Saturday 18 April 2009

Agents Who Needs Them

Does an illustrator need this middleman in the creative process? What do agents do for their percentage? Can they enhance or hinder your career or creativity? What methods have new illustrators used to promote themselves in the past and what methods do I intend to use?  

An agent isn’t for everyone, and agents can be quite choosey who they take on. Also, they rarely represent new graduates. The main problem is finding the right agent for you and the right mutual agreement. The AOI’s The Illustrator’s Guide to Law and Business Practice (Simon Stern 2008), the AOI's Survive (2001) and Darrel Rees’s How To Be An Illustrator (2008) have loads of advice on this. A lot will depend on how much self-promotion you want to keep on doing and whether you are keen to have direct contact with your clients. Also, illustrators can be keen to get an agent because they think doing so can give them security and employment, when this is not necessarily the case. Darrel Rees points out that having an agent can actually end up feeling like a prison sentence! 

The Society of Artists' Agents (SAA) was formed in 1992, and this works with the AOI with the broad aim of improving the working practices between illustrators, agents and clients. The AOI lists agents who are members of the SAA on their website. The AOI also has a chatroom where many illustrators post up their experiences of agencies.

What do agents do for their percentage of 20-30%? The agent can offer experience and professional advice, use the reputation of the whole agency to promote you, give you access to a particular pool of clients and negotiate the larger more complex jobs on your behalf (Rees 2008). They also take portfolios to clients, keep portfolios updated and fresh, do invoicing and paperwork and act as a buffer between the illustrator and the client (Stern 2008) Joy Monkhouse, the design manager from Scholastic Educational Publishing, said (at AOI Children’s Book seminar 2007) that they always go through agencies to get illustrators, rather than respond to individual illustrators.  

You have to find the right agent who deals with your kind of work. Darrel Rees points out that by using an agent, you may lose the chance to start learning from your own experience and to establish your own client base. Some agents are happy to let the illustrator deal with editorial work, while they concentrate on the higher-paid work (advertising and design group). The AD for Gardeners World told me he tended to deal directly with illustrators rather than agencies (although he did use Inkshed agency), perhaps for this reason. Ian Pollock told me (telephone interview 2007) that his agent (Inkshed) was there for the big job. Jill Calder had a UK agent (Eastwing) for a short while, but then decided she would rather do her own promotion in the UK, but she let another agent, Friends and Johnson, promote her in America and negotiate any big jobs in Europe, such as advertising campaigns. Jill reckons agents can earn you more money for a job, if you have the right one. This is because they are a step removed from your artwork, so they can be very good a telling you where and when you need to market your work, but not all agents are this good (email interview 2009). Andy Martin finds that his agent (Heart) gets him plenty of work and is good at negotiating high fees on his behalf, and this make his hefty monthly promotion payment to the agency worthwhile. Andy has an agent because he got fed up going out and getting work. Andrew Pavitt has had a couple of agents, but they did not work out for him. Illustration Web gets Chris Corr about one third of his work. In other agreements, the agent finds all the work, but this can be a problem if this isn’t enough or the right type. Therefore, it is very important that both the illustrator and the agent are clear on what they expect from each other from the outset.  

Stern (2008) suggests that this agreement should include the following: 
*Area and market.  
*Ratio of agency staff : illustrators (much more than 1:8 could mean not enough work is coming in)  
*Amount of work. *Commission (currently 25-30% basic commissions, 20% editorials, 40% for work outside UK). 
*Promotional expenses (who pays for what).  
*Terms and conditions (copyright & artwork ownership) 
*Invoicing procedures  
*Accounting (how & when illustrator paid & right to inspect accounts) 
*Agency liability (insurance against loss of artwork) 
*Parting company (when does payment of commission cease?). 
Darrel Rees also suggests that you should find out how the agency gets commissions, what clients they have and how they deal with client contracts and disputes. Also, it may help to find out what driving force led to the agency becoming set up.  

Otto Dettmer told us, in his talk at Stockport, that he had tried but failed to get an agent, because agents weren’t interested in getting editorial work and needed a clear style, rather than a conceptual one.  

How do graduates promote themselves? Otto Dettmer used to go to London once/week with 7 appointments for the day, seeing ADs and agents. His editorials in the daily papers now act as good promotion, which he supplements with mail-outs of screen-printed promo work to ADs. Gillian Blease followed AOI advice and did mock-ups for papers which she mailed out and it has taken her 10-15 years to get to this point, and she still does regular mail-outs. Chris Corr won a drawing prize which started him on his travels and ultimately into the travel market. Jill Calder took her portfolio to lots of ADs, listened to their advice, lightened up her style and did lots of networking. She had a style that was flexible without being Jack-of-all-trades. Jill reckons it took her a year to get known in Scotland and a few more years to get known in the UK, when she got work with The Guardian & The Telegraph & also got taken on by an agent. She believes you really have to really be in love with illustration, so no other job will tempt you away, and be prepared to do some jobs as freebies and to do some really crappy jobs too. She suggests you should take advantage of free folio websites and networking events and make as many contacts as patient, be proactive, organise exhibitions, stalls at festivals, invite loads of designers, and spend money to make money. Jill uses her blog, The ispot, Flickr, 741 Illustration Collective and her website for marketing, and she has links with other websites and blogs, too. She emails out too, and sometimes sends postcards, but she believes nothing beats a visit with a folio and word of mouth networking.  

What methods will I use? Firstly, I have to sort out that fantastic portfolio (could be a problem) and get my website working. Then I need to continue contacting ADs by phone, mail and email. I will target editorial work and publishing, enter competitions, approach environmental charities to do freebies and try and follow Jill’s advice wherever I can on networking. I may need to try and get a children’s book agent (such as Frances Mckay) in order to do b&w linework for children’s educational materials. I had hoped this would be my foot-on-the-ladder work, unless I can get access to this pool of clients directly without an agent.

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