To Database or Not to Database – Organizing Your Contacts
For illustrators, building and maintaining a contact list for your marketing efforts is one of the most important things you can do for your business. Putting in the time and effort to build a highly targeted database of contacts is vital. To get your work seen, and for you to get hired – reaching out regularly to a targeted list of companies with whom you want to work is something you simply must do.
The software you choose for your database depends on personal preference. There are many contact relationship management (CRM) software choices out there – some free, some paid, many that are over complicated, and many with features you would never need to use. For myself, after looking at many of the options I settled on the simplest and most customizable choice – a spreadsheet. It’s simple, sortable, searchable, and exporting the data for labels or emailing is very straightforward.
The great thing about using a spreadsheet is you can customize the fields exactly the way you want. It’s easy to color highlight certain fields so you can get creative with color coding to help you track or remember certain details. You can set up drop down menus to select from pre-determined data. You can also set up additional spreadsheets in the same workbook – one for a list of publishers, and others for submission lists for picture book dummies, or lists for other contacts.
In my workbook, I have separate sheets for Publishers, Agents, and Picture Book submission lists (so I can track who I’ve sent to, who has responded, etc.)
For my main publisher list, here are the fields that I track:
- Date of last contact (last time you emailed or sent a mailer, letter, etc.)
- Status (Client, On file, Lead) – for this I built in a drop down menu with these choices built in so I don’t have to retype them when entering a contact
- Newsletter (here I indicate if I have them on my email newsletter mailing list)
- Category (Trade, Educational, Magazine) – again I use a drop down menu with these choices – I like to use these categories so I can group and sort contacts into sub lists to target mailings
- Xmas Card (the last time I sent them a card and if they are on my card list or not)
- First Name
- Last Name
- Zip/Postal Code
- Last Contact (here I keep notes on the last contact I had with this person)
- Additional notes (here I note and submission guidelines, special considerations, etc.)
The key to maintaining your database is to regularly go through and make sure the information is still current (your database is only as good as the data that is in it). I like to break it into small chunks and try to check 10 or so records each week until I reach the end of the list, then I just start again, repeating the process.
Another really useful thing to do is to save your spreadsheet into an online file sharing service, such as Dropbox – this way you can have access to your contacts from any device are using. Even your phone if you need to check some information while on the go. Or, another option would be to build your spreadsheet in Google Drive – and again you could have it available to you on any device
I built my spreadsheet using Excel, and I am making my template available here for anyone who would like to use it as a starting point for their own list, or for reference. The template includes my main publisher list template, as well as a second sheet template for a picture book submission list.
–> Download my Excel template
About the author
Chris Jones is a Canadian based children's illustrator. He has always been interested in telling stories visually, and his colorful style focuses on humor and expressiveness. A graduate of the Ontario College of Art & Design (OCAD), he has illustrated for several magazines and educational publishers.
Chris is inspired by good music, good books, long walks, and generous amounts of coffee.
Chris is a member of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators.
Sample Is Not The Same As Spec
In an earlier post Once Upon A Sketch addressed the subject of being asked to work on spec for a prospective client. Generally defined as creating a sample specifically for an upcoming project, spec (short for speculative) work is often requested by individuals unfamiliar with the industry, impatient to get their book ‘on the market’, and often not offering any payment to the illustrator. An increasing trend among traditional trade publishers is the process of sampling illustrations. It works like this: an illustrator will get an email from the editor or art director who is late in the process of assigning an illustrator to a manuscript. They will inquire about availability to do the book and ask if the artist is open to creating one or two character samples. They will inform the artist that other illustrators are being considered. While this sounds similar to spec work, I would argue that sampling for a major publisher is not the same as working on spec for a novice or self publishing client.
Here’s how they differ:
• Unlike spec work there is often a small fee paid to the artist. But even in the cases where that is not offered, art director Giuseppe Castellano argues in his #arttips thread on Twitter that illustrators should always take it seriously and return a sample. At the very least the illustrator’s work will be viewed by an art director and the illustrator should get a great portfolio piece out of the process.
• While the novice client really has no idea how to view a portfolio and decide if the style presented is appropriate, the trade art director has already vetted the artist’s portfolio and has two or three illustrators that the editorial team just can’t decide between. Particularly in the case of high profile author or celebrity books, editorial needs to know how easy the illustrator is to work with and how sales thinks the art will help position the book.
• The traditional publishing house has other projects in the pipeline. The novice client or self publisher likely has only one. Working on spec has little return on the time invested simply because there’s just not another job to be hired for. Even if you are not chosen during the sampling process with a traditional publisher, your chances of being called on again are greatly increased.
When choosing to be part of the sample process here are some tips an illustrator should keep in mind:
• First of all, if it’s a publisher you’ve never heard of then it’s probably spec work… not a sample. Don’t do it unless you are paid.
• It’s perfectly ok to ask how many other illustrators are being considered and when the publisher expects to make the decision. I’ve even asked the editor to tell me how many people will have to approve the sample.
• If you can’t do a good sample by the time requested, offer something different. Generally an illustrator will be asked for only one color sample of a character but i’ve been asked for spreads as well. In that case I asked if I could do a color character and just a sketch of the spread.
• Even if the art director does not request samples by a certain time, set your own (relatively quick) deadline and then beat it. It’s always nice to show that you are disciplined about meeting a project’s timeline.
• No matter what, go above and beyond in the work you create. After months or years of sending postcards to this publisher you got a call. Now’s your chance to shine.
I’ve sampled for a small number of publishers. In all cases I felt like I was opening a line of communication with a potential client that I had previously only been able to reach through mailings. Even on the projects I wasn’t chosen for, the art directors were enthusiastic about my work and the samples created have gotten me other projects. As Castellano’s #arttips suggest, doing exemplary work for a sample is a small investment of time that can pay big dividends in the future by making a good impression on art directors that are on the lookout for the next great illustrator.
When It’s OK To Fire A Client
It’s a rare occurrence, when things get so bad with a client, that cutting ties is the best course of action. It can be hard, especially considering how bad the economy has been these past few years and how rates have plummeted for many in creative fields, but sometimes its the best thing to do. Below are examples of times when it is OK to fire a client.
When a client doesn’t pay their bills.
We love our jobs, but this is a business and we need to make a living. If a client doesn’t pay there is no reason to continue to do work for them. That’s time better spent on developing your own projects and/or doing work for clients that respect you as a professional.
Make sure to have everything spelled out in your contracts with regards to when payments are due and what the consequences are for late or non-payment. This will let them know exactly what needs to be done and discourage them from changing payment milestones or waiting to pay you until after they have some money.
When a client is a low-paying time-waster.
If you have a client that pays a very low rate, refuses to pay what you are worth, and takes too much of your time away from clients who pay more. It may be time to say “goodbye”.
Rude or disrespectful clients.
This one is, thankfully, fairly rare. However, if a client sends rude emails, makes angry unwarranted phone calls, or attacks you personally… Cut that rope! Make sure you’re not confusing criticism, from a client not happy with your work, as them being rude first.
When a client changes the parameters of the job or doesn’t stick to your agreement.
Again, this goes back to making a contract as bullet-proof as possible. If you have an agreement with a client, that they are breaking, it might be time to rethink the relationship. If they are adding more work, beyond what you agreed to, or constantly changing scheduled milestones and delaying payment without your consent or without offering monetary compensation for your extra labor… yep… you guessed it… it may be time to give them the boot.