I've said it before but: Agents, a necessary evil...or just evil? and beware of geeks bearing gifts! (that one's mine but I haven't copyrighted it)

Date: Fri, 13 Mar 1998 09:04:29 EST
From: NBarnetArt
Subject: Re: illustration: Woody Coleman

4x5 reproduction quality transparencies run $25-30 in the Sacramento area. So that's a $300-360 initial investment. And Mr. Coleman is going to use the transparencies for what? A means to show your work to prospective clients? A means to make print promotions (and if so, will you be asked to foot 75% of the bill for that?)?

Personally, I'd like to know quite a bit about someone who wants to be my business partner -- and that's what a rep becomes, exclusively or non-exclusively. What kind of reputation do they have in the industry? Do they get payment to their artists in a timely manner? Do they expect you to say "yes" to every job they send your way? Do they handle all business negotiations, or just some? Do they get involved in creative discussions with the clients or do they let you handle that part completely? What exactly will they be doing for the 25-30% (or more) of the illustration fee?

The Web can be wonderful for artists, but it also seems to encourage a warehouse-type approach to selling talent. Aisle one for frosty beverage cans, aisle seventeen for animals in period costumes, discount on business-persons undecided at crossroads -- aisle ninety-seven . . .


By the way guys, Woody has a real good reputation in and around Cleveland, Ohio where he's based. I interviewed with him for a studio job right out of college way back in '81. Good guy, and very well connected in the ad biz there and in the upper midwest.

- -Mark

While I think 25% may be a reasonable commission for an agent who actively promotes your work, I think it's an outrageous amount to pay for someone who merely puts your work up on a Web site. Anyone can put work on Web site. Is the site actively marketed? How? In other words, what is he actually doing for that 25% commission?

- -pd

Ahh, some people do crossword puzzles. I like these puzzles better. Unfortunately, my answers only apply to me, but having had and fired four reps, I can say this:

Once you sever a tie with a rep, all bets are off. Your impression of talent made upon a client, has its own life which exists independently of the artist/rep relationship. The rep didn't paint it, you did. Each individual job that a rep gets for you directly demands payment, but after that relationship ends, if a client still wants your work, it is your own alone. No binding agreement requires you to include the rep, either through law or ethics. This is THEIR risk-of-business, which is certainly less than yours. Not one rep that I know would blame you, though they might kick themselves for not hanging onto you.

If a rep got you a Time Magazine cover, got paid and then dropped YOU, if you got another Time cover after that, would you send the ex-rep. a check? JIM

James M. Needham Illustration samples at:

Also, in the business world, it is always better to leave a relationship on good terms because you don't know where the person you are dealing with will turn up next or who they know.

Date: Mon, 12 Oct 1998 17:26:42 EDT
Subject: illustration: Agents:know any good ones?

Hi, guys,

Anybody work with Cornell and McCarthy? or Kirchoff Wohlberg? or Bookmakers Ltd? (saw them in Picturebook)

Got any good questions to ask potential illustrators' agents (children's publishing? Besides:
- -promoting? Mailers?
- -pay on time?
- -hustle? Energetic?
- -like your work?
- -feedback
- -does my work fit your client well?
- -contract specifics?

Thinking, thinking


Date: Mon, 12 Oct 1998 14:43:40 -0700
From: John Nez
Subject: Re: illustration: Agents:know any good ones?

Hi Diana

I've worked for Kirchoff-Wohlberg... they have a big studio of artists and also contract a lot of in-house educational type work. Bookmakers are in New Mexico or someplace... don't know about them.

Have you tried Harriet Kaysak? She's got a nifty web site... and her artists are all very artistic. I got to meet her online, chat a bit, invite her to look at my portfolio and get rejected all in one hour. That's the beauty of the Internet.


Publishers often prefer to work with artists representatives because it offers them more options. They don't have time to work with scads of individuals.

In a nutshell... this is the concept of 'wholesale'... where it's more effecient, easier and cost effective for the publisher to work with a group (i.e. artist's rep) of talent. If one central source can service the varying needs of any publishing project... drawing from a large base of talent... well so much the better for business.

This is the role that many book packagers play... but more in terms of the nuts and bolts of actual book production rather than simply supplying illustration.


Subject: illustration: Agents, big decision

Well, I am in a quandry. (so what's new?)

I know that we have had many discussions about agents before, but of course, again, I wasn't paying close attention. I never thought I would want a real agent.

But I got a call a couple weeks ago from my old illustration teacher who is an agent for a pool of children's book illustrators. She has several big names, and most of her artists are booked beyond the year 2000. So I think she is successful. She has asked me to join her on an exclusive basis for children's books. But she does a lot more than what I thought agents normally do. She has a lot to do with the making of the book, and art directs it and designs it to some degree. Her studio also does book packaging sometimes. She told me she takes 25% and takes on all promotional costs.

I didn't think I wanted an agent for children's books, mainly because there are really not that many publishers and I already actively promote myself to them. I am not sure if she could really get me any more work than I can get myself....I mean, I'm not sure if she can get me any work at all. I tend to think that I am too new in the business to have an agent. I also wonder if I will be taking a backseat to all her big illustrators, and left with no work and not being able to market myself. Because she was my teacher, and I know her on a personal level, I am finding it difficult to be professional with her, like asking her these questions. And I don't know who I can ask about the whole agent thing, and about her specifically. And I worry that if things didin't go well for some reason, I would lose her friendship.

I would have just turned it down except today she called me and said all the right buzz words......Original Art Show.... Bologna Book Fair..... museum shows..... awards..... WORK...... ugh. I am rambling, I know. I am just kind of thinking out loud. But if anyone has any input I would be happy to hear it.

Rep who critiqued Michelle's work:

There's Raul Colon that I am familiar which who's an awesome artist and children's book illustrator also. Anyway, there's this blurb from Theispot that Vicki does personalized, private consultation on highlighting your special marketing position, honing your portfolio, creating a promo plan. Both phone and in-person sessions available. Call for details: (212)475-0440. She does have an email address which is


Date: Sat, 05 Dec 1998 19:29:13 -0500
From: Claudia Sargent
Subject: illustration: Vicki Morgan (was: Stock Illustration)

"Then I decided to do a portfolio critique with Vicki Morgan & Associates and found that I liked them and their artists' work much better."

Well, you have GREAT taste! Vicki is one of the top reps in the business. She reps Raul Colon,William Low, and Joyce Patti among others. Her artists are always busy, and she works extraordinarily hard to keep them that way-- Raul Colon is booked THROUGH 2000! She & her partner, Gail Gaynin, are expanding into licensing for their artists (they had a booth at last year's show & probably will again this year upcoming.).

Vicki's been doing portfolio critiques for quite a few years and she REALLY knows her stuff. For NYers, she also teaches a portfolio class through the Guild.

I'm not sure what she charges for a portfolio critique, but whatever it is, it's worth its weight in gold. She's both respected AND beloved in the business-- a tough combo to find.

To find an Art Rep, you can go to a couple of places--you can write to SPAR (The Society of Photographers and Artists Representatives) at 60 E. 42nd Street, Suite 1166; New York, NY 10165.


© Claudia Karabaic Sargent 1996

What does an artists' representative do?

An artists' representative (or agent, or rep) is a professional seller who works for an artist or group of artists (also called a "stable").

The job of the rep is to promote the talents of the artists s/he represents, maintain portfolios of the artists' work, make portfolio (or sales) calls to current & new clients, secure assignments for them, negotiate fees and contracts, bill clients for completed work, collect moneys due the artists, and follow up on completed assignments to get samples of published work from the clients for updating the artists' portfolios.

Who pays who in an agent/artist relationship?

Although in most cases, the agent will bill the clients for work the artist has produced, the agent is paid a commission (typically 25%) out of the collected moneys; therefore, it is the artist who pays the agent, though the agent will typically be writing the checks to the artist.

So, who works for who?

THE AGENT WORKS FOR THE ARTIST, not vice versa. It is the artists' talent that is the engine that drives any successful agent's business--artists can sell their own work, but agents would not exist without artists to promote.

How does an agent/artist relationship work?

Since these relationships are typically governed by contracts, they can work in any way that makes sense to both parties; however, there are certain standard professional practices that artists should be aware of when looking for an agent to represent them.

Generally, the agent is responsible for assembling & maintaining the portfolios of all the artists represented. The artist is responsible for providing samples of the work for the agent to sell from. Who pays for mounting samples, shooting transparencies, portfolio cases, etc., is generally subject to negotiation between the parties--some agents consider all portfolio maintenance expenses to be part of their overhead, so they absorb the costs; some agents will want to split the expenses in the same proportion that profits are split (75% to artist, 25% to rep). In all cases, it should be noted that the samples THEMSELVES remain the artists' property, and should be returned to the artist if the relationship is terminated. This should be part of any written agreement between the artist and agent!!!

Promotion costs (i.e., mailings, directory ads, etc.) are usually split in the same proportion as profits (e.g., 75% to artist, 25% to agent).

The agent's office expenses (rent, phone, fax, computer, messengers, etc.) are usually considered part of the agent's overhead, and are NOT typically shared by the artists; the agent pays these expenses out of the profits they derive from selling the artists' work. An agent who wants payment up front for these costs is NOT acting professionally, so do NOT sign up with ANYONE who asks for up-front money for anything but portfolio maintenance and/or promotion expenses. And be sure to ask for (AND GET!) receipts for all expenditures that the agent incurs on your behalf. Those expenses are tax-deductible for the artist.

At what point in an artist's career should the artist look for an agent to represent them?

Before an artist goes agent-hunting, it's a good idea to figure out what EXACTLY you are expecting an agent to do for you that you aren't already doing for yourself.

If you're just looking for someone else to take over the boring humdrum day-to-day stuff that you hate to do (like building a portfolio, promoting your work, negotiating contracts, billing & collecting from clients), so you can P*A*I*N*T----that may not be a good enough reason to find an agent. That boring day-to-day stuff is as important to building your career as painting is, if you're serious about making a living at your art. And, if you think that you'll just "skip over" all the boring stuff from the BEGINNING, and find someone to represent you right out of school, you're being dangerously naive.

ARTISTS NEED TO LEARN THE BUSINESS ASPECTS OF SELLING THEIR WORK THEMSELVES. There are no shortcuts--you won't know what to look for in a rep unless you've been "out there" on your own for a minimum of 5 years; very few reps even want to see artists who don't possess some modicum of experience in successfully selling their work--they want you to have some kind of track record, so that THEY aren't starting at square one with your work.

So--the time to look for a rep is when you already have a base of clients that your rep-to-be can build on, by finding you new clients, new markets, and re-uses for your existing work.

What should an artist look for in an agent?

You want to find a rep who doesn't handle too many artists, who works in markets that you already work in or are interested in entering, whose current stable of artists doesn't conflict with your work, and who is trustworthy. Discovering the right rep for you will require some research on your part---but your up-front work will be rewarded in the end.

How does an artist find an agent?

The best place to begin your research is in the various artists' directories. American Showcase, Creative Black Book, Creative Illustration, RSVP, and the various regional directories are all terrific resources. They all have lists of artists' representatives, and who they represent; you can then check out the artists' work in the directory to see if you would be a good "fit" for that particular agent.


STYLE ~~ A rep who handles painterly artists probably won't rep a cartoonist.

MARKETS COVERED ~~ Reps who deal primarily in major advertising won't do a children's book illustrator much good.

NUMBER OF ARTISTS ~~ Stay away from reps who already handle more than 15-20 artists, UNLESS there's more than one principal rep; what happens is the big moneymakers get the plum assignments, and the remaining artists -- if they get anything -- get the lesser jobs.

DUPLICATION OF STYLE ~~ Your work should fit comfortably within the rep's stable, but avoid agents whose current stable of artists looks too much like your work. They'll get the work, not you, because they are a known quantity for the rep.

You're an artist in search of an agent. You've done your research; you now have in your hand your "short list" of agents -- any one of whom you think would do a great job of representing your work to new markets, clients and assignments.

How should an artist proceed from this point in his/her search for representation?

The first thing to do is to assemble a mini-promotion package to send to the reps on your list.

The goal here is to show a small but representative sampling of your work--enough to whet the rep's appetite, but not so much as to make your portfolio presentation redundant (that's the next step in the search). Include your current promotion pieces (that is, whatever materials you're currently sending to or leaving with potential clients); also include tearsheets or color copies from one or two interesting recent assignments. BE SELECTIVE!!! Your goal here is to pique the rep's interest in marketing your work-- you need to show your professional expertise in both the artistic and the practical aspects of your business (hence, both the promos & the assignments).

Write a brief letter of introduction to accompany the samples you're sending. Be sure to state the purpose of your letter (you're looking for a rep to introduce your work to a new, different, expanded clientele); why you chose to send this package to this particular rep (e.g., s/he reps artists who work in markets that you would like to enter or already work in); what you think you can add to the agent's business that isn't already there (e.g., s/he reps a fine small stable of artists working in a particular style or market, and you think that you'd be a good fit for further expanding his/her market presence in that style or market).

You can include a resume as well, but much more important and useful would be a short list of current & past clients with whom you've had a satisfying professional relationship. The rep may get in touch with people to ask about you, so take that into account when naming names.

If you would like the samples returned to you, be sure to include a stamped, self-addressed envelope for that purpose (be sure the envelope is large enough, and that the affixed postage is adequate). I would strongly recommend allowing the rep to hold on to any package you send, simply because artists come & go in many rep businesses; if your samples are in the files when the REP is looking for "new blood", you've got the inside track.

Be sure that the package you send is truly representative of your portfolio, and be sure that your letter has a professional and respectful tone. Remember you are offering something of value to the agent -- the chance to represent your unique talent in the marketplace -- but you need to make a strong positive first impression with this package in order for the rep to "see" what you are offering. Keep it simple, positive, and professional--and don't forget that you are speaking to a PERSON, not just a rep. Make sure you've spelled their name and their company name correctly; make sure that you write your letter to the INDIVIDUAL PERSON. I am often surprised at just what an amazing difference little personal touches make when I prepare a mailing that is going out to a group of people--if each and every individual on your "short list" feels like they are the only person who got this package from you, you've done a good job.

Once your packages are assembled, send them out First Class or Priority Mail.

The next step is follow-up, which comes a week to ten days after the packages are sent.

How should an artist follow up on the initial mailing?

Within a week to ten days after you've sent out your rep packages, you may have already heard from some of your recipients--I hope you've made your appointments to see these people (or to send them your portfolio via overnight courier, if they're out-of-town agents). Remember to read over the Portfolio FAQs when you assemble your portfolio for these appointments.

It is A*B*S*O*L*U*T*E*L*Y C*R*I*T*I*C*A*L that you only show your best work in this situation!!!!

If no one's called you yet, don't worry -- YOU call THEM. Put aside a day to do this, when you won't be disturbed, and follow up each package you sent with a personal phone call to the recipient. You first want to establish that they received the package, and had a chance to review it (don't be surprised if the rep or secretary doesn't remember you right off the bat-- many reps get submissions every day, and it can be overwhelming). Try to talk to rep directly, once you've confirmed receipt & review of your package; if this isn't possible, DON'T BE RUDE to the secretary or assistant, but do your best to get a response one way or another to your work.

Questions to ask:

Did the rep get a chance to review your work?

What did the rep think of the work?
(If the response is positive): Would the rep like to review your portfolio and discuss the potential for a relationship?
(If the response is negative):What was it about the work that concerned the rep? (AND BE SURE YOU LISTEN TO WHAT THEY SAY!!!)
(If the rep is not looking for additional talent right now): Is there potential here for a future relationship? When?

Would the agent like to receive updates from you on your work? (style, assignments, samples, etc.)

Stay calm, be polite and professional, and just keep plugging away. It isn't easy to find the right agent-- and finding the wrong agent can be a killing blow to a budding career. Once you've think you may have found the right person for you, ask to speak to some of their current artists and ask YOUR clients if they've ever had dealings with this rep. It's a good idea to check out your potential rep from both the artists' and the clients viewpoints, because it's important that the rep adequately respond to the needs of BOTH parties in the business relationship. The rep is a go-between for the artist and the client, and must strive to satisfy BOTH parties in order to properly do the job.

Now that I've found my perfect agent, how should I proceed?

You need to establish the ground rules of your working relationship. Some issues to consider:

Will it be an exclusive relationship, or non-exclusive? (there are advantages and disadvantages to both-- think dating vs. marriage as a paradigm here!)

What will the agent's commission be? (commission rates start at 25% and go up to 35% and higher for out-of-town or high-maintenance artists)

Will you be able to maintain house accounts that are yours alone, or will the agent service these accounts as well?(usually for a reduced commission of 10-15%)

How will expenses be split? (usually in the same proportion as billings)

Discussing these matters in a frank and thoughtful manner with any prospective rep will give the artist many clues on what they can expect from the relationship. DO NOT SETTLE FOR VAGUE ANSWERS TO YOUR SPECIFIC CONCERNS. Make sure that anything you agree to verbally is incorporated into your written agreement. Verbal agreements aren't worth the paper they're written on, so don't settle for them. THIS IS BUSINESS, and the more ably you represent yourself in the opening negotiations with your agent, the better off you will be in the long run--you will show that you know yourself as a savvy professional who is aware of your rights, your strengths, and the realities of the marketplace.

Two good sources of information regarding agent/artist contracts is the Graphic Artists Guild Handbook Pricing & Ethical Guidelines, 9th Edition, and Tad Crawford's book Business & Legal Forms for Illustrators. Check out the Guild's website ( for ordering information.

GOOD LUCK in your search for representation in an increasingly crowded and chaotic market. If you essay your search armed with knowledge as well as good work, you will achieve your goal!!

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