Why finding an agent can be a chicken and egg situation

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Illustration by Mike Reddy

“The reason why I’m not getting work is because I don’t have an agent.”

I looked at her for a moment, and was deciding if I should tell her that if she’s not having any luck finding one, is because she should be focusing on doing something else instead. Like finding clients instead of finding an agent. I didn’t have that chance, because she continued to rattle off a long list of agencies that she’s contacted – all without luck, and so here I am.

It got me thinking. How many people out there believe that the answer to all their woes lies in getting signed up by an agent?

I bet there’s quite a fair bit who does. 

I’m not saying that an agent won’t get you work. I know they do. But I also know that a lot of times you’d have to show that you’re good at what you do (with actual paying clients) before they’re likely to take you on. Having a few people who know and have paid money for your work demonstrates that you have skills that people want. And when you have enough people who want to pay you for your services, you’re already in business. 

I’ve seen fresh graduates and a handful of self-taught illustrators scrambling to get representation, purely because they’re scared of what’s out there. Some of them would prefer not to talk about business or money because it’s a difficult subject and one that they’d like not to poke around even if they have a 10-foot pole. Handing all these important things off to an agent, while it’s convenient, does not detract from the fact that they’re better off learning about it at some point. And besides, that’s not what agents are solely for. 

Think of an agent as someone who can manage and find new avenues that you’re not reaching yet. They’re a treasure trove of connections and networking that allows you an insider’s peek at what’s on the table. Agents are great at negotiating contracts and getting you what you’re worth (or try their darnedest). What they’re not however, is a magical character who can guarantee you jobs and success just because your name is on their list.

Which leaves us with the chicken and egg situation:

If you have to beg and grovel your way to find an agent, you might not be ready for one just quite yet. Better to have them come a-knocking on your door (or invite them to see your potential with a well-crafted letter showing them who you’ve already worked with) when you’ve achieved a modicum of success through your own hustle, hard work and the right strategy.

And when that happens, you might just wonder if you need an agent at all.

Amy Ng blogs at Pikaland, a popular stop for illustration lovers, students and artists who are looking for answers on how to find a balance between art, creativity and commerce.

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Thomas James

Thomas James

Thomas James is an Illustrator who has worked with The New York Times, WIRED, Pentagram, Wall Street Journal, The Los Angeles Times, and many others. You can see his portfolio at thomasjamesillustration.com.
Thomas James

Posted by Thomas James on 11/12/15 under artists,business,freelance
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