To agent or not to agent

  • Hello everyone,

    I am a relatively inexperienced illustrator and author.
    I have one previously published project and it was a day planner called the Intentional Day Planner, the author wanted me to illustrate it because at the time she discovered me I was drawing a lot of fairies, flowers and other elements of nature.
    She wanted her project to have a childlike quality to it.

    I am very interested in authoring and illustrating Children's books for other authors and I am currently working on writing and illustrating a few kids books that I am hoping to have published.

    What I am curious about is who of you who have been published have used representation like an agent to help you achieve an illustration project.
    And which of you approached publishers on your own and procured a project without representation?

    Do you feel it is necessary as a first-time illustrator (or an experienced illustrator) to have professional representation or can you approach publishers directly and successfully achieve a project without an agent?

    And how do you arrange your contracts with your publishers?
    Typically I understand most projects do not start without 50% down first and often there are negotiations for a percentage of royalties based on the scope of the project.
    Any information that you might have for me about contract negotiations would be very helpful.

    Thank you,

    Jessica Jolicoeur


  • Pro

    @Jessica-Jolicoeur Hi Jessica,

    First of all, congrats on your published planner project! I find it sad that you feel the need to qualify that success and kind of downplay why the author chose you because you just so happened to draw fairies and nature. Truth be told, there are many illustrators who do just that and she still wanted to with you, so I'd call that a win! And even if you were in a situation where it was a total coincidence you got the job and you have no merit at all, it would still look good to say you did it and I don't think there would be any reason for you to volunteer that information to any publishers haha

    Anywayyy, back to topic. Agents can be extremely useful because they have contacts in the publishing world. They are able to find jobs you wouldn't. Also, publishing houses are always taking a huge risk when working with a new, unproven illustrator, and being signed with an agent is having them vouch for your work in a way, and it can increase your chances.

    That being said, there's no reason you can't do BOTH. I'm a full-time illustrator and I have an agent (Beehive illustration) but so far my agent doesn't give me enough work to make me busy full-time so I do also find my own work parallel to that as well. I have written to publishers myself and have gotten some success that way, AND I have gotten contracts through my agent as well. In fact, the book I'm working on right now I found by writing to the publisher myself. I chose to approach smaller publishers or local publishers, while I leave bigger more unattainable clients for my agent to try.

    As for ressources on how the children's book industry works, contracts, etc, I'd recommend you go on Youtube and find Will Terry's channel, he has a lot of great videos on the subject that cover a LOT of information! Also try the 3 points perspective podcast.

  • Hello Ness,

    Thank you for your thoughts.

    I did not think that I was making excuses about why I received that project, I think I was just giving a little history on how I received the project because I had not advertised as an illustrator and she found me on her own.
    I was just giving a little history into how I had experience in dealing with an author in relation to my questions about becoming published.
    Thank you for your support though, I appreciate it.

    I am very familiar with Will Terry and his Youtube channel and I am currently listening to the podcast about how to deal with Art Directors.

    I agree that I have discovered in my search for information about publishing that agents are connected with publishers.
    I was not aware that you could work with an agent and also find your own projects by approaching publishers directly, I would have thought that publishers would want exclusivity and would want to represent all of your projects.
    Thanks for letting me know that you do both working with an agent and represent yourself.

    I took a look at your website, I really like your style.
    Thanks again for your advice.

    Jessica Jolicoeur

  • Pro

    @Jessica-Jolicoeur I think you meant to say that "agents' would want exclusivity, not publishers. And to answer that question, I have heard that some of them do but that is a very bad practice that should be a red flag to you! If an agent says they want you to only work on their projects, run! I mean think about it, it could take them months to find you a first project, and even later after they start getting you regular work there could be gaps of weeks or months where it just so happens they have nothing for you, but you wouldn't be even allowed to look for your own contracts! I've heard nightmare stories of full-time illustrators signing with an agent exclusively, then not getting work for months. Since they're not allowed to find their own work, that would mean their only option to pay the bills would be to find a day job in another field, which for someone used to be illustrating full-time is a big set-back! Anyway, most agents, the good and reputable ones, won't insist on an exclusive contract. It's better for the relationship long-term, plus they know that if they do their job right, then they'll find you so much work that you won't have to find your own contracts on the side 🙂

  • Yes, that is what I meant, that an agent would want exclusivity.
    Thank you for your feedback, that is really valuable information for me.
    It absolutely makes sense that an agent would not require exclusivity because as you mention it would be detrimental to the artist and it would be difficult for them to consistently find employment.

    I will keep this in mind when I am approaching literary agents.

    Thank you very much!

    Jessica Jolicoeur

  • Pro

    @Jessica-Jolicoeur I am talking about illustration agents though, not literary agents! Sorry for the misunderstanding! Just to be clear, an illustration agent really shouldn't be exclusive, but for a literary agent it will be a little bit different since they will try to sell a book that you have written. Of course, you don't want multiple people trying to sell the same thing at the same time. A literary agent doesn't want to do all the work of trying to find someone to sell your book to only to find out that you've just sold it yourself to another publisher without them knowing! For illustration it's different though, since you'd be making something new and different for every new client, so it doesn't matter if both you and the agent are contacting people. Although I suppose if you have multiple books to sell, you could give one to your agent and try to sell the other one by yourself, but that's a very difficult proposition - although as an illustrator you can write to a publisher directly without an agent, for manuscript submissions most publishers only accept them from agents.

  • That is very understandable.
    Yes, of course, a literary agent is working on behalf of the publisher and would require exclusivity for a literary project.

    For a manuscript, I am much more likely to work with a literary agent to get my book picked up by a publisher.
    It can imagine that it would increase the likely hood of being published by that same publisher or being published by other publishers for similar projects.

    In your experience, are you published by the same publisher repeatedly or have you worked with multiple publishers?

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