Backing Up a Step

Focusing on author/illustrators, I’m going to try addressing some pre-query considerations to help make the process slightly less nebulous.

This information comes from my own experiences, the experiences of agented and/or published friends, advice directly received from editors and agents, and bopping around the internet for half of my life.

As with all things in life (yes, all), there are exceptions to the rules. Being prepared for what is usually expected is certainly helpful, but as I mentioned in the previous post in this series, every agency/editor/publisher has their own rules and those need to be adhered to first and foremost.


For every prospective illustrating writer: Do not let your website languish in website hell. This is your portfolio. Gone are the days of delivering physical portfolios or sending originals. Update it, but don’t flood it with dozens upon dozens of pieces (that’s what tumblr is for! or Instagram!). And have a domain. Using your deviantArt page for your professional hub isn’t cute.

For the picture book author/illustrator: [This may also apply to early readers.] To query anyone, you need a finished PB (picture book) ms (manuscript) and a corresponding dummy. Do not send out queries containing multiple pitches and attachments of your (unrelated) art. The dummy should not be polished, but every page should be in place. I’ve been told by editors that they like to see a couple of spreads that are decently complete, at least indicating the sort of direction it’s going to go. Your portfolio (see above) will tell the agent/editor what you’re capable of doing. This dummy is usually sent out with your query. Again, refer to your chosen agency for how they handle dummies.

For the novel-writing author/illustrator: Again, a finished ms is required. This is what you are querying. Make sure you specify your intention to illustrate this novel, and include your portfolio address. Unlike a PB ms, illustrating the novel comes later and you won’t need to deliver thumbnails or any samples before you’ve been signed by an agent. And maybe not even until your project is picked up by an editor. Let that portfolio do all of the singing.

For the comic artist/writer: Keep in mind that when I say comics anywhere on this blog, I am generally not referring to DC/Marvel, but places like First Second/publisher imprints, or indie outfits like Fantagraphics, Nobrow, and Drawn & Quarterly. Beyond this, I am not a fo(u)nt of information when it comes to the steps to comics publication. More and more literary agents are taking on graphic novels and selling them to the aforementioned houses. Artist reps can also do this. As for how finished your comic should be and how the script should be delivered to an agent or editor? I have no more knowledges left to impart.

In general for all potential queriers: Make sure you are ready to make this professional journey right now. The field is saturated with people trying just as hard as you are, and there is only so much that anyone can take on. This is for real. This is for serious business. If you haven’t edited or responded to peer critique or combed through your potential competition for inspiration or understanding, you might want to do so. Like all agents say after the glory of NaNoWriMo subsides each December 1st, wait. Do not pass Go. Take your time. Look at what you’ve done and what you’re doing with fresh eyes. And I know that taking your time is almost too insane to ask in a world that redefines waiting as a near-permanent state of being, but trust me: half of the author blogs out there include a first novel journey in their I LANDED AN AGENT posts. Most of the conclusions are the same: TOO SOON. IT WAS TOO SOON.


So, in conclusion, spruce up your portfolio and finish a solid draft of a book. You (we) are double-hitters. It’s pretty cool, but it takes a lot of extra work.

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