Working with an agent for Illustrators

At the time of writing, we do not have a dedicated agency for illustrators in Scotland but there are many working in the rest of the UK and internationally.  

Finding an agent 

You can search for an agent online, via social media and also by asking other illustrators which agents represent them and compile a list that way. Attending industry events such as those held by Picturehooks or the AOI will also give you an insight into finding an agent that’s right for you. 

Edinburgh-based Illustrator Marcus Oakley says

‘If you are going approach any agents you need to think about if your work fits within the agency’.

It is important to assess whether you create the sort of work that the agency would be interested in by taking a look at the other illustrators that they represent and the sort of client work they produce. Glasgow-based illustrator Lesley Barnes added

‘It might not be worth contacting an agency who already has an illustrator that does a similar thing to you. If they already have someone who makes amazing folk art paper cut sculptures, and that is your selling point, then chances are they won’t be looking for another’.  

Approaching an agent 

Most agents will detail how they’d like you to approach them on their website- so follow their guidelines to the letter. Agents have very full inboxes so it’s likely that if, for example, you send them a physical sample of work and they’ve only asked for email submissions then your work won’t be seen. 

You should have a concise portfolio of work ready to send/show to potential agents with a clearly defined and consistent style. Fig Taylor, author of How to Create a Portfolio and Get Hired advises the following

‘Showing too many styles to a fussy client introduces the career-cramping element of doubt; it makes the illustrator look capricious and unreliable instead of steady and dependable… it’s better to commit yourself to what you know best than try to be all things to all clients’. 

Most often agents will ask for a link to an online portfolio or website and in some cases, they will be open to receiving physical samples of work. If you are sending something physical then be playful and inventive in your approach. Once you’ve identified who you’d like to approach ensure you have the correct portfolio format, along with an up to date CV (unless it’s incorporated into your website) ready to go. As we discussed earlier, your portfolio should be concise and consistent but make sure that you demonstrate variety in terms of subject matter and contexts (e.g sample editorial pieces, picture book pages, food/fashion, educational).  

Working with an agent 

There are pros and cons to working with agents and you should take time to consider whether it is right for you and your practice. It would seem, however, that getting an agent whom you trust and with whom you have a good relationship is hugely beneficial. Lesley Barnes says

‘For me the main benefit (of having an agent) is having someone who can fight your corner and also deal with the business negotiations over budget and making sure all the legal issues like royalties and rights are in order.’

The agent/illustrator relationship goes both ways so don’t sign up to work with an agency who you don’t have confidence in or whose client work you don’t identify with. Lesley adds

‘Be very clear what they are offering and read contracts carefully. You might also want to consider how many people the agency represents – if you are just one of hundreds you may not be getting much rep or attention’.  

Some illustrators find it beneficial to be represented by more than one agent, such as Marcus Oakley

‘I have found having agents overseas really helpful, currently I’m represented in Japan, U.S. and Scandinavia. Having agents overseas has been so valuable to my freelance career, and the work has been really varied, especially in Japan’. 

Agents, of course, take a percentage of what you earn- but they can help you get contracts that you most likely wouldn’t get on your own. Start by researching what is out there and speak to other illustrators and industry professionals to help you make your decision. 

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