It's been a good while (update)

  • Hey there everybody!

    If you have been on these forums for the last few years you might remember me, but if you are newer you will have no clue who I am. I thought it was a good time to pop my head back in a give an update on what has happened with me and my career after spending two solid years at SVS. It might help others who are moving in the same direction, as well as clear up some things that I was not to clear about when entering this industry.

    I signed with with agent last July!

    YAY! It happened! After working so hard here at SVS and listening to Will, Jake and Lee a ton, things fell into place for me and I got representation. In fact, my agent signed three others from SVS, and since signing myself, I have seen other SVS members sign with other agents I follow. It has been quite amazing to witness.

    I signed with a literary agent, that represents me as an author/illustrator, which is different than being rep'd as solely an illustrator. The difference is quite extreme in my opinion. This is something I wish I knew beforehand, but was somewhat aware. Let me explain:

    Literary agents used to rep authors, and if they could illustrate that was a nice cherry on top. However, over the last few years, agencies have been trying to find illustrators who can already write or learn to write. There are many reasons for this, but one of the major reasons is one individual is easier market and more cost efficient than two. That being said, literary agents are now treading on new ground. It is much more time consuming to market an illustrator and get them work than it is an author. One reason is that much of the marketing for illustrators requires postcards, and constant ads to publishers, as well as maintaining a website with updated work. This is one of the reason Literary agents take less of a percentage than art reps, since art reps are taking on more of a burden.

    So, we are in a new era if you will, and that means literary agents are being faced with a new hurdle in marketing illustrators, so don't be surprised if you sign with a literary agent and nothing happens with their help, and still requires that you do much of the leg work to get deals done. This will change over time, as literary agents grow accustom to this new breed of dual artists they have work for.

    I was good enough, but not enough

    If I can be honest, I was probably ready to get an agent a year earlier than I did. In fact, my critique group thought I was nuts for waiting around, but I felt as though I needed to be 100% ready. When I signed, I realized I shouldn't have waited....


    I also was not ready in other ways. If your goal is to write and illustrate, please listen to me here: Have at least two solid stories ready to go for your agent. In fact, most literary agents I came across wanted two stories before signing an author/illustrator. I had one, and once it went to market for publishers, I should have already had a manuscript that was fully critiqued, rewritten, edited and ready to create a book dummy. I didn't, and so I am stuck in a creative black hole with a clock ticking as I write constantly trying to chase trends that both my critique group and then my agent can give the green light on so I can then dummy up 32 pages (which will take a long time) so that I can get my next story moving.

    My critique group is doing better than me

    As I sit by myself writing each night, I witness my critique group getting book deals left and right as illustrators. I often second guess my decision to enter this field as an author/illustrator. Some literary agents are different, and they will get you a good amount of work as an illustrator, but most won't. It seems to be either: "You are an illustrator and who knows, maybe you'll write something some day, and we hope you do". Or, The weight of your career rests on if you can write a great a story that fits the trends, or sets them (rare I think). However, I chose this path, because I worried that I would never have the time to branch out as an author/illustrator, and I am rolling the dice that it will be a good decision in the end.


    I thought this would be good information to share here. I know everybody has their own path, and I look forward to seeing you all kick butt in publishing. SVS changed my life, and I hope you all get as much out of it as I have.

  • @Eric-Castleman this is super useful information. Thank you for coming back to give the view from the other side 🙂

    Congratulations on the agent and book!

    Also, your artwork is amazing!

  • SVS OG

    @Eric-Castleman hi, Eric! It’s so good to hear from you again.

  • @Eric-Castleman Hi Eric, welcome back. I certainly remember your artwork from my early days hanging out at the forum.

    Thank you for sharing your career insights. I am currently preparing for getting in touch with agents. My goal is to become an author/illustrator one day, and I am working on my first dummy book at this moment.

    I have been asked by both fellow SVS artists and an art director about why I am not looking for an agent at this moment. The answer is I do not feel ready as an author/illustrator. I feel like maybe I will be able to land with an illustration agency, but not a literary agency. It would be very good for me to get more experience in the illustration business. I know that I am the type of artist who will need some help with marketing, price negotiating, and maintaining client relations - which I assume I will get from a good illustrator agent. But on the other hand, I am also afraid that I would never sit down to write my own story if I go with the illustration agency route.

    I am thinking, reaching out to people who are in the industry for advice these days. I think I will come to a conclusion within the next month or so. It really good to hear your point of view as a person who has been through this decision making process.

  • @xin-li yes that is understandable. I would say just have a couple manuscripts, and some themes for other stories you want to do. Make sure the agent you submit to has similar interests in the stories you want to write. This is vital. Agents don’t know what you should write or what will be successful in a general sense, they know what they love. Signing with a literary agent who has different interest might put resistance on a story different agent loves. They won’t “get it” if it isn’t the sort of stories they love. For instance, my first manuscript/book dummy fell flat with one agent, but I looked at what sort of stories her clients write and they are very different than what I like to read and write. My agent now loved it when she read it and sent it on submission a month later.

    Agents can only tell you what isn’t working, they cannot tell you how to fix it, because if they could, they would just publish their own stories (many of them are trying at the same time you are) they are more like professional readers who know when a story is a good story when it works.

    I wouldn’t wait to be 100% ready either. As one of my critique partners rightly said, necessity breeds innovation. Your best work will come by being under pressure.

  • Pro SVS OG

    I don‘t know why, but I feel my ears ringing 😉
    Being one of the critique partners @Eric-Castleman talks about (and also the one who said „necessity breeds innovation“) I feel the urge to tune in and say, first of all, congratulations again to Eric for getting along on the journey with giant steps, sharing his experience and valuable insight - which is all spot on and all stuff I also wish I had known a couple of years ago - and keep elevating our critique group with his beautiful art.

    And, BTW, having a critique group of people who are at your same level both skill-wise and career-wise is invaluable. No agent will offer that kind of feedback and echo-chamber for the endless doubts and questions this career poses, and no agent will critique your art or texts at that level of detail. I am grateful to SVS every day for having brought us together and I strongly encourage everyone who wants to embark either as author or illustrator or both to build one: either here at SVS or outside of it.

    Everything that Eric mentions is correct and something to think about as you take the leap and look for an agent. I signed with mine in 2016, so I‘ve had a share in seeing the evolution literary agents are in right now. I was lucky to stumble on an agent who was well aware of the trend. When I signed I did not have a manuscript (though I had many ideas) and my agent took me on with the understanding that I would be positioned as illustrator but I was encouraged to write and propose manuscripts whenever I wanted.

    It was pretty clear very fast that she had little knowledge and little pro-activity in the marketing of an illustrator. I took it in stride because a) 15% cut is much more appealing than the 30-40% illustration agencies take and b) I was fine with doing most of the marketing myself. But I made sure our contract only related to book work - which leaves me free to find and negotiate any other type of work without involving her. Overall, it worked out surprisingly well, though there are many moments where I wonder whether I would be better served by another type of agent...But the ups and downs are a topic for another post.
    What I wanted to mention here is that you should be aware that being an author/illustrator may be a much longer and harder path than being an illustrator (which is another reason why literary agents like mine take on illustrators on the bet that they may write one day, rather than waiting for them to be ready to write).

    Coming up with a book idea AND a manuscript that stands a chance in today‘s publishing market as a newbie author is really hard. You should be prepared for years of rejections (either from your agent directly or from the market) and making time not only to perfect your illustration skills but also - which is a completely new challenge - your writing and storytelling skills. This requires at least as much time and dedication as art, as much awareness of the market and its whims and a very very thick skin.

    As my goal was to be able to quit my day job and make a living as artist, I’m overall happy with how things turned out. It may take me longer to get a book of my own out - I‘m not even sure I will ever manage that - but I get enough illustration contracts to keep me afloat and I don‘t feel I‘m missing anything because I illustrate other people‘s words. Actually, I really enjoy working on brief, and I would keep doing it even if I did add the term „author“ to my bio at some point. My role models are people like Eric Rohmann or Adam Rex, who happily do both - so I don‘t really care which comes first.

    Maybe this encourages you to think about your own goals in a different perspective - keeping in mind that everything is in flux in publishing and it feels often like jumping from one float to the next in a breaking ice-field....

  • Hi @Eric-Castleman, I’m one of the newbies here and enjoying this learning process very much. It’s wonderful to hear your experience (and others) with SVS, and your success. Your work is phenomenal!

    Personally, I love to write stories and have so many ideas, it’s just my illustration skills can’t catch up. That’s why I’m here learning from the pros. The entire community here is great and I hope to one day offer good advice to give back.

    Please tell us once your books are out, can’t wait to buy it!

  • @Eric-Castleman Welcome back, Eric! And thank you for your thoughts. I'll be leaning towards a literary agent and it's good to know an illustrator should have a couple manuscripts off the bat. I feel like I have a ton of good ideas for books, but the follow through is the hard part.

    If anyone on this thread wants to start a critique group together, let me know. My critique group is all writers...and me. It'd be nice to have some fellow artists around 😉

  • @Eric-Castleman @smceccarelli What great information! I have a question or two (maybe more than that) for you two. I have seen myself more as an author and less as an illustrator, but I have grown in that area and would ideally like to write and illustrate young adult novels and/or graphic novels, and I have a few ideas for longer children's easy reader type books. Are there literary agents for guys like me? For example, I have already written one fantasy novel and am halfway through the sequel. I would love to include illustrations, cover art, and maps for it along the lines of Brandon Sanderson's Way of Kings or Paul Stewart's Edge Chronicles. I have very rough ideas for a graphic novel with some character development and a plot outlined, as well as three very rough book dummy ideas for easy readers (my Inktober mice being one, and my advent book being the second. I also attempted once upon a time a bible character ABC book that would need to be completely reworked.)
    What direction should I move in? Should I be finishing up my stories and attempting to professionally illustrate them and have them ready to go?
    Should I have finished manuscripts ready to go?
    Are there any volunteers to be my critique group/beta readers? What would be the best way to develop a critique group? How did you go about it?

  • @Eric-Castleman thank you for the advice. It is so interesting to hear your story.
    @smceccarelli thank you for sharing. Your story made me think maybe an illustration agency will suit me better, as I think I will need a bit more help with promotion, and contacts with potential clients. My goal is similar to yours: make a living by making the art I enjoy, whether it is writing, illustration or both. I have seen some of the illustration agencies also represent author/illustrators. I know the 30-40 percent cut is hight, but I would be glad to do so if I can find someone who helps me to get more assignments that fit with where I want to go with my career at this moment :-).

  • SVS OG

    @Eric-Castleman @smceccarelli So good to see you both here on the forum again - thank you for the great information too!!

  • I remember you well. Thanks for stopping in and sharing your knowledge. Great insights!

  • @chrisaakins all agents are different in this respect I assume, but my agent allows me to move between PB and GN pretty easily. Even though I signed as a picture book author/illustrator, my agent put out a call to her clients to consider graphic novels since they are trending. Another artist who has my agent is now going from PB’s to YA and it didn’t seem like a problem. However, a point of discussion in our critique group is how some authors and illustrators seem to maneuver through different genres seamlessly, while I have heard that it is very easy to get pigeonholed as a non fiction artist if that is what you start off doing. It is one of the mysteries to us atm. Idk if people who are able to go from PB to YA are just outliers or it is very much possible for anyone capable.

  • @Eric-Castleman Thanks for taking the time to respond. I am hoping that if my work is good enough, it won't matter. Now I just need to start finishing stuff and putting together a portfolio.

  • Hi! It's nice to meet you. I'm new to SVS so never saw your posts before but I'm so happy to hear that you got an agent and making progress to your goal! I personally believe author/illustrator is a longer harder road but will be more rewarding when you reach it.

    I would love to hear more about how you ended up landing a literary agent. I definitely want to go down that route as I already get illustration work on my own but I really want to author/illustrate and don't mind if it takes longer. Did you have any writing resources that helped you with the creating manuscripts?

  • Pro SVS OG

    @chrisaakins As @Eric mentions, most literary agents have a range of ages and genres on their roster. My agent spans board books to YA, so she would not be put off by a writer who writes different genres. I heard publishers are a little bit more reluctant to have an author write in different genres because they cannot rely that much on creating an author brand - which seems quite fundamental in driving sales nowadays. But I think this is more true for YA and adult fiction than for any other genre (though, if I look at super-famous GN creators, like Raina Telgemeier or Dav Pilkey, it would be odd to see them suddenly start writing picture books...).

    Non-fiction writing is commissioned, not pitched, so there one would need to create a writer’s brand for that genre (which takes years). I’m not sure you’d be pigeon-holed as a non-fiction illustrator, on the other hand. I illustrate both fiction and non-fiction and that has not been a problem, though I don’t think the publisher who commissions me non-fiction would suddenly commission me to do fiction....but there are so many publishers!
    As I joke with my writer friends: authors are often bound in marriage to one or two publishers, while illustrators are more promiscuous 😉

    Maybe the trick for you would be to perfect one or two manuscripts in a chosen genre (GN is trending right now, so that may be a good pick) and go hunting for an agent with that. I don’t see examples of GN art on your Instagram channel, is that something you would like to also do art for? You may be more advanced in your writing journey, and there’s no obligation to present yourself as a writer/illustrator until you’re ready for that - you can get a literary agent interested on your writing only. Indeed, most literary agents represent more writers than illustrators or writer-illustrators.

  • @smceccarelli @Eric-Castleman I wonder if you guys could share some tips on how to form and run a critique group.

    1. Would it be beneficial to have people in the same critique group work in the same types of books (e.g. everyone is working on a picturebook dummy), and are interested in similar genres (e.g. animal/nature-themed picture book)?
    2. How many people are in your critique group?
    3. How do you structure a critique session?

    I have never been to a critique group, so I do not really even know what I do not know. Is there anything I should keep in mind when starting a new critique group?

  • @xin-li @Eric-Castleman @smceccarelli
    I would add to @xin-li 's question

    • do they all need to be in the same place/skill level? Or is personality a better fit?

  • Pro SVS OG


    Maybe @Eric-Castleman can give his view as well.

    Based on my experience, 4-6 people is a good number. More becomes too impersonal, less may give too little input. We do not work on the same type of books, though we all work on children's books. Our styles are wildly different but all equally developed - I'd say we're more or less at the same skill level and we don't use the critique group to learn or discuss fundamentals (apart from when we pick on each other's negligence with regard to fundamentals - but that's part of the fun and strength of a critique group!).
    Professionally we're more or less at the same stage of the journey, though we may have different goals and different ways to go about them.
    I think diversity is a big strength - you want to have different perspectives - but it has to be give-and-take on all sides, so everybody has to be able to contribute something of value to the others. I think we're very balanced in that respect. In a way it's like Will, Lee, and Jake: their art is very different, they do different things and their career setup is very different, but you can see how they complement each other and each contributes a different and valuable viewpoint. @chrisaakins - we also have wildly different personalities. That's actually what makes it a lot of fun: we disagree on almost everything and therefore learn something new with every discussion 😃

    We don't have a "critique session". We're set up on FB and FB messenger and we just post whenever we have anything to post. I've been on many critique groups and that's probably the one thing that makes this one the most successful of all. Waiting one month or two weeks to get feedback on something is just plainly useless for me - either the deadline has passed or the time I had available to work on something has long gone. With no fixed schedule, anybody can get feedback anytime within hours (sometimes within seconds), and it's very much like working in the same room.

  • @smceccarelli thank you so much for sharing. This is really really helpful for me. A follow-up question: Do you do an in-depth critique of each other's manuscripts and picture book dummies via FB messenger as well? Is FB messenger sufficient for that purpose?

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