Are you ready to submit?
A few great pictures are not enough, you need to have a solid portfolio before you start submitting to agents or publishers. Take your time and get your work to a high standard before sending it anywhere and develop a clear sense of your own style.
Do I need an agent?
You don't necessarily need an agent to get a start as an illustrator (some publishers allow direct submissions) but there are advantages to working with one. Be sure to check submission guidelines carefully, as there may be important size or file restrictions to consider.
Where should I submit?
Be aware of the market you’re creating work for and get a feel for what publishers do, whether they generally work with commercial or artistically challenging work and where your own style fits. An ideal publisher will have a balanced list, combining marketability with quality and an emphasis on creativity.
How can I find suitable publishers?
All publishers have their own styles and typical themes they approach in their books. A good way to find out about them is to visit a library or the children’s section of a bookshop, where you can familiarise yourself with their range of books. Check publishers’ catalogues and websites and subscribe to their newsletters. Get a firm idea of what they do before you contact them.
Find out the names of editors and art directors at publishers – the people who shape the character of their individual lists. Be aware, though, that people in publishing tend to move jobs frequently.
Additionally, children’s books bought in from other countries are of growing importance to publishers. Have a look at books originally published in Scandinavia, for example, to get an idea of the types of work being introduced to the UK market.
How can I improve my chances of becoming an illustrator?
Producing the best work you can is the most important thing, but you may improve your chances by:
- Honing your marketing skills: finding the right match between the type of work you're doing and the type of story a book is telling is essential. Not only must your art be age-appropriate, but publishers will also look for appealing characters that they can actively promote and that may lead to a book series.
- Showcasing your work: a coherent, up-to-date website is a great way to showcase your work. An excellent example is the website of the writer and illustrator Catherine Rayner.
- Carrying your sketchbook: maintain a sketchbook and bring it to meetings with publishers or agents, along with your more finished work, for an insight into your work development.
- Being open to collaboration: remember that creating a picture book is a collaborative process that can involve an artist, a writer, an art director, an editor and a graphic designer. For this to function well, you have to be open to compromise throughout the process.
Who else can help?
Here are a few organisations that may be useful: