Dani: What is the hardest part about your job as an illustrator?
Lauren: For me, the hardest thing is not knowing when, and from where, my next job will come. In fact, this is practically impossible, which is difficult for me as someone who likes to have things planned out and organized. Unfortunately, this is the curse of the freelance artist. The best you can do is consistently put your work out there (whether on social media, through postcard mailings, attending conferences, etc.) and hope that it catches someone’s attention enough to hire you. This situation has occasionally caused some times of stress, but I have been fortunate enough so far to stay pretty busy.
Lauren: It has been a very slow breakthrough. There hasn’t ever been “that one moment” where all of a sudden everything fell into place for me. It has been a lot of hard work and persevering through the bad drawings and few opportunities. When I finished school with a degree in Illustration I jumped in and took almost any project I could get. Even if it was low pay or something I didn’t really want to work on. I did it because it was practice and experience. And when I was working on something I wasn’t all that interested in, I would work on personal projects on the side. Slowly I built up my portfolio, worked on my drawing skills and technique, and slowly, new and better working opportunities would come up. I attended conferences and took all the advice I got. I sent out postcards regularly and got active on social media. Sometimes the idea of “fake it ‘til you make it” really rings true. If you treat yourself as a professional then eventually you will learn to be one. I never presented myself as an “aspiring” illustrator or an amateur. If you don’t believe you are a professional, no one else will either.
Dani: What do you wish you had known about the Picture Book industry before you got started in this field?
Lauren: Something I wish I had known about was the “Slush Pile”. I was aware of what it was, but I didn’t realize how BIG it could be! As I attended conferences and read blogs about it, I saw pictures and read about how Publishers literally get mountains of submissions. This Slush Pile exists in email form too. I’ve heard people talk about getting over 1,000 submissions every day! Of course knowing this wouldn’t have changed much on my end, but knowing about it now gives me a better idea of what I am up against when submitting. It shows how many people are out there doing exactly what I am doing. If you want to rise to the top of that pile you really need to have work that shines!
One other thing I have recently become more aware of as I start my writing journey is what is expected from an author (or author/illustrator) when it comes to promoting your own book. Doing book launches parties, school visits and all of those things is something I know nothing about. To be completely honest it is a bit terrifying to me as a quiet, shy person to think about getting up in front of people (even kids!) because I have never been that great at verbalizing my thoughts, and especially not doing that in front of a crowd of people. What I love so much about art is being able to express myself with an image instead of having to put it into words. I suppose when the time comes it will just be another learning experience!
Lauren: For anyone who doesn’t know my journey of getting an agent, you can read about it here.
I really learned so much! I learned that you need to take every small victory that you can, and sometimes a victory comes in the form of a rejection. Some agents were very kind and even though they weren’t interested in my work, they were generous enough to offer their thoughts as to WHY they weren’t interested, which was invaluable to me! Those moments were great opportunities to know where to improve my work for the next agent I submitted to. I also learned to not get too excited too quickly. I had a few instances where an agent showed some interest and I got really excited. Those connections ended up going nowhere and that made the rejection sting even more because I worked myself up beforehand. Even when I got some interest from the agent I ended up with, it took a year and a half of conversations, working on my technique, and building up my portfolio before finally signing with her. So just be aware of how much time it could take.
Dani: Do you have any words of inspiration for those working to complete their dummy?
Lauren: Don’t give up! It can be daunting to create a full picture book dummy, but it is worth the experience at least once. I have made 2 dummies so far and each one has helped me grow in huge ways! And even if you get to the end and it ends up not getting much response, that’s ok. This might not sound very inspiring, but the reality is that if this is your first dummy, it might not be your best. Of course it could also be incredible and get you an agent and a book deal right away! I unfortunately wasn’t that lucky. My first dummy was (and still is) very special to me, but I see where the problems are. I don’t know if it is worth revisiting (maybe in the future), but I wouldn’t have traded that experience for anything! I needed to try my hand at it and see what it was like. And in my case, I will probably need to do it a few more times to get something that I think is really, really great. Just like when you are sketching in your sketchbook. The first drawing you do is usually pretty awful. It looks all wrong and the idea behind it is weak. So you try it again, or try something else and it’s a little better. And you do it again, and again, and again, and eventually you have a great idea and a great drawing! You really need to get the bad drawings and ideas out of your systems to get to the good stuff. Same thing goes for PB dummies. So keep going! – not just with this one dummy, but with more and more afterward!
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