Friday, May 20, 2011

"How do I get into the business?"

by Aidana WillowRaven

I get asked this a lot. Artists see that I am a cover artist, and a book illustrator, with over 100 books in print with my work on or in them, and inevitably ask me how I got started.

Honestly, by networking. But how did I know what those that would hire me want to see? And how would I get those that I wanted to see my work, see it?

Again, by networking. But networking to the right people, in the right places, showing the right material is the key. The next few tips apply to authors just as much as artists, just maybe in a slightly different way.
  • 1. READ!
I can't emphasize this one enough. To be a cover artist or illustrator, it takes something more than being able to 'create pretty pictures.' It takes being able to tell a story. If you can't effectively tell a story, whether it be with you art or your writing, you're not going to get too far. And how do you learn how to tell a story? You read. A lot. Then you read some more. It just makes sense, for both authors and cover artists/illustrators.

  • 2. For the artist who wants to be a cover artist or illustrator, you also need to study the covers on your favorite books (even on your not so favorite books). Haunt the library and bookstore.

How does the composition differ for a book rather than for a stand alone piece?
How does it differ from genre to genre?
How does it differ from book style to book style (paperback to hard cover)?
How does this cover tell me what I can expect to find inside?

All these questions must be asked an answered for every book. I mean, admit it, we still judge books by their covers. Regardless of what we're taught.

Now, the best cover artists have learned how to make their art be able to stand alone, while still being suitable for a cover. But how do you know if your work is suitable for a cover?

This is a stand alone original recently done just for my portfolio. Could this double as a book cover? Why or why not?

Is there room for a title? A by line? The blurb on back? The spine? Believe it or not, an Art Director or Editor will be looking at that, just as much as your style, technique and story telling ability, when looking at your portfolio. And when I say 'room', I don't mean blank or negative space. But rather, unimportant elements. Things that can be covered by text without ruining the 'story'.

So back to the first problem. How do you get the Publishers, Art Directors, and Editors to see your work. Work that you have purposefully built to be cover art friendly?

  • 3. Remember that word 'network'? 

  • You read everyday.
  • You work on your art everyday.
  • Now you must mingle everyday.

But who with? I see a lot of artist hanging out with other artists. They put their work up on sites like Renderosity, Deviant Art, Zazzle, ImageKind, and many more. Which is good. But, publishers and Editors rarely lurk in those galleries or forums looking for artist to outsource to. Not never, mind you. But rarely.

  • 4. You need to think of it like a business. Who is my customer? 

  • Authors. 
  • Publishers. 
  • Agents. 
  • Editors. 
  • Art Directors.

So where do you need to hang out? WITH THE CUSTOMERS.

  • Join author groups that welcome outsiders (many do not - so pay attention).
  • Befriend writers, publishers, etc. on Facebook.
  • Follow authors and publishing pros on Twitter.
  • Get TweetDeck, and keep search colomns up of keywords publishing pros use when putting out calls for artists.

You need to be an artist (or author) first. At least in public networking. Taking about your cat is fine, but what do you want someone to see if they stumble across your FaceBook page? Certainly not how many games you play all day or how you got wasted last night at that party.

Keep it professional at all times. And people will see you as a pro.

  • 5. Oh yeah ... and READ!

Art Director & VP of Operations
4RV Publishing


  1. Very good advice, Aidana, and many pointers and words to the wise. Networking is as big part of the "business" of writing and illustrating as is promotion.

  2. I do read all the newsletter posts, and I try to leave a comment. However, I may forget to comment sometimes.

    This is an excellent article for beginners.

  3. Great post and relevant to both illustrators and writers. Reading, studying, and networking - 3 biggies.