How to get more from your agent

"Make sure you push them as much as they push you. Frequently update them with any other work you've been doing so they constantly have new things to promote with and add to the portfolio. With a number of other illustrators to manage it's important they don't forget about you."

Communication is crucial to a successful agent-artist relationship, so be as responsive as possible. If your agent makes a suggestion regarding your work, follow it up.

Sarah Beetson is both an illustrator and a talent scout for Illustration Ltd. "Respond promptly to your agent's requests and follow their advice," she says. "Reassure them that they made the right decision, taking you on by getting back to emails and phone calls promptly, and show them you'll be on hand to leap on that whopper job as soon as it comes in."

Is it worth it?

Let's not forget the money. In exchange for bringing in bigger projects, negotiating your rates, sorting out contracts and chasing your pay cheques, an agent will charge you anywhere between 20 and 35 per cent of the final fee charged to the client.

It's up to you to weigh up whether or not it's worth it. Some agents have a variable scale – their commission depends on the kind of work they've brought in.

Illustration: Katie Carey for Computer Arts issue 237

Illustration: Katie Carey for Computer Arts issue 237

"We charge less on editorial jobs than we do on advertising projects," says Cockley at Handsome Frank. "This is because the budgets are much smaller and we want to make sure it's still viable for the artists. Also, these jobs often require less work from the agent's side. It's a quicker turn around, where less fee and contract negotiation and less project management is required."

If you're at all worried about the arrangements you have with your existing agent, be sure to compare your contract with the Association of Illustrator's Agents Code of Practice.

It's available to AOI members, and covers things like intellectual property rights, terms of engagement, prompt payment and even promotional costs. According to the AOI, your agent should contribute at least the percentage commission they charge towards promotional activity.

Playing the field

Finally, if you're a new artist, don't be flattered into an agreement by the first agency that comes your way. Play the field for a year or two first, and consider the options. There are boutique agencies with smaller rosters and more personal levels of contact with clients, and there are big ones with lots of illustrators potentially competing for the same work, but which have a greater range of contacts in across vast markets.

Develop your own unique voice and refine your portfolio before signing with an agency. When you're ready, find one where you'll fit in, augmenting their offering without competing with existing artists.

That initial flattery can end in tears. When Erica Burns graduated in 2007, she got an agency almost straight away and landed a huge Virgin Holidays campaign involving billboards, posters, flyers, stickers and more. But some financial wrangling went on too and she was underpaid £7,000.

"I felt betrayed, let down and vulnerable, but with some legal help I eventually got the money," she says. "When I look back on the whole thing it simultaneously feels like the luckiest and unluckiest beginning to my illustration career."

Words: Garrick Webster
Illustration: Katie Carey

The full version of this article first appeared in Computer Arts issue 237: Pick The Pefect Typeface.

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