I was just at IlluXcon a few weeks back, and as usual spent my weekend doing as many portfolio reviews as possible (official and unofficial). Overall the #1 question I get from artists is “How do I break into publishing?” Sometimes an artist comes out of the blue and shows me a portfolio that is absolutely ready for me to work with them…but most times when an artist is asking me how to break into publishing, they’re not quite at the stage that they are ready to work for one of the “Big 5” publishers, as they are known.
WHY they aren’t ready to work for the top tier yet is worthy of a post of it’s own, but let’s say maybe they haven’t quite mastered visual hierarchy yet. Maybe they need to think about and do a little more research into target audiences. Maybe their skill level is just not quite polished yet. Maybe their style is still a little inconsistent. There could be any number of reasons.
My advice to artists who need more practice doing bookcovers is to seek out self-publishing authors and micro and small presses. Get a few bookcovers under your belt. Get used to telling someone else’s stories. Learn what fans respond to. That way, you are honing your skills, getting solid samples into your portfolio, and you’re also getting paid to do it.
“BUT WHERE DO WE FIND SELF-PUBLISHED AUTHORS AND SMALL PRESSES?” Everyone asks. Well, often times they find you. Authors definitely hunt through local cons and comic cons looking for artists for their projects. They definitely hunt social media (authors tend to live on twitter but they know artists mostly hang out on Instagram). If they’re very savvy they look on deviantart or behance or conceptart.org or artstation or hireanillustrator. Often times authors try to hire the same artists as they see on already-published books, but when the budgets are too small for those artists, they will recommend artists with a bit less experience to take the job (this is why it’s great to have a peer network, folks). Authors talk to other artists, so once you work for one author or small press, work will come find you more and more frequently.
But these are all passive streams for artists. I wanted to tell artists where they could go looking for authors. So I asked my authors! (You’re welcome.)
The goal is to think like an author trying to find resources about self-publishing. Hang out in those info hubs and become part of those communities.
KBoards: Overwhelmingly the recommendation was to go hang out on KBoards, specifically in Writers Cafe. (KBoards are the Amazon Kindle Publishing Program discussion boards.) It’s a bit of a mess, but you can offer your services and links to your art on the Writers Cafe Yellow Pages.
Reddit: Be warned, Reddit holds some very scary swamps and cesspools, but there’s also well-maintained threads for every subgenre. Now, remember, you’re looking for authors, not other artists, so think like an author and go to places like Reddit/FantasyWriters and Reddit/Selfpublish.
Bibliocrunch: Bibliocrunch is a place for self-publishers to find freelancers (editors, marketing, proofreaders, etc) and you can make a profile as an artist then you look through posts authors have made that are asking for services.
Nano/Micro Presses, Small Presses, and Specialty Presses:
Micro and small presses tend to focus on very specific genres, while specialty presses focus on limited edition runs of special edition or collectible editions. Here’s a very unscientific list. I am not going to differentiate between micro/small/specialty because they all kind of define themselves differently. It’s up to you to go through these websites and figure out which presses work with your style of art, and then use your Google-Fu skills to find the art submission guidelines and contacts for each one.
Leaving out the literary magazines, art books, game/RPG books, and comics/graphic novels for now, just focusing on prose books and bookcovers
Cadabra Records (audio books on vinyl, so cool)
There are so many more small presses I’m missing here. Feel free to add more in the comments!
The Big 5:
The confusing nest of the major 5 publishers and their hundreds of divisions and imprints. There’s 6 buildings in NYC that all these guys live in (soon to be 5, when Random House finally moves Penguin into their building), so consider this a good map if you’re ever coming to do a publisher tour of NYC. But also remember that you can figure out mailing addresses and emails for specific people by knowing what parent division or company they work for.
Thank Ali Almossawi for this amazing interactive map (which I’ve broken up throughout this post, but check out this page for the always-updated version)