For an illustrator-author, how extensive should an online portfolio be? And are certain kinds of sites preferred over others (i.e. Instagram vs. personal website)?
Tracy here, happy to answer another author-illustrator question!
But first, I want to tackle the end part of your question, because I think that applies to everyone interested in publication – authors and illustrators in any genre.
Social media, like Instagram, Twitter, etc., should supplement your home page – but should not be your home page. If an art director, reader, editor, agent, etc. goes to your social profiles, all they will see “above the fold” is the last few things you posted – which might not be a great representation of your work as a whole.
Going to my own Twitter feed (and I’m writing this in advance, so these things will have changed), my last few tweets are:
With that alone, you wouldn’t know that I was also the author of Chicken Wants a Nap, or that I also represent picture book, middle grade and YA authors, or where to find my submission guidelines, etc.
And while Instagram is visually-based, and some illustrators are picked up from Insta and other social media, it still is probably not the best thing to rely on as the main touchpoint for your work. Because in the future, maybe everybody will have moved on to another site (I’m working really hard not to make a MySpace reference here), or maybe Instagram will change their platform in a way that no longer works for you, or maybe the Terms of Service will become unacceptable.
Nothing is future-proof, but having your own website certainly gives you more control over how things are seen and by whom.
If you’re querying as an author and not ready to build out a website with regularly updated content, I still advise buying your domain name and just putting up a simple home page with your name and the genre you write. That’s it. It doesn’t have to do much, but it does say that you’re ready to build out on it when the time comes. (And you don’t have to worry about another person with the same name grabbing your domain in the meantime.)
But back to illustration.
Your portfolio should be robust enough to showcase your work across whatever media you work in.
Work in your primary media/style should be shown on the home page, with links to additional media if applicable. Along with samples, we like to see a little about the artist (“About” page) and a way to contact you. If you have published works, I think it’s always great to have a separate “Books” page with those covers/work from those books.
As an agent, I find it helpful when author-illustrator dummies are hidden behind a password protected page, and I’m given the link and password to view when I’m queried. (Particularly since many agents – myself included – don’t/can’t accept attachments in their query pile.)
That’s pretty much it. If you only have five pieces ready to share, you can start with those five pieces and build out as you go. Because the other truth is, if you have an author-illustrator dummy that somebody falls in love with, it won’t matter if your portfolio is only five pieces strong at that point.
Hope this helps!