Follow that Mountain
Updated: Jun 8
This post is about how I landed a representation, why I need an agent to navigate the publishing world and most importantly about hope.
The start of this year was frustrating. Earlier I wrote about my mental health issues due to the stress of the relocation, creative block and the persisting worry of not getting a job at my age because I was preoccupied with other trivial matters in my expat life. The need for financial freedom was pressing and it felt like I was running out of time to prepare my portfolio and reach out to potential clients especially now that we are moving again. Yes. In July.
However towards the end of February, I received a friendly email from an editor/publisher commending my work he had seen in the Society of Children's Books Writers and Illustrators’ online portfolio showcase and that he would love to see more pieces in that particular style. Since I have been wanting to explore that style and story and I finally had free time after our move into the new flat in between our Make Art That Sells course, I created more pieces and sent them to him a week after. I was grateful for that exercise because I found my groove again and somehow my art had a freshness and spark that I absolutely loved and people began to notice the evolution.
The need for financial freedom was pressing and it felt like I was running out of time to prepare my portfolio and reach out to potential clients.
Another self-publisher who also saw my SCBWI portfolio approached me with a serious plan to collaborate for a picture book that she authored but due to the conflict of schedule and some technicalities in the agreement, I declined the offer.
I also declined a dream job offer from and collaboration with one of the top artists‘ studio specializing in graffiti in Dubai because I will only be here for another few months. It was a pity because they had big plans for me they said. This would be the nth time I declined a job offer due to our relocation and my no-work allowed visa status.
Around that time a creative coach and artists’ directory publisher, who has been following and loving my new works, got in touch with me directly to reiterate her offer for creative guidance. While I appreciate the interest and support, I did not have a budget for it.
The bigger surprise was a message from a talent scout, who also found my work in the same gallery and asked if I would consider a representation. I shook my half asleep husband to tell him about the email and he responded with a nonchalant “yay” and something like “hard work pays”. I perused the email again and did a quick research about the companies mentioned, who are thankfully legit. I slept on it.
After corresponding back and forth with the same agency, I finally submitted a collection of my work for their review. They encouraged me to send everything particularly those pieces that best represent my style, which made me back up a little. What is my style? Do I have one already? I labored on this task and feared that I will be rejected because of my inconsistency. I crossed my fingers and sent them anyway.
Two weeks in and still I have not heard back, which made me wonder if they have forgotten about me. I carried on living by the way and adjusted to our new life in the desert city.
The truth is I was not set on looking for an agent this year for I initially wanted to focus on getting real projects. In MATS we were taught that agents preferred artists who did the work first, has a consistent and distinctive style, has a variety of work in their portfolio and those that were ripe enough to represent. On the other hand most traditional publishers preferred agented artists and would not accept unsolicited submissions. It is a catch-22 situation.
This year my goal was to further develop my style while I contacted publishers that I have thoroughly researched. I even had my digital brochures ready to send with queries. Knowing that I was still experimenting and finding my footing in this industry, I did not feel ready to be agented. These past encounters however made me think otherwise.
“Bookmarks! I used to sell handmade bookmarks to my classmates.”
After further contemplation I realized I needed an agent—someone who would champion my cause much better than I could. Someone who knows the ins and outs of the industry better than I did. Agents represent and protect the business interests of the artist. They will also guide the artists in improving their portfolio that would cater to their clients’ requirements. Knowing myself to be an introvert and have the tendency to hyper focus on a task I might just spend my entire time searching for projects and sacrifice my art and self improvement or vice versa. If I was any good in marketing and sales or even math, I would not be an artist. Okay, maybe I will still be one—but perhaps a rich one! This reminded me when I was being trained to demo a color grading product at a trade expo in Singapore when I was still a colorist/product specialist. The sales agent asked if I ever sold anything and I replied “Bookmarks! I used to sell handmade bookmarks to my classmates.” The point is, agents allow the artists to do what they do best—make art!
On the third week I was sure the deal fell through until they messaged me that they were happy about what they have seen so far and that they wanted to move forward with the process of signing.
I paused to process the news. 10,000 questions came down flushing like a slot machine coin dispenser. Did I just hit a jackpot?
It was April now and we were still talking. One of the agents in New York was kind and accommodating enough to speak to me over a video call to answer all my questions. I was satisfied but asked for some more time to really consider my options.
By the end of the month, I finally signed and now I am proudly represented by the awesome Astound US Inc., an illustration agency with focus in children's books publishing and commercial art licensing based in New York and London with a partner agency in Singapore for the Asian market.
It is a great feeling to know that someone has your back as an artist in this enormous and competitive industry. These group of driven creative people believed in my abilities even when I doubted myself and they wanted to help me reach my full potential.
“You will never arrive. And that’s okay.” - Lisa Congdon
I did not know I wanted to be a children's books author-illustrator until I signed up for MATS. But I have stories to tell may it be through writing or illustrating. Going back from when I was 6 years old and regaling my pregnant mother with my made-up stories for my unborn baby brother up to my high school years when I wrote and directed school plays and then getting into filmmaking after college for a chance to get my screenplays in front of an audience to now making art for kids, I realized what my purpose is: to tell stories. I AM A STORYTELLER. I dreamt of having my own ISBN!
Neil Gaiman said something like if your choices still keep you in the direction of the mountain, you are doing the right thing. I guess I have been doing something right because it seems that I am getting much closer to the mountain that I still need to climb. Believe it or not but with such strong desire the Universe cannot help but listen and will take you to thresholds and all you have to do is "Carpe diem!"
I thank the artists who went ahead. They are beacons of hope. They are testament that with hard work and a bit of luck, we could all reach the same destination and occupy the same spot. In this profession it really is the journey that mattered more than the end point because in truth, you will never arrive, so we keep on going.
So fellow artists, keep showing up with your wonderful art. Anywhere possible. You will never know who is looking.
"Something that worked for me was imagining that where I wanted to be – an author, primarily of fiction, making good books, making good comics and supporting myself through my words – was a mountain. A distant mountain. My goal. And I knew that as long as I kept walking towards the mountain I would be all right. And when I truly was not sure what to do, I could stop, and think about whether it was taking me towards or away from the mountain.” - Neil Gaiman