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How do you know when you're ready to send out postcards or book dummies?

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I became interested in illustrating in the spring and have been working at improving my technique, discovering my own style, and building my portfolio.  I will be entering the Tomie award contest.  I have a couple of manuscripts that are almost ready for submission (with lots of critiques/revisions).

(Aside from having a postcard & portfolio ready, and a book dummy sketched & ready to submit for publishers who request this[size=78%].)[/size]

How did you know you were ready to actually send things out?

#1 - May 18, 2014, 07:45 AM
PIRATE YEAR ROUND (Acorn Press, 2019)

Creator of Mootastic Art and Children's Books
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Personally, I didn't know. I started with a conference critique and portfolio show, then kept up with critiques and showing my portfolio. I put up a website where I could show my art and sometimes sent out postcards. Over time, I learned more about illustrating for children from others at conference workshops, critiques, online posts and discussion boards. Most of all, I kept working and trying to improve. It was a loooooong time (many years) from my first conference to my first contract. My art has and continues to change, with each piece and every new thing I learn. Working on art for my first picture book was a huge learning experience and significantly changed what I do and how I do it.

I don't know if you're ever completely ready. Sometimes you just have to take a chance. If you can afford to attend a conference or send out postcards, that would be a good place to start. The type of feedback (in person at a conference, hits on your website after sending a postcard, or an email, or nothing at all), will help you determine how much you need to grow or learn about illustrating for picture books (or chapter books, MG novels, magazines, etc.).

Don't get discouraged if one person doesn't like your art (though if everyone has similar comments, think about how to use them to improve). Right before I was offered my first picture book, I had a critique with an art director (in front of my illustration group). She said she didn't see a place in children's books for my art. The editor I had a critique with a month later disagreed and loved my work (which eventually led to my first picture book, which will finally be out in December).

I've found that editors and art directors either love or hate my art. I can show the same portfolio/dummy at a conference to two people and get opposite reactions (in fact this almost always happens when there are two or more critiques). I've also been asked (before those two examples above) to do samples for a publisher who liked my art, and had a magazine publisher take the time and money to send me a letter saying they didn't like my art, and not to send them any more postcards.

Art is subjective! People have strong opinions about what they like or don't, and everyone is different.

Another thing to know is that the industry and what they want changes. Your art might not be right for them now, but if they like it and keep your postcard, maybe it will be right for them in a month or a year.

It sounds like you're on the right track with putting together a portfolio and dummy, and writing and getting critiques. Keep going, and when you're ready to see what happens, attend a conference and/or send out a postcard.

Good Luck!!!
#2 - May 18, 2014, 09:10 AM
« Last Edit: May 18, 2014, 09:13 AM by Stephanie Ruble »
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picture book: EWE AND AYE (now available as an ebook!)

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 :werd :like

I was asking myself the same kind of question just a week or so ago. It's a horrible thought to think you might send cards or whatever 'out there' when you're not ready because you might scupper your chances. I thought about this a lot and kept looking at my website, trying to figure out if it was 'ready' or not. Then very recently I read a blog post by Ruth Barshaw (who writes and illustrates the Ellie McDoodle books) and it made me want to work some more before I go crazy sending stuff out there.

Here's the link:

I didn't take it to mean that everything in my portfolio needs to be redone 100 times until it's good enough, but reconfirmed some good advice a Blueboarder gave me here on the boards: keep doing it until you can't make it any better (or it starts getting worse, ha ha!). It's so easy to think, Well, that looks good, I'll go with that. But with a bit more spit and polish it might look GREAT or even FABULOUS! And that's what we should aim for, I think.

As Stephanie said, though, it's so exasperatingly subjective, even more so, I think, than writing.

Good luck!
#3 - May 18, 2014, 04:53 PM

I draw stuff for chocolates.
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I've been illustrating for what seems like forever, and I still don't feel ready half the time.

Make sure your art is appropriate for the market you are targeting, not getting appropriate work is the biggest pet peeve of people on the receiving end.

I have a series of portfolio building posts on my blog that will help you focus your images to kidlit. Otherwise, you have to be in it to win it.

You'll know you're ready for the big leagues when you start getting responses to the stuff you put out there. Just keep honing your skills with each mailer or dummy. An overnight success in this business usually has been working behind the scenes for 10 -15 years before getting discovered - what ever that means.
#4 - May 19, 2014, 08:04 AM
Animal Totem Mandala 2016
The Story Circle 2016 (PiƱata)
Color and Conjure 2017 (Llewellyn)


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