I was represented for just two short months, the quietest two months of my working year, and so I hoped my agent might be able to boast my workload and introduce me to new clients. I was excited about this prospect, and excited by the very complimentary meeting I had with the agency; they really seemed to understand my practice and I hoped they would be able to push my work into areas I might not have been able to tap on my own.
That was one of the main reasons I decided to join, actually. To work with bigger clients I felt I was unable to reach. I had the notion that larger companies would either a) feel more secure using an agency rather than a single person or b) not have the time to search for and contact independent artists such as myself.
Now, I'm not so sure this is true. If you take a look at my client list here , you can see that both pre and post representation I have been very lucky to work with some quite large names, none of whom minded that I was an independent freelancer working from her bedroom! In hindsight I think I had started questioning my ability to run my own business, question going it alone, and thought an agent would solve this.
I know that for some people, being represented works for them. And perhaps I just didn't sign with the right agency for me. But for me in particular, I found the process of talking to my agent, who then spoke to my client, who then spoke to my agent, who then spoke to me, frustrating! I felt out of the loop - the loop being my business, which I had been building on my own for years. It just didn't feel right to have someone talking for me, regardless of the fact they were working in my interest. I missed the one-to-one contact with a client - I feel you can learn so much from them - not to mention gauge their expectations and attitude to the project. Without that contact I felt in the dark.
I don't know whether my opinions would be different, or even if I'd still be represented, had the agency managed to secure me a decent amount of work. But the fact was that they didn't. A lot of the work I did whilst represented, I sent to my agents from my own inbox. This was another issue I had, that if a client contacted me, I was contractually obliged to forward this email on to the agent who handled it from there. On the one hand I understand why this has to happen - perhaps, for example, the client wants to be naughty and bypass agency fees, after having been pitched my work by the agent - but to have to do this from the moment I signed up seemed unfair. The clients coming to me then hadn't discovered me through the agency, it was too soon for that.
These are some of the main issues I had, but there were a lot of other little niggly things that I begun to realise weren't for me. Instead of trying to explain all of them, I thought perhaps a little pro's and con's list might be in order! This list is based on my own experience and views. Con's to some might seem like pro's to others - it's for you to decide how you want your business to be run!
I hope you find it useful in making your own decision.
The Pro's & Con's of Having an Illustration Agent
Security - in terms of being paid, and in terms of having a job 'secured' once contracts are signed. I feel a client might be less inclined to mess you around if you've got a team of people behind you!
Promotion - it's part of an agent's job to promote the illustrators on their books, and they may have a wider audience, range of contacts and resources than you will on your own.
Authority - as a lone freelancer, you may not have the confidence to barter a higher fee - an agency can be more successful in doing this, although this is debatable.
Advice - having someone to talk to who knows your business and can advise on issues, the future, your portfolio etc.
A Point of Contact For Clients - if you are someone who hates discussing fees, contracts, conditions of license - then the load is off your mind with an agent.
The 'Middleman' Feeling - you're no longer working directly with a client, you may feel out of the loop, you aren't 100% on what is being said on your behalf. You run the risk of information getting lost/distorted when the agent relays it to you.
Lack of Control/ Uncertainty Over Promotion - you're not the only artist on their books - are you getting put forward for enough jobs, are you being presented in the right way? You'll never know for sure.
Contacts Are Harder to Make - if an agent is speaking for you, you can't build a relationship with a client. You could be just another artist from such-and-such agency.
Agency Fees - I do believe it's typically 30% of the commissioning price. So on the one hand, the rep has the experience and persuasion to secure a higher fee, but 30% of whatever the client agrees, isn't yours. Also, there's the fact you are more expensive as a signed illustrator, if you go it alone you can offer a fee minus the middleman.
Art Directors Find Agents Unnecessary- some art directors find this. I have been told by a long term client of mine that he finds illustration agencies an 'unnecessary middleman' and would much rather work one on one with an artist. I do imagine its refreshing for clients, working in an often corporate world, to work directly with an independent artist - and that perhaps going through another corporative entity such as an agency, would be off-putting.
Job Satisfaction - I take huge pride in my business and exceeding a clients expectation. I didn't like sharing that feeling with an agency.
And so I left, and continued on as an independent artist. And honestly, I haven't looked back! For me it was a really useful experience having a rep for those two months, because it confirmed what I love most about my occupation, and in what circumstances I work best.
I'd love to read your experiences with illustration agencies - good and bad - and whether any of the above is useful to you (or complete trollop!)
Thanks so much for reading!