Approaching publishers

Owing to current deadlines, I regret that I am unable to answer your questions until further notice ~ Thank you



Q - What is the best way to approach a publisher?


A - These days, publishers are even less accessible than they were when I was starting out. They want to see the work of illustrators they might use, but they are very busy and would be continually bombarded by illustrators and writers if they didn’t have some way of protecting themselves. They are therefore hard to get to directly and it’s important to take this reality on board if you are going to approach them.



Q - If you just send something to a publisher or ask them to have a look at your website, it means you aren’t going to see their reaction or get any feedback, are you?


A - This can be hard, but I would suggest that, before you approach any publishers with your work, it’s best to get direct feedback from someone closer at hand whose opinion you trust. That will help you decide what to send or develop in your folio, so that you feel confident about what you are submitting. I know that the Association of Illustrators offer portfolio surgeries, which you have to pay for, where someone with experience will go through your work with you and give you guidance.



Q - Is it better to approach a publisher with a set of illustrations, or to write a short book and illustrate it?


A - Writing is a separate talent. Some people are good at both writing and illustrating, but I think they are rare – although you might be one! However, I don’t think it works though as a means to an end as you have to love writing for its own sake. Many people assume that writing for children is easy as stories are often short, but I’m sure any good writer would question this assumption. Writing for children is an art. So go for it if you really want to write and illustrate but, if not, keep to the illustration side.



Q - Is it good to send illustrations, say a couple of pictures, for a traditional story?


A - It could be a way of showing a publisher your ability to interpret a text if you haven’t got anything published to show. The publisher can get enough of an idea of how you work by seeing copies of a couple of finished samples and some rough drawings, but don’t send your originals, as they might get lost or damaged.



Q - Is it really OK to phone up the art editor, make an appointment and take along your portfolio?  Or should you send samples and a CD first and wait to be invited?


A - Please see the Q&As in section Getting a Book Published, as the research you’ll need to do is the same.If, after your research you feel confident that your work might get a favourable response from a publisher you’ve identified, ring their general number and ask the receptionist to give you the name of their art editor/director – they all have different titles – and ask whether it would be OK to send some sample artwork. They might be fine with receiving an e-mail with attachments, but a lot have spam filters so your e-mail might not get through. I think a better approach often is to make up a great presentation package with a few samples of your best and most relevant work and a brief covering letter to the person whose name you’ve been given. Include your website address if you have one. It can be a good idea to send at least some printed samples together with a disk/ website link, as publishers can get an immediate impression rather than having to make the effort to load your disk up if that’s all you’ve sent.



Q - What happens then?


A - I’d wait for a couple of weeks: if you don’t hear back you could ring reception again to ask if they’ve received your package OK. You can gauge quite a lot like this. If the publisher really isn’t interested, move on; if they are interested, they might agree to receiving occasional updates from you by email, or they might want to see more of your work. If they like your work, they’ll probably keep your samples on file so that they can contact you if something relevant comes up. However, that line is also one that publishers use to distance themselves. Occasionally, a publisher will have a job they feel you’d be just right for, but more often it’s a waiting game when you are starting out.



Q - It sounds really difficult and demoralising!


A - It can all be worthwhile, children’s publishers need illustrators, but they also need to filter: once you are through that, it can be really rewarding and you can then hopefully construct a creative working relationship. However, it takes time, and publishers usually move pretty slowly.



Q - Do you think that rejections are just one of those things you’re going to have to face when you are starting out?


A - Yes, you have to be able to take it and be realistic about the feedback. If you can get any comments out of a publisher, take on board what they say. Recognise whether this is the kind of work you are willing to develop until it is commercially usable, or whether the market or client you have approached isn’t the right one for your talents.



Q - What about work for book covers, do you approach the same publishers as for picture books?


A - Book covers are usually a different market from picture books. They tend to be books for older children with no inside illustrations, or poetry books where the illustrations inside might be by someone else, possibly in black and white. Publishing houses are broken up into different divisions, like children’s picturebooks for young children and preteen/ teen fiction, so it’s best to research which publisher does what.



Q - If you have lots of styles, is it a good idea to send examples of them all to a publisher and say, “I can do this and this”?


A - Again, I think you need to be more targeted than that and send the relevant samples to the appropriate client.



Q - I’m interested in getting into the Greetings Cards business. How do I do that?


A - This is a separate market from children’s books, being part of the gift industry. I don’t have much experience of this world, but have been to some gift trade fairs where you can see some of the card publishers and agents. Cards are usually done for different occasions. Card producers are always looking to expand the number of occasions, as this creates more selling opportunities. This market is dominated by the mass market, and much of the imagery is very conventional. It depends on you whether you are comfortable doing that kind of work. There is also a smaller market for art cards, which are less occasion based and don’t usually come with messages inside. There are a lot of small card companies out there who often don’t pay their illustrators much, sometimes just a royalty – see Getting Paid - so beware, as it can be a poverty trap!I have noticed quite a shift over to e-cards this last Christmas, maybe partly due to people cost cutting and because of environmental concerns. I believe that the greetings card industry is in a state of flux, along with other areas of publishing.




Q - I have just read through your ‘Approaching publishers’ question page. As I am looking for a career in art and more specifically illustration, I found your page very helpful. It gave me an insight into how a publisher reacts to being contacted.


I have recently emailed a publisher with several small sketches asking if my work would be beneficial to their business. I received a reply asking if I had any fully coloured / finished pieces. Since I am only just starting out, I have various pictures that I have completed for people and several that I am currently working on but no real portfolio. As a result I sent two nearly completed pictures and one completed picture. I am yet to hear anything back. Should I be worried?



A - Glad you have found my FAQs helpful. I imagine this is a reputable publisher is it? Publishers don’t necessarily respond to artist submissions, but are more likely to keep your work on file if they think it is suitable. What they don’t ask for (need or want) is original artwork, but copies. You don’t say whether you sent your originals, so I hope not, as they wouldn’t want to be responsible for them. If you’ve sent copies, therefore, don’t expect to get a reply necessarily (you could just check that they have received them OK), but if they have your originals, maybe you should ring the company and explain to the switchboard and ask if they can be returned, offering to pay postage. It sounds as though it would be good for you to work on putting a portfolio together with suitable work for particular markets if you want to get into this field.




Q - I am from Iran. I have a Masters degree in Illustration and want to illustrate for international book publishers, but I don’t know, would they accept me that I work with them? As regards I am in Iran and the publishers in other states, it may be that I work and sending original works with traditional post (mail). I can send for you my illustration and you see them and please give me your opinions. Do you think what should I do? I need to have more income by Working for publications.

Please help and guide me what should I do.



A - If publishers around the world like your work and think your style would be right for their publications, then there is no reason why they wouldn’t employ you, in Iran, on a freelance basis to illustrate for them. However, please DO NOT send your original work either to me, or to publishers, keep it safe in your studio. My suggestion would be to create a website of your work (if you haven’t done so already), scanning your images, then you can start marketing yourself to publishers. If you want to send images via the post, then get some post cards printed and send those with a covering letter. There is a lot of advice about how to approach publishers on my other FAQs pages. If you click on the links in the list of pages on the left.


I can’t offer you mentoring advice about your work I’m afraid, but good luck with your career and I hope this little advice I can give you is helpful.




Q - I was looking at questions about getting published on your page. I really tried to find the information and even though some of the questions and answers were close, nothing really hit it perfectly.  No rush but if you get a moment in the near future I would really appreciate you advice.


You have heard so many questions about submitting the story with the illustrations, and usually the advice from most is not to submit them together. I am not a great illustrator, but here is the thing, the illustrations are as much the story as the words. Without the pictures, there is no humor. The pictures carry the words and the words carry the illustrations.  What would you suggest that I do.


I have two books… I am so frustrated. I went to The Society of Childrens Writers and Illustrators event and they would not even look at it with the pictures.  Maybe you don’t believe in this sort of thing, but I awoke two nights in a row, both books layed out page for page, with all the illustrations. That was about seven years ago. The reaction from the publisher at the event was frustrating that I just put the books away.  I am a really strong person, but I just felt like I was suppose to get these out there and have no idea what to do next.



A - I’m sorry you are having such a frustrating time. I can see what you are saying about the words and pictures needing to be seen in combination, however, if the message you are getting is to submit the text on it’s own, that doesn’t prevent you from showing your visual ideas at a later point, if a publisher likes your text. To craft the text for the stories separately for submission first would be a good exercise anyway, you don’t lose anything by doing that. Publishers are used to being able to make a judgment about a picture book text, so that would be my advice.




Q - I read your great FAQ on how approach illustration publishers and found it very helpful. I would love to have a career in Illustration, however, but would like to know a little bit more about approaching publishers and agencies. I e-mailed several places and they request attached low resolution jpegs. This might be a silly question, but I was just wondering what would be the best way to e-mail them the samples? For example, sending them as a zip file or as attachments.



A - I would just send 72 dpi jpegs of your work, especially as that’s what they have asked for, then there shouldn’t be a problem with them being able to open them. In my experience people can have problems opening zipped files – and you don’t want to put them off with technical difficulties. I usually attach low res jpegs, but have very occasionally had problems even doing that. I have a Mac, which is why I believe problems can arise, if sending to a PC. If in doubt, I would ask someone you know who has more computer knowledge than me!