February 23, 2009

When Is It Time To Get An Agent?

There's a query on a lot of young artist's minds. We hear it several times a year, so I'd like to share my most recent response here for anyone else who might be wondering... when is it time to get an agent?

Q: "I have a pretty good client list and am fairly busy. So I wonder—could the right agent help me grow my business?"

A: It's a good question. The main benefits to having an agent are: exposure to a broader network of potential clients, shared advertising costs, amped negotiation, a raised profile (with the right group), and ideally less paperwork to hassle with.

Broader Exposure
An artist with an existing client list of mainly editorial clients may choose to work with an agent to get his work into different areas, such as publishing or advertising. A good agent has many existing relationships in these fields. This works to an artist's benefit assuming the agent lets the artist keep his own house accounts (some don't, but it never made sense to me to take money from jobs I didn't help an artist get).

Shared Advertising
By shared advertising, I mean that you would split your advertising costs with the agent. In addition, an agent usually has access to reduced advertising costs due to their group buys. This comes in very handy for the more prohibitively expensive promotional ventures like sourcebooks, mass mailings, etc.

An agent's main strength should be an ability to negotiate higher fees, better rights and more protection for his or her artists. An agent can provide a buffer between artist and client if problems should occur. Agents should know exactly how much to value any job that comes along, and be able keep the rights of the artist intact.

Raised Profile
The best agents tend to have a certain flavor to their roster. Smart clients know this and will look to a particular agent for a specific need. So, look for an agent whose sensibilities match yours, and you can benefit from being a part of a group of peers that increases your visibility.

Less Paperwork
Agents deal with estimates, invoices and contracts on a daily basis. They keep track of paperwork and monitor payments, often spending a lot of time collecting money from clients. In addition they manage limited usage rights that may be up for renewal, and invoice for them when necessary.

So, long story short, if you think your work is right for expansion into other markets, are overwhelmed with paperwork, could benefit from more cost effective promotions, or are intimidated by negotiating on your own behalf, finding an agent may be the right way to go.

Is there anything I've left out? Feel free to leave me a comment.

Illustration by Murray Kimber

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