For illustrators with agents it can work a little differently, but if you are going it alone, a good consistent self promotion plan is key to growing your business.
Self promotion for illustrators is well covered topic, but I thought I would share my experiences in in the hope that some of my strategies will inspire you in your self promotion efforts. A bit of background so you know where I’m coming from: I’ve worked on and off in freelance illustration for about 10 years, but didn’t take it seriously as a career until 2011. That was when I started actively promoting myself and seeking out new clients and opportunities. I don’t claim to be an expert by any means, but here are some of the things I’ve tried, and my thoughts on their effectiveness.
Postcards are commonly seen as one of the better ways for illustrators to promote themselves. With so many online printers to choose from, getting postcards printed is fairly cheap and easy. Mailing them can be a little pricey, especially if you are sending out large quantities, so I am continually honing my mailing list to keep it just under 300 contacts - consisting mainly of art directors and editors. If there is more than one art director at a publisher, I’ll send it to as many as I can, and also to editors at the same publisher if possible.
Some of the things I’ve done to help my postcards stand out:
- I have them printed at a larger size (5 x 7"). The increase in printing cost is minimal, and mailing the larger size costs exactly the same (from within Canada - which is where I am based).
- I always get them with rounded corners. I like the look, and this keeps them consistent with the design of my business cards too.
- I use full color, full bleed art on both sides. I figure this doubles my chances that an art director will take a liking to at least one of the images. It also allows the opportunity to use two related images, creating a bit of a story from the front to the back. On the back I leave a less busy area of the art for the stamp, and just affix the mailing label right over the art. I’ve checked with the post office, and I’ve confirmed that this does not affect the mailing of the postcards. Sometimes a bar code is stamped on the back at the bottom, but I’ve been informed that there is no issue if the art is underneath the bar code. So far I’ve had no issues when mailing them this way.
- I’ve also done variations where I list some of my previous books on the back alongside the artwork
ABOVE: Front and back images from some of my postcards
I send out a seasonal card each year to my clients and a small targeted list of art directors I would like to work for. Instead of a standard size card, my strategy has been to make an (11 x 17") poster with a bit of a narrative to it.
My strategy for the posters is:
- They contain a narrative that is hopefully engaging, so the recipient will at least read it
- The poster shows the same character throughout (showing my ability to illustrate a character consistently in various scenes)
- My aim is to make the piece something more than just a nice picture - something that’s hopefully fun and memorable enough that the art director will want to pin it up on their wall. If my poster is pinned up or saved, I consider that a successful mailer!
- I also dress up the envelope - using my branded logo on the return address labels, incorporating some of the artwork from the poster, and adding a personal handwritten message. Little touches like this will hopefully make my envelope stand out from the slush pile
- I received quite a good response from my last seasonal poster mailing, and this lead me to rethink my mailing strategy going forward. I’ve been sending out postcards 3 times a year for 3 years now, and I’ve had a better response from my one small poster mailing than almost all my postcard mailings put together.
ABOVE: My last seasonal mailer package. I included a red construction paper pocket that the posters were folded and inserted into for extra protection and for a bit of an exciting reveal
Larger Format Samples (ie: Posters!)
The response I got from sending a more comprehensive package to a smaller group of contacts was much better than my postcard mail outs. So this year I’ve decided to stop sending postcards temporarily to try out a different strategy:
- I included a couple of posters and a few tearsheets. This was sent to a small, targeted list of 20-30 art directors/publishers I want to work with, or I feel best suit my art style.
- The first poster was from a series I had been posting on social media collecting some of my Kids characters - my aim here was to highlight my character designs and facial expressions
- The second poster reproduces a picture book in it’s entirety on the poster- the aim here was to show my character consistency, pacing and composition skills across an entire book, and hopefully increase the likelihood that the poster will be read - since who can resist reading a picture book?!
- I also dressed up the envelope and in these packages I included a letter and my business card paper clipped to the letter
ABOVE: A promotional mailer that includes tearsheets as well as 2 11 x 17" posters
Thank You Cards
Maintaining a good relationship with your existing clients is just as important as trying to gain new clients. You’ve worked hard to get your existing clients, so you want to do everything you can to nurture that relationship and keep them thinking of you when they have a new project.
One of the little things I like to do is to send a handwritten thank you note after a project is completed. It’s quick and easy to do, but a little personal gesture like this can mean a lot. I regularly have little 4 x 9" cards printed with some of my artwork on them, and a space to write a small note. I then just pop them into a regular business sized envelope.
ABOVE: Sample of a "thank you" card I send to clients once an illustration project is wrapped up
This wraps up the short summary of my promotional strategies over the last few years. The key is to keep sending samples out on a regular schedule, and always be open to trying new and creative ways to get your work out there!