How to Become a Book Illustrator
- By: James McGowan | Date: Dec 01 2022
While nearly all of our blog posts and videos can be applied to both authors and illustrators alike, we wanted to share some tips for how illustrators can break into the publishing industry. Below is our guide to building a brand, a portfolio, and getting your work out there to best position yourself to illustrate books.
Decide what you want to illustrate. Are you interested in illustrating books for adults, or for kids? Whichever you decide, your first step is to read as many books in that space as you can get your hands on. Just like an author, it’s crucial for illustrators to have a sense of the market, styles, technique, and format of the genre or age group they wish to create books for. Example: Board books have a different style and format than picture books do. Picture books require different skills than graphic novels. It’s important that you have a good handle on what readers are looking for in the space you want to break into.
Create a portfolio. Now that you’ve got a better idea of what you want to illustrate, it’s time to build your portfolio. This is a website space that YOU own (meaning not an Instagram or TikTok page). On this website, you should have an About page, a Contact page, and a portfolio page where you showcase your BEST WORK. Not only should this page feature your best work, but it should also feature work geared towards the type of books you want to illustrate. For instance, are you eager to illustrate a book with a dinosaur character? Make sure there’s a dinosaur in your portfolio! Graphic novel artists MUST have sequentials in their portfolio. Editors and Art Directors will be looking for artists who have shown they can illustrate the type of book they’re seeking an illustrator for. Make it easy for them!
Build a platform. Note: a large platform is not essential; illustrators without large platforms get work in book publishing quite frequently. However, we have found it is helpful to have a social media presence where you post regularly. I suggest at least 3-4 times a week and typically not more than once per day. What helps discoverability on social media? Engagement! So begin posting, follow fellow illustrators, follow children’s book publishers to see what is publishing now, respond to commenters, and engage with your audience. Getting your work out there is crucial, and it also helps agents, editors, art directors, and authors find you and fall in love with your work.
Use hashtags and participate in events like #KidLitArtPostcard. By doing these things, you’re increasing exposure and tagging your work with popular tags that agents, editors and art directors frequently look through, like #kidlitart #childrensillustrations #picturebooks #graphicnovels, etc.
Query agents and share your work with publishers. A lot of illustrators don’t know this, but you CAN reach out to literary and art agents about representation. Just like authors can send a query letter for their book, you can write a letter to introduce yourself and your portfolio to agents and send it through their regular query guidelines. You could also share postcards and your portfolio with art directors, too.
Keep posting and building your portfolio. It’s crucial to continue developing your craft. Just like a writer keeps writing new books, you should keep creating new promotional images, posting on social media, and updating your portfolio. Even when you have an agent. New art is always exciting for pub folks to see, and you should keep making it to increase your chances of getting your art across the right person’s desk.
We hope this has been a helpful guide on how to become a book illustrator! If you want to learn more about becoming a children’s book illustrator, check out the video we put out yesterday at this YouTube link.
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