Zoe Sadler Author, Illustrator and Ink Spiller


Have you ever had an agent and can you give me any advice how to get one?

How do you go about finding a publisher for your work?

How do you publish your own books?

Will you look at my idea for a children's book and would you consider illustrating it for me?

How do I start out or become an illustrator?


I am afraid it all comes down to hardwork and perseverance! Children's illustration in particular is competitive and unfortunately at the lower end of the pay scale because so many people want to do it. It can take years to build up a network of contacts and a reputation (I am  still working on this all the time). I trained as an illustrator but this isn't always necessary. It is much easier to get your work out there than it was when I started out with the way social networks work these days. Although be aware it is also much more difficult to stand out from the crowd. So you have to be creative with how you sell yourself and your work.


I always say never work for free. We have a skill that we are entitled to be paid for and with so many artists willing to work for free it actually devalues what we do and the unique talent it involves. However when I started out I did do a lot of lower paid work, some valuable work experience and a few unpaid commissions to help develop my portfolio.


Start out by setting up social networks for your art and illustration. It is now the best way to get your work out there and recognised. Have an online portfolio or website you can direct potential customers and clients too. It is ok to start small, sell your art at craft fairs or set up an online shop. Once people start seeing your work commissions will start to trickle in. I started out doing a lot of private commission for clients and eventually the more professional commissions started to come in too.


Collaborating with others is also a great way to grow your network. Collaborate on projects or perhaps a book. It is much easier to self publish these days without huge overheads. If you have the skills to contribute or do it yourself, go for it! Try crowdfunding your own or a group project- there are so many things you can try out to help you on your way.



Keep sending your work out to potential clients, agents and publishers. You will get a lot of rejections but you might just get that acceptance letter one day too. You don't know unless you keep on trying! This also applies to any budding writers out there.



Have you ever had an agent and can you give me any advice how to get one?


I had an illustration agent for the last couple of years but unfortunately it didn't quite work out and here is why:-


A professional agent will promote and represent your work, help develop your portfolio and provide constructive feedback to help further your career as an illustrator. They will liaise with clients for you, negotiate fees and contracts as well as invoice and collect money. In return they take a percentage fee from the total money you earn as an illustrator.


There are two types of agent in the UK:-

  • An illustration agent who represents you across all fields of advertising, editorial and design including publishing. They take a higher commission rate, usually anything over 25%.
  • A literary agent works specifically in publishing and represent both writers, illustrators or both. Usually the commission rate is lower around 10-15%.


Bear in mid that an agent will quite often want to see that you have published some work before they take you on so if you can get some published work first that would be a real selling point.


So why didn't an agent work for me? Because, I realised too late I submitted to the wrong type of agent. I just didn't realise it at the time. I had an illustration agent when really I should have been working towards finding a literary agent. I am actually pretty good at finding my own work and dealing with clients and commissions. It was always children's publishing I wanted to work in and it wasn't until a bit later I realised I wanted to have my own stories published not just create the illustrations.


So now I am much clearer on what I am working towards. I am working on my own books and stories and when the time is right I might just re-apply to a literary agent. For now I am happy working on my books in my own way and developing my portfolio of children's illustrations and stories.


chasing butterflies


How do you go about finding a publisher for your work?



The other option is to find an agent willing to represent you first. If you can get a good agent it will be much easier for you to get your work seen by the right people.


Both ways can take a long time and it doesn't usually happen overnight so be patient and persistent. Don't forget to follow up your submissions after a couple of weeks and I would advise only sending a few submissions out at a time and wait to hear back. You may receive invaluable advice which can help you for your next round of submissions.


Above all make sure whatever you submit is your best work and carefully presented so as to make the best impression on whoever you are submitting too. You are competing with a lot of other budding illustrators and authors out there and you need to stand out from the crowd!

How do you publish your own books?


I recently made the conscious choice to self publish my work for now. I wouldn't recommend this for everyone as you really do need to have some knowledge of the publishing process, be committed and as well as creating your book in the first place you also need to be your own sales rep and marketing manager unless you can afford some help.


However it is far easier than it has ever been before to self publish your work. With print on demand you can publish you work with hardly any up front cost at all and you don't need to print hundreds of books at one time. Also most print on demand companies will also have there own distribution networks which is also a huge bonus. So all in all much less risk involved. There is one downside to print on demand in that when it comes to children's books the print quality will never be as good as that of a traditional print run. For this reason I now do very small traditional print runs at a printers as I really want my children's books to match the quality of any book that a traditional publisher might produce. This is something that is very important to me but is more of a risk as the upfront costs are much higher.



chasing butterflies-nova


Will you look at my idea for a children's book and would you consider illustrating it for me?


I am more than happy to look at your children's book idea but please make sure your manuscript is finished and carefully edited before you submit it to me. I would advise no matter what length your story always look at getting your work professionally edited as it can make the world of difference to your story and it looks so much more professional if work is free from spelling or grammatical errors.


Something important to bear in mind when approaching me, is if you are looking for me to illustrate your book idea for you and hope to find a traditional publisher rather than self publish your book, I would recommend sending your story either on its own to a publisher or just with a sample illustration or two. The likelihood is that the publisher will want to find or pick their own illustrator for your book and not the one of your choosing. I really don't want you spending a significant fee having your entire book illustrated with me only to find out later the illustrations will never be used.


Depending on how much work is involved in illustrating a manuscript I can only undertake a few book illustration projects a year as they are very time consuming. Sometimes no matter how good a manuscript may be, sometimes the subject matter is just not something I can do justice too. So in this regard I will pick and choose the projects that are a correct fit for me. I have to spend a lot of time illustrating your stories and I will want to do my best work for you which is why it has to be a subject matter that appeals to me as an illustrator.


Please note I spend most of my free time writing and illustrating my own children's books now so I am afraid I cannot collaborate for free on any projects. Please understand that illustration is how I earn my living and pay my bills so I have to be paid for the work I undertake.


I quote each job on an individual basis and at the fees recommended by the Association of Illustrators for children's books.


I usually have a waiting list that can be anything from 2-6 months long although occasionally I can squeeze smaller commissions like book cover art in around larger book projects.


Illustrations for picture books can take anything from 2-6 months to complete. Sometimes longer if there is a lot of work involved in them.


Please note from time to time if I am very busy, have a long waiting list or working on my own projects I will close my availability for private commissions.

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