A book of your work, your art, illustration, photography or design, is the dream of many freelancers. This is another in my “increasingly inaccurate trilogy” of topics on adding profit centers to your freelance business (thanks to Douglas Adams). Also, special thanks to Jami Giovanopoulos, vice president of theispot.com for personal introductions to many of the illustrators interviewed for this article.
Though not a mainstream source of revenue, getting your work published has many benefits:
• You do get paid.
• You gain credibility and exposure.
• You receive extra copies to give to clients as promos.
The place to start is to find your passion. It will take an enormous amount of your time and energy for a book, so you will need to love the topic as though it were your child, blood of your blood. My first book came out of a class I was teaching on self-promotion for photographers, a long-time passion of mine. This is also your legacy and will outlast any ad, annual report or brochure you create. You will want to be proud of it for a very long time.
Finding your topic
Never “cold call,” that is submit your book idea or illustrations without following submission guidelines. Unsolicited work is subject to loss or damage and is discouraged by publishers. In addition, following the submission guidelines will give you a better chance as these firms receive hundreds of submissions a week to review. When the publisher is not interested, you may receive the traditional letter of rejection but many have changed to a policy of contacting you only if they are interested in the project.
Michael Bartalos, www.bartalos.com: “My book Shadowville (published by Viking) resulted simply from the fact that my cut-out figures resemble silhouettes! Besides that, I chiefly draw on my travel experiences for story ideas, and make stuff up from there.”
Carin Berger, www.theispot.com/artist/cberger: “In my real life, I design book jackets for all the major U.S. publishers. But then I had my daughter and she was impossible to get to sleep. In those very long, drifty hours while I waited, I made up poems to amuse myself. Those eventually grew into my first book Not So True Stories and Unreasonable Rhymes. With my second book, All Mixed Up, the illustrations came first. I liked the idea of “collaging” my illustrations and they evolved into a book project when I showed them to my publisher, Chronicle Books.”
Sophie Blackall, www.sophieblackall.com: “My first book was Ruby’s Wish, by Shirin Yim Bridges, published by Chronicle Books in 2003. Chronicle had three illustrators in mind for the project and had each of us illustrate the same passage. It was a strange exercise in a way, and I remember thinking it might actually change my life if I got it right. It was a Chinese story and there were so many possible ways to approach it visually. In the end I decided to make the picture I would want to see. I got the job and the book won the Ezra Jack Keats Award that year.”
Cathi Mingus, www.mingusillustration.com: “I became more successful as an illustrator when I began to focus more on one area of illustration. My niche is the ’tween market. I focus my illustration for girls in the age range of eight to twelve. Showing images that appeal to that market led me to a variety of books and projects that I really enjoy.”
Joe Morse, www.joemorse.com: “My editorial and advertising work had established sports as one of my strengths. The editor at KCP Press was considering Thayer’s classic, Casey at the Bat and wanted a fresh perspective. I presented Casey as an urban and contemporary tale. It was gutsy of the publisher to go outside the lines. I had another well-known book publisher decide that my sports work was ‘too advertising.’ Now with a successful book published, I can dispel that slur, but it is important to remember that books are narratives, not just cool images strung together. Show them that you can tell a story with a picture. A great idea helps or if you decide to make pictures for existing material in the public domain—Pinocchio anyone?—think about what you are bringing to the subject that is new.”
Gail Piazza, www.gailpiazza.com: “I think in my case the book topics discovered me! Because of the sensitive way I depict children in my illustrations (soft colored pencil and pastel); I was being chosen by publishers to illustrate books on sensitive issues, such as Dyslexia and ADHD.”
Calef Brown, www.calefbrown.com: “I have loved nonsense verse since I was a kid, mostly short vignettes rather than longer narratives, so that was what I drew from when I wrote Polkabats and Octopus Slacks. I just concentrate on doing an engaging group of paintings held together by the spirit of the writing. It’s important to me that what I publish appeals to both kids and adults, and it’s very rewarding when I hear from family, friends and fans that the books are inspiring their kids to read, write and/or draw.”
Laura Coyle, www.coyleart.com: “When I first started freelancing in Atlanta, I was introduced to Carolyn O’Neil, an anchor and producer of travel and food programs at CNN. Carolyn was pitching a TV show and a book that would later become The Dish. She saw the lively little food spots I was creating for editorial clients and hired me to add illustrations to her presentations. For the next several years we kept in touch and in 2003 Carolyn signed with Atria to publish The Dish and recommended me to illustrate it.”
Paul Rogers, www.paulrogersstudio.com: “Wynton Marsalis and I have been friends for a few years and we often talked about a book project we could collaborate on. I came up with the idea of a jazz ABC book (Jazz A.B.Z.: A Collection of Jazz Portraits from A to Z) that could serve as an introduction to the legendary names of jazz for children and adults. I made a list of 26 musicians, one for each letter of the alphabet, and painted portraits that utilized the letterforms of the names and visual references to both their music, and to the era of the 20th century that each musician is most associated with.”
Douglas Fraser, www.fraserart.com: “I had been carrying around a general idea for a couple decades. I moved with my heart to the realm of the graphic novel. It was like stepping back and forward into one of my youthful passions. The comic book (graphic novel) as a form has come so far, that I felt freer there than as an illustrator in my traditional role.”
Making money: myth or reality?
Making money is a combination of advances and royalties payments. Each publisher will present their terms and you should get professional advice to seek out the best terms for yourself.
Sophie Blackall: “Revenue from children’s books probably makes up about 70% of my income. That includes advances and royalties. I complete about three books a year. I supplement it with editorial illustration for magazines and newspapers.”
Ellen Beier, www.ellenbeier.com: “Picture books can take a long time to research, sketch and paint, and even a good contract with a high advance will not necessarily cover this time. However, the revenue source can be substantial later on when a book pays royalties, sometimes over many years. An extra reward comes if the book is picked up by book clubs and/or book fairs, and in the exceptional case, by other commercial licenses such as movies. A book with universal appeal may be translated and reprinted in other countries (foreign rights), which will also yield licensee fees, reflected in royalty statements. Other types of books such as educational and some ‘easy readers’ may not offer royalties, but can be worthwhile if the compensation reflects a favorable income for the time spent.”
Cathi Mingus: “Being published has been a great marketing tool, I have noticed an increase in hits to my Web site and calls from art directors. I have sent a few of my books to prospective clients (as well as past clients) showing them what I have done. The market I have decided to concentrate on is very hot right now so that also helps. In addition, the type of illustration I do is mainly character driven and can’t be easily replaced by stock art.”
Cynthia von Buhler, www.cynthiavonbuhler.com: “I’m getting royalties from my books now and it is a nice surprise to receive unexpected money in the mail. It isn’t enough to live on yet but I’m working on it. I do fine art, illustration and run my own gallery/event space so I make my money from various sources. I see my book royalties as my retirement fund.”
Susan Swan, www.susanswan.com: “It can be profitable; though, often it is a labor of love as many books don’t earn out their advance. I have had a couple of books bring in royalties for 25 years or so, I have had some that went out of print in just a few years without making any royalties. In general, unless you are one of the very few ‘stars,’ you can’t expect to make a living from picture books alone.”
Douglas Fraser: Ha! Revenue! My traditional role pays my bills. Still, I loved doing my book. It gave my soul a huge drink of creative energy, after having starting to feel somewhat parched.
The most often repeated recommendation was to browse the bookstores. There are genres and to start, you can match your passion with a genre. One of the biggest for illustrators is children’s books. Then there are comic books, cookbooks, young adult, history, nature, science fiction, self-help, textbooks, travel, business, gardening, pet care, parenting, any and all topics of art, design and architecture—and that is just the short list!
References for finding publishers:
2007 Artist’s & Graphic Designer’s Market, www.fwpubs.com
2007 Children’s Writer’s & Illustrator’s Market, www.fwpubs.com
Children’s Book Council, www.cbcbooks.org
Literary Market Place, www.literarymarketplace.com
Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, www.scbwi.org
School Library Journal, www.schoollibraryjournal.com
Publisher’s Weekly, www.publishersweekly.com
Blog and online search, www.Jacketflap.com
The Artist’s & Graphic Designer’s Market book is an easy purchase at any bookstore and lists publishers that are seeking out submissions. So they want you! You should read the “how to use this book” introduction first. The listings of book publishers include comprehensive information such as a “needs” list, first contact/submission guidelines, how much art they buy, what kind of art they buy and what they pay. Be sure to read the “tips” closely as they are written specifically to give you a competitive edge.
Submission guidelines differ enough, so you will want to check each publisher’s Web site for its particular guidelines.
Gail Piazza: “I had an agent for sixteen years that found my publishers for me. Recently I decided to go it alone! I have been researching potential publishers by looking at books on Amazon that are similar to mine. Amazon gives you a wealth of information about a particular book. You can find out how a book is selling at the moment, read comments from readers, sometimes find out who the agent is for the book and a whole lot more.”
Bernhard J. Suess, www.suessweb.com: “I looked for publishers that had similar books, but that was to no avail. They were polite but weren’t interested. I got Allworth’s name from Dennis Inch who was with Light Impressions. Dennis helped by giving me a short list of publishers. Allworth was at the top. So, my networking connections were more helpful than my research.”
Mark Murphy, www.murphydesign.com: “Attend conventions; Book Expo in New York City, Comic-Con in San Diego, Frankfurt Book Fair in Germany. Be prepared; have your vision articulated or your concept flushed out. Learn to write with fluid concepts to assist in your articulation of visual concepts. Use blog tools, Web sites and community sites to promote your concept prior to approaching a publisher and create an immediate value for your idea.”
Is it worth it?
We have given you some ideas to help you pursue getting your work published. You must look at it as part of an entire plan to make money. As a freelancer, Gregory Manchess, www.manchess.com, points out, “Publishing is the last holdout for illustration. This is where I made my stand for my portfolio. Because this is where everyone goes to see what’s happening. Having a presence in publishing is invaluable to a freelancer. This is where your work will be seen and it will feel current, no matter what style. Books combine with magazines as a source of imagery for an advertising art director. So having a book published and on the shelf is important. It gets seen. All of my big client assignments came from something they saw in a book or magazine.” ca