Digital media and communication technology have changed the way we live and work, and they have impacted the publishing and illustration industry no less than any other. But as important as digital is, it’s not everything—at least not yet.
While every illustrator promotes his work in his own way, one element of every artist’s campaign remains constant, and that is the need for physical tearsheets.
You might think that most publishers would prefer to be contacted by email in this digital age, but not so. Easily 90% of publishers’ listings request submissions of tearsheets and samples for initial contacts—and those submissions are to be made by mail, on real printed paper, not through email.
One of the best ways to find publishers who might be interested in your illustration work is through a publishers listing or directory, so get your hands on a copy of 2013 Artist’s & Graphic Designer’s Market or 2013 Children’s Writers & Illustrators Market and start pouring through the pages.
When I received my first directories in the mail, it wasn’t long before colored Post-it tabs and highlighter slashes decorated the crisp new pages of my copies. I eagerly marked the listings of book publishers, art reps, and magazines in the children’s market that seemed most promising to me—publishers that I thought would be interested in my style of artwork. That alone took hours of research.
I put even more time into cross referencing those listings with live websites to double check submission requirements and contact names and to get even more information on the publisher. But it wasn’t until I really started reading the submission guidelines, and saw the requests for tearsheets and samples attached to every single one, that I realized just how much more work I had cut out for me.
Anyone who knows me knows I can be a bit impatient. I want the world to see my work, and I want them to see it today, so email is my best friend. But that immediacy rarely exists in the publishing world. In fact, the slush pile for most publishers is quite high, and you’ll be lucky if one responds within the three-six month window specified. That’s a hard pill to swallow for an artist who thrives on feedback (especially if you’re an artist just getting started).
Presentation, and patience, is everything
But impatient or not, considering the 3-6 month wait between your first contact with a publisher and his response (if he sends one), you want to what is required to make sure his first impression of you is the one you want to leave.
The first thing I tackled when I realized the task ahead of me was developing my business collateral. That included my new logo, matching letterhead, business cards, mailing label and template for my tearsheets.
When developing your collateral, remember that it should be professional and consistent. Every element within the package needs to look like it belongs there. Think “branding.” My own “brand” needs to have a professional but somewhat generic feel. I wasn’t able to develop a logo utilizing my illustration style because I offer more than illustration services here at Amanda’s Creative Studios. My logo needs to work for all of the services I offer. Those of you who work strictly as illustrators will have a bit more flexibility with your designs.
Remember, repetition is the key here. The publishers will see your logo and brand across the mailing label, the business card, the cover letter, and the tearsheets. Then, if you’re lucky, he’ll drop in on your website, where he’ll again experience your logo and the other elements of your brand. Any subsequent mailings should also reinforce your brand. Then maybe when the next project crosses his desk, you’ll be one of the first artists the publisher thinks of.
Printing your collateral
Make sure you use professional quality printing for your promotional package. If you do some comparison shopping, you can find reasonable prices for quality printing. I ordered all of my materials online and received all shipments within 3-4 days.
What to send in your first contact package
When sending out the first contact package, including your tearsheets, you need to put yourself in the publishers’ shoes. Consider that they may have two-foot high slush piles to wade through and try to make their lives as easy as possible. Believe me, they’ll appreciate it.
- Do your RESEARCH! Make sure your style of artwork is appropriate for that particular publisher
- Send anywhere from 5-8 examples of your best work.
- Show a consistent, unique style across samples.
- Mark all samples and tearsheets with your contact information: name, email, phone number, address, and the link to your online portfolio. (If editors only keep one sample, you want them still to be able to contact you.)
- Send a business card.
- Send a brief cover letter or resume listing your previous publishing credits, reasons you think your work is appropriate for that specific publisher, and any other pertinent information.
- Do not send anything larger than 8.5 X 11 or publishers and editors will not file them for future reference.
- Follow submission guidelines to a tee.
- Try to find the name of an actual person to address your mailing to. (I had to resort to calling a few publishers to get contact names.)
Keep track of promotional mailings
It’s also important to keep track of to whom, when, and how each promotion went out. Did you submit through email or through snail mail? What samples did you send? When should you follow up with another promotional piece?
I use a spreadsheet to keep track of my promotional mailings and contacts. I designate separate, color-coded sections for magazine publishers, book publishers, toy and game industry, advertising agents, and artist reps.
I am not a fan of keeping records and tracking information, let me tell you. I don’t know many artists who are. But it is absolutely essential that you find some way to do this. You don’t want to send repeat mailings to already overwhelmed publishers. That’s one way to make an impression, but it won’t be a good one.
Here is a look at my tracking system:
Is it worth it?
It’s true that putting together this first mailing is a lot of work, especially if you don’t already have your business collateral developed or printed, which was where I found myself.
I had at least a couple of weeks tied up in developing my collateral, researching the markets and publishers, writing specific cover letters for each, and hand-picking the samples that I thought should go to each. I then had to set up all the address labels, check (and double check) spellings of names, make sure each cover letter matched up with each mailing label, and finally keep track of mailings and responses.
So is it really worth it? Absolutely!
The first mailing that includes your letter of introduction and tearsheets is like that first job interview. Every little thing counts. Competition in this industry is steep. If you take shortcuts, you’ll only undercut yourself. Talent will only get you so far—this industry is overflowing with talented artists.
Publishers want to work with professional, talented artists. Someone they can depend on for consistent style, performance, and quality. Someone who takes pride in his art and who will work hard to meet deadlines.
You simply must present yourself as the professional you are.