How to become a professional book illustrator

Wed 25 Apr 2018

Being paid to bring people’s imaginations to life through illustration is a dream job for many people with artistic inclinations – unfortunately the publishing industry is also highly competitive and notoriously difficult to break into, even for highly talented individuals. Here’s how you can give yourself a head start on the career ladder.

Know the market

Want to illustrate children’s books? Spend some time in the children’s section of your local book store and browse through titles that catch your eye. Consider what makes the characters appealing and what techniques the illustrator has used to differentiate him or herself from other artists. Whatever type of illustration you are interested in pursuing, publishers recommend getting hold of a copy of the Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook, a comprehensive guide that is updated every year and contains valuable industry insight, including advice about pitching ideas and choosing an agent, and listings entries on who to contact at each publishing company.

Get an agent

It is possible to go it alone but having a reputable agent can help you navigate complicated publishing contracts, promote your portfolio, ensure that you get the best possible fee for your work, and provide valuable insights about the industry. Having an agent enables you to focus on the creative aspects of the job while your agent handles many of the administrative tasks for you. Make sure you thoroughly research agencies before you decide who to approach for representation, so you can find the ones that best suit your style and purpose.

Develop your portfolio

Having a strong online portfolio that showcases your work is crucial for attracting new clients. If you’re just starting out, working on personal projects or entering online competitions is a good way of generating high quality work that you can promote via social media. Completing a professional qualification can also help you develop a body of work that demonstrates your skills to prospective agencies and publishers. Falmouth University offers an MA in Illustration through its Flexible Learning programme that enables students to build an online portfolio while engaging in employer-focused learning activities taught by industry experts.

Be persistent

Did you know that Dr Seuss creator Theodor Seuss Geisel was turned down by nearly 30 publishers before he got his first book out? He was contemplating setting fire to the manuscript when a chance meeting with an old acquaintance who happened to work at Vanguard Press changed the course of children’s book publishing forever. Success is rarely quick or easy, and in a competitive industry such as publishing you’ll need a thick skin and a determined attitude to achieve your career goals. Be prepared to submit your work to multiple publishing houses and keep a positive outlook if you receive a rejection letter (or twenty).

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