An Agent Contacted Me, HELP!

  • @Lee-White, @Jake-Parker, @Will-Terry I could definitely use your expertise with this one!

    This afternoon I was contacted by someone at an illustration agency asking if I was interested in representation. I was working so I had to wait until I got home to do research and check it out, and so far it seems legit. It looks reputable, but I have no real basis for comparison. So, I immediately put on the Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About Agents 3rd Thursdays.

    I am still a student; my final year of art school starts in August. I haven't been submitting anything or even putting a portfolio together for publishing or freelance as I am actually working a summer internship in-house at a studio. I love the company I'm interning at and fully intend applying for full-time or the internship again next year, so this comes as a complete surprise to me. I haven't done any real freelance work, and the internship is my first job.

    My mentor at work is also children's book illustrator with an agent, so I'm reaching out to him for advice and will also pester my professors, but I'm at a loss for how to proceed.

    The advice I'm getting in the video is really great but it doesn't pertain to my strange situation. I'm not only inexperienced, but also really young, and I have barely started my career yet. Part of me feels that this email isn't real. I don't know the industry standard for anything!

    I do think that this could be a great opportunity for me, but I didn't think this could happen so early. I planned on trying to start freelancing when I go back to school (I only have 3 classes in the fall and 2 in the spring), and this might make starting easier.

    I got the email this afternoon and haven't responded yet as I am researching. Should I email back and say that I'm doing my research? Obviously, I will be transparent about being a student, which they should actually already know since they're reaching out to me, but how do I make sure I don't scare them off? Would they wait for me to get my information? How long would they? I'm so used to answering emails right away, I don't know what to do.

    Help me please!

  • Don't freak out! This is awesome news! And, as your work is amazing, not a surprise 😉

    Sounds like you're doing the right thing--take some time to think, gather info where you can, look them up to make sure they're legit. I'd also try to read some books by their authors/illustrators if you can manage it--hello, library.

    If/when you talk to them to get more information, one great piece of advice I've heard here and elsewhere (so this is probably old news) is to ask if you can contact a few of their current clients to ask them how they feel about the agent. A good agent won't hesitate to let you talk to their people, and then you can get a feel for what they are to work with from the other illustrators (/authors) perspective. 🙂

    Oh, and CONGRATS! 😃

  • @sarahluann Thank you, thank you! That's really good advice; I can't believe I didn't think to go read some of their books in the library. I'll try contacting some of their artists too 🙂 I felt like a deer in headlights all day, so it's good to get some advice!

  • @teju-abiola congratulations, that is amazing. I am not surprised--your work is awesome! Best of luck and keep us posted 🙂

    So I emailed back asking for more information and here's what the essence of what they said:

    They have six agents, three of which are based in NYC, and three in London. One of the London agents covers all Asian territories. They are exclusive, so I can’t have another rep but I can get my own work in outside industries or non-exclusive territories, (their industry is publishing). I don’t know what ‘non-exclusive’ means.

    There is a ‘main contract’ but since each agent works with different clients/publishers, would work and talk to all three of them (potentially). There is a 6-month trial period.

    They take a whopping 35% commission which they say covers printed advertising materials/printed portfolios/ website maintenance/ and travel costs for client visits. The printed materials include postcards/lookbooks, printed portfolios, envelopes, coasters, logos, notepads, and pens that have art from all their repped artists that they mail to clients. They never charge other additional fees (I mean, how could they with that 35%!!!)

    They see their clients in person about 4 times a year, each season to keep close relationships with them.


    I also asked for a copy of the contract for me to look over, and I asked some of their artists for a review and one got back saying good things. That 35% commission is super high, and kinda scares me, but then they take care of all the advertising, and I'm not established enough yet to advertise for myself. The cost of doing that myself would be pretty high, considering I have no money (all of it goes to that sweet, sweet art school tuition). I could always try it out for the 6 months and see if it works out.

    As of now, the jobs I'd potentially do for them wouldn't be to make a living but to get my name out there. Since I'm a student, have no obligations like a family to take care of, and I already know I want to seek full-time employment elsewhere, the exposure could be good. I'd still get paid something if they get me projects, so taking the 35% hit might not be too bad. So that cost might be worth it?

    I mean, if the contract is only 1-5 years, and I get the other job (which admittedly is not certain at all), then I could use this rep to help build my name in the publishing world and then maybe leave or try a different rep depending on how things go? Is that a mercenary thought? Am I just trying to justify the high percentage?

    I am seeking the advice of a few teachers and mentors on this situation, and will hopefully see the contract soon (which I will show to legal counsel and as many mentors who can help me)

    Help me, please!

  • Sounds like I'd put them in the category of "art rep" rather than "agent"--its a nit-picky distinction, but if I remember right about 30% is normal for an art rep--so yeah they're above that but not by a huge amount. Art Reps tend to advertize/work with all sorts of art buyers, while agents are more focused on publishing only and generally take something more like 15-20%. In either case, a good Art Rep or Agent (emphasis on GOOD) will be totally worth that percentage--finding you more jobs, and negotiating higher fees for those jobs too. However, I have NO experience with this whatsoever I'm only speaking about what I've heard, so maybe someone with more experience will chime in.

    Sounds like it could be a great opportunity, but definitely check into it to make sure everything checks out. Maybe a bit stressful trying to make a good decision while still in school, but really thats a good problem to have (since they really OUGHT to be teaching more of these kinds of things to those pursuing art degrees ANYway....).

  • Pro SVS OG

    All sounds pretty regular. 35% is normal for art reps .As mentioned, there is a subtle distintion between “art rep” and “agent”, and an agent normally takes much less (15% is typical) but does not seek any work outside of publishing. Now, since it seems they also specialize in publishing, that is a bit confusing. There is much more jobs outside of publishing for an illustrator - how about those? They would not rep any of that? One important step is to get a full list of all the things they do rep for and those they don’t. If they really only rep for publishing, you should consider getting a literary agent instead - a majority of them has a mixed list nowadays, with writers AND illustrators. My agent is also fine with contracts that involve no royalties - but I have to admit that she does not focus a lot on usage rights - so maybe a rep specializing in illustration would have a keener eye on that kind of things.
    Publishing is not a black-and-white definition either. Is it only books? Or also apps and software? How about e-books? Board games? Do they take a cut on all royalties and collaterals too? What if the company you end up working for does work that falls into their area of representation? Remember that an agent/rep will take their percentage on ANY job you do, no matter if it came through their mediation or not. Another item to discuss is for how long they will still take the cut after the contract is terminated - there is always a grace time and in the publishing industry this can be very long (because the industry is super slow). It may be up to a year after termination before you are actually “free”.
    You can discuss anything with them beforehand - arrange a call if you haven’t done so already and don’t be afraid to question anything and everything. This is a business relationship and needs to be advantageous for both sides.
    As @SarahLuAnn said, a good rep or agent can be totally worth their commission. I’m not always happy with my agent, but she is a great negotiatior and always gets considerably more money than I would have dreamed of asking. This is great at the beginning, when you’re not sure of your value. Also a good agent is in for the long haul and will be concerned with your reputation, career and workload management - that is precious guidance when you’re new to the business of illustration!

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