30 Things to Watch Out For in an Art Rep

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Illustration by Luc Latulippe

As a followup to our story about the Illozoo art rep agency’s controversial business practices, we thought it would be useful to share the following list of 30 things to watch for in a artist representative, originally written by illustrator Luc Latulippe.

There are a lot of great ones out there but there are also some bad ones, so what follows are some important points illustrators should think about when deciding to approach one, and how to protect yourself from getting fleeced. I really feel they should work FOR YOU, not the other way around. You are not their employee, and they are not your boss. They should also not push projects on you that you have no interest in, or treat you as an extension of their brand.

It certainly can help you to work with someone who understands your goals—both artistic and career—but very few reps work with illustrators on such a personal level (it’s a hell of a lot of work to do this). The word “rep” is short for “representative.” By its very definition, it implies this person is representing you to potential clients.

The List!

My biggest piece of advice when interviewing a rep is to ask as many questions as you can think of regarding how the agency runs their business. Here’s a list to start with, in no particular order:

  1. Make sure the contract includes a trial period (usually 3-6 months) so you can see if this is a good fit. (Following this trial period, if you wish to discontinue working together, it should be a clean, no-strings break.)
  2. How much commission does the rep take? It’s usually 25% (which for the record I believe is too high; 10-15% seems more reasonable to me), but I’ve heard some artists give up to 30% to their reps. Ouch! That’s 1/3 of your revenue!
  3. What does the rep provide in return that commission? How much of her own overhead is spent on marketing (A) the agency, and (B) you?
  4. Does the rep want you to hand over your existing client list? Why?
  5. What happens to clients you’ve worked with prior to signing up with the rep?
  6. Does the rep take a reduced commission (or none at all) when clients wish to go through you, rather than them? If no, why not? Does your contract allow this?
  7. Does the rep expect you to pay an additional fee simply to be represented?
  8. Will the rep actively contact new clients you’ve declared you’d like to work with?
  9. Are you allowed to experiment with new styles and change your artistic direction as you see fit?
  10. Does the rep insist on you spending a fixed sum of money for advertising and marketing?
  11. Does the rep let you choose where you’ll spend your marketing budget?
  12. Does the rep insist you get listed in any illustration directories? (They’re quite expensive.)
  13. Does the rep expect you to pay to be on their website? — If the answer is “Yes,” you should seriously question this. A rep’s website is part of THEIR overhead. Not yours. You (and probably another 30-40 artists) already give them 25% of your revenue. If 30 artists each earn $25,000/year, that amounts to $187,500 going to the rep. If $40,000, that’s $300,000 for the rep. Plenty there for them to hire a good web designer.
  14. Can you quickly and easily edit your own listing on his website?
  15. Does the rep include a link to your website from their website? If no, why not?
  16. What are things the rep does to increase business and actively reach out to new clients? The word “actively” is key here; I’m talking cold-calling, and meeting art directors in person. Not just passive stuff like sending out emails or taking out ads in Communication Arts magazine.
  17. Are you free to express yourself however you wish on your own blog? Facebook? Twitter? If no, then what are the rules?
  18. Does the rep also want to act as an art director for your work?
  19. Does the have any accreditation in art or design?
  20. Does the insist that all communications between you and a client go only through him?
  21. Does the rep intervene between you and the client (in rare cases when there’s a problem)?
  22. What happens when a job drags out longer than planned, and the client refuses to increase payment to reflect this?
  23. How does the rep handle unpaid invoices from a client?
  24. Does the rep (A) let you bill the client directly or (B) do they bill on your behalf? (There are advantages to both.)
  25. If (B), how soon does the rep pay you after a client has sent her the payment?
  26. Does the rep insist clients pay a late-fee if they’re behind? How does he/she enforce that?
  27. Is the rep open to asking for more money on a job, if you feel that job isn’t paying enough? Is he/she willing to negotiate with the client for more money? (You both benefit after all.)
  28. Are you able to turn down work without fear of ramifications?
  29. How does the rep feel about work-for-hire and spec jobs?
  30. What’s expected of YOU in this relationship?

Partners in business

This is a business after all. YOUR business. It’s how you pay the bills and (hopefully) how you can save for vacations and retirement. And this is a business relationship, one which should be between two equal partners. Meaning, it shouldn’t leave either side feeling that the other is lording it over them, or feeling as though they’ve gotten the short end of the stick. Both parties should feel the terms are fair to themselves and to the other party. If not, you’ll regret it soon enough.

Illustrators in my experience can be terrible managers of their own business—it’s a left-brain, right-brain thing; business is just not our forte. And often we can be all too eager to jump on board with a rep only to realize later that certain aspects of that relationship are working against us, and we can be left feeling trapped and taken advantage of. Keep your eyes open! And good luck!

…..

Thanks again to Luc Latulippe for allowing Illustration Age to republish this much needed information. You can find his work here.

Read our story about Illozoo’s controversial business practices here.

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Categories: business

Author:Thomas James

Illustrator. Wanderer. Adventurous Creative. WebsiteTwitterFacebook

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10 Comments on “30 Things to Watch Out For in an Art Rep”

  1. August 19, 2015 at 6:16 am #

    Thanks Thomas :)

    • August 19, 2015 at 6:34 am #

      Oh not you don’t. Thank YOU Luc for compiling this valuable list. These things are SO important to consider.

  2. August 19, 2015 at 6:40 am #

    Good dialogue. After working with an awesome agent for 14 years, my big take away was two fold. Mutual respect and relationship. I was sad when Jan Collier retired, she was a great mentor and friend. In a healthy relationship, both sides work hard to do their part and also trust each other in the process.

    • August 19, 2015 at 9:45 am #

      Thanks Travis. You mentioned 2 key words: respect and trust. It should feel like a collaboration, and in the best cases, a friendship.

  3. Iris
    August 19, 2015 at 1:59 pm #

    Thanks for sharing these important tips!

    • August 19, 2015 at 3:35 pm #

      Sure thing! Hope this helps if and when you talk to an art rep!

  4. August 19, 2015 at 4:17 pm #

    Thanks for sharing! I have had reps in the past. In a perfect world we’d be able to ask all those questions and get honest answers (and I’m sure agents have their own set of questions they’d like to ask their artists!). But in reality it’s very hard to ask upfront unless one is already well established. A tryout period is probably the best. I would like to add – trust your gut? If you feel uncomfortable in the relationship, it’s probably not going to work out in the long run.

    • August 20, 2015 at 6:35 am #

      Actually, I think it’s even MORE important for less established artists to ask these questions. Illustrators, no matter what level, have to make a habit of standing up for their own rights with reps, contracts, and the kinds of jobs they accept. Nobody else is going to do that for you. You’re right that you might not always get an honest answer to some of these, but that’s where the contract and trial period become so important.

      If an art rep is interested enough in taking you on, they should have no problem answering these questions. If they’re not, there’s a red flag right from the start.

  5. batstacye
    June 4, 2017 at 10:20 pm #

    Thanks for this, Luc & James! Graphic Artists Guild is good support, too.

  6. August 2, 2017 at 7:07 pm #

    Guys, what Ilozoo did is very bad…. but what happened to me with another very well known agency (with offices in the London and NY is waaaaayy worst than this… I don’t know if I should share my story because it includes extremely high fees (35%) even when you find your client by yourself and prices per illustration in the US$20 – 30 dollar range, not kidding. I really want to share but I dunno if I should….

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