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Four tips for aspiring illustrators

If you're an illustrator who is new to the publishing industry, it can seem like an inpenetrable business that's near impossible to break into. And in all honesty, it can feel like that if you're not new to the industry too.

So here are some tips to help you approach the right publisher with your work:

Raise your profile

I know social media comes with a lot of baggage, but having an online presence is an essential part of getting your work seen. As a children's book editor, I spend a lot of time trawling Instagram and agent websites for illustrators. It's OK to not have a website - if you're realistically not able to keep it up-to-date, then it's probably not an effective use of your time anyway - but I would highly recommend creating an illustration-only Instagram account. Consider what you're posting, and use hashtags - it'll help your discoverability.

Do your research

OK, we're currently in the middle of a pandemic so you may not feel comfortable going into a bookshop and having a proper rummage, but under normal circumstances I would highly, highly recommend this. As an illustrator, it's really important (not to mention helful) for you to learn where your illustration style sits in the market place.

Is your line work perfect for children's fiction? Would your illustrations suit a graphic novel?

Look in each section of a book shop - see how they categorise books and pay attention to what they're stocking. You can do this online as well, but the selection will be larger and so possibly a bit harder to navigate. Still, it's useful to look. And remember, you'll find different books in stock in Waterstones than you would in ASDA or WHSmiths, simply because their customers have different buying habits, so keep that in mind too.

Know your publishers

If you look closely enough, you'll see that publishers have personalities. Some publishers tend to commission sophisticated artwork styles, some go for a much more graphic approach. And sure, there will be a mix of styles, but if you're paying attention you might actually be able to distingish between publishers. And just because your illustration style isn't right for one publisher, it doesn't mean it won't be right for another.

If you don't already, start looking at where books are published - this information can be found in a book's description online and also in the book itself - and get a feel for what publishers are publishing right now. You can also follow publishers on social media to find this out - they'll announce all of their new publications every month. This will help you identify the publishers that are already commissioning artwork similar to yours, and cut out the ones that aren't. Of course, it's always worth trying some wildcard submissions. But time is precious, so why not be as informed as possible?

Get an agent

I know this is easier said than done, but if you want to get commissioned then one of the best ways to make that happen is to get an agent. It's not the only way, I hasten to add, but good agents have contacts galore and it's their job to know which publishers are looking for what.


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