered to beginners etc. But I really just started the channel as a tool to keep myself accountable to my own study curriculum, as in order to teach something I just studied I'd have to feel confident that I know it sufficiently well...

    But as you said, art is a lifelong... ummm stuggle might not be the right word... journey. Yea, let's go with that!

  • Pro SVS OG

    @Shams-Nelson I think it's awesome that you found Will's video and it inspired you to get back into art as a career. I found his stuff too all those years ago and am so happy to be a part of SVS.

    I think it's great that you are making videos and helping others along their journey too. The best way to learn is to teach and I think that is sound advice you got. Learn form who ever inspires you. PS. You now have a new subscriber to your channel 😃 and I look forward to watching more.

    I'm personally open to advice from anyone, it helps you grow and this is why @Lee-White and @Will-Terry encourage everyone to take part in giving and receiving critiques. I post my work here because I appreciate any one who's willing to take a look and put in the time to help out. There are always ways to get better and everyone has something to contribute.

    As far as the educational market, I think you'll still have to strengthen those areas that Lee mentioned in order to attract an offer, especially the storytelling because they will be looking for all that too. Storytelling, character consistency, environments etc. . If you take the time to focus on those areas, the educational market can be a great next step. I'm sure Lee will get back to you on that too and he may have other ideas on which market your art would work for now and who to send your stuff out to, while you build up more work for the children's book market.

    Also even the most primitive children's book market artists still have a strong grasp on storytelling. You'll have a hard time telling stories with pictures without it and it's great that you are working on storytelling more now.

    A good portion of the portfolio you shared with us has character heads which are cool, but they don't really help this type of portfolio. This is the information we are going off of and all an AD will see. You can have maybe a page of character heads/portaits etc, but you'll need a lot more pieces like the girl with the snowman, which is funny btw!

    As far as an amateur/junior agent goes...they can be awesome if they are part of a more established agency with senior agents who know that children's book market well. In those agencies, most of the time the more experienced agents have a say in which clients are signed on by the junior agent and they are going to look for artists with storytelling skills, etc.

    If the amateur agent has no one to learn from about the market and works alone but is passionate about it, sure maybe you hit it off and you have the same vision for your future, you stumble along together and learn along the way and awesome things happen. That would be great!

    But, the chances are fairly small and your time and effort might be better spent on making a SUPER bad ass portfolio geared towards the children's book market that NO art director could turn down. Heck, we're all here working on that goal, lol.

    You have it in you and you have the resources right here, keep up the good work, keep teaching and creating!!

    I hope this is helpful to you. But, this is your journey and you need to do what feels right to you.


  • SVS Team SVS Instructor Pro SVS OG

    @Shams-Nelson I hear what you are saying and wanted to tell you that you absolutely CAN have a primitive style. It can be anything you want it to be. But you should probably be able to show how you would handle an environment with characters in it. For example, here's Beatrice Alemangna who is one of my favorites. Her work it totally primitive (and also sophisticated in my opinion). But she shows exaclty how it would look if she had to draw a street scene, or interior, etc.

    The big thing I was trying to get at with your portfolio is that the storytelling is absent and most of your work is a headshot of a character against a background. Which won't do anything for an art director who hires for multi-page stories.

    The reasons why I think you should wait are:

    1. There is no reason to submit until you get the kinks worked out of your portfolio. To submit too early "just to see what happens" wastes the agents time and makes it seem like you don't know what they are looking for. Agents want people who are profitable out of the gate for them OR they see a huge potential with their work and are willing to get it to that next level. Those artists are typically at about 90% entry level and just need a few slight tweaks to be industry ready. Or, the work is already pro level and they just need to be introduced to the right people.
    2. Submitting too early will give the art director an impression of you that may not be changeable as time moves on. (first impressions are strong!). You want that first impression to be "OMG! this artist is awesome!" Not "eh, it's ok, but they need polishing".

    Hang in there and really figure out where you want your work to go. Sit with it and take time with it. It will develop naturally and you will know when you are ready. Signs that you are ready are things like:

    • You are winning contests that you enter.
    • you are getting scholarships for your work
    • people are asking to buy your work
    • you are being contacted for interviews or artist spotlights, etc.
    • people are wanting to hire you
    • experienced people (like me, will, jake, or your instructors) are telling you to get your work out there or introducing you to connections

    If none of these things are happening, you probably aren't ready yet.0_1473272497084_squishybookshot.jpg

  • @Charlie-Eve-Ryan Thanks again for all the helpful feedback Charlie 🙂 I really appreciate the time you've taken and and insights provided. I know have a much stronger idea of where I stand. Better get back to the tablet!

    @Lee-White Again, thank you for your time and advice. That does help clarify why not to submit early... It seems like I should switch my focus from developing my technique and fundamentals to telling stories with my art and building my portfolio. Sounds like fun. I can definitely see the appeal and sophistication of the piece you shared. Much more sophisticated than "Indian Bunny" which is a children's book I have lying around.

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  • Pro SVS OG

    @Shams-Nelson One thing I've noticed too and this is not across the board but, many of the books that have a more primitive style...this Indian Bunny artist, Mo Willems Piggie and Elephant series and James Dean Pete the Cat books for example. They are all both the author and the illustrator of the books.

    Writing picture books and telling your own stories along with doing the art, is another way to get publishers/agents to sit up and notice your work.

    And Mo Willems especially is just really good at conveying character emotions and humor with so few lines. Funny sells. 😃

    So that is another thing you can start doing too, if you haven't already to catch people's attention. Write and illustrate.

  • @Charlie-Eve-Ryan Ahhh, that makes sense! Good point.

  • @Lee-White @Charlie-Eve-Ryan @Rebecca-Hirsch

    Just as a follow-up since a lack of storytelling was a big theme in your feedback, I thought I'd share this forum post which shows my recently created story-telling pieces.

    Any thoughts or feedback on it would be appreciated.

    Have a good one!


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