Instead of having an illustrator featured this week I have the pleasure of sharing an interview with Ronnie Herman of the Herman Agency Inc. She represents both illustrators and authors for children's books. You can visit her site at http://hermanagencyinc.com/
How many illustrators do you represent?
Well, at the moment I represent 50 illustrators, though a few of the artists are not up on my web site. At this point I am taking on VERY few new clients.
What do you look for in an artist's work?
Originality, a style that doesn't directly compete with one of the artists I am already representing, and a style that is fresh and irresistible.
I know that you also represent authors. Do you think it is an advantage to be able to write as well as illustrate?
It is a real plus if an artist can also write their own stories because that way you, the artist doesn't need to wait for an editor to find the perfect manuscript for your art. Editors have long working relations with artists, and they give them preference, so if you write and illustrate your own books, then you have much less competition since you are the only artist who can illustrate the manuscript. Also, many editors these days prefer author/artist projects. BUT, the writing and art need to both be excellent, and most illustrators are not authors, and fewer authors are illustrators. I like to help my artists develop into authors, whenever possible, being an author myself and having been an art director.
I would think being in NY you would have a good view as to how publishers are changing with the shifts in publishing. What do you think are the most significant changes happening with traditional publishers?
I do not think that one needs to be in New York to learn what the shifts in publishing are. Being in New York helps only because it is easy to meet face to face with editors and learn what they are looking for. The major change in publishing is the shift from picture books to middle grade and YA books. 12 years ago, children's publishing was 80% picture books, now it is reversed. I remember when YA was a genre that publishers shied away from. Now look at the tremendous shift and emphasis towards this genre. I think Harry Potter had a lot to do with this reversal. Also, since 9/11, the high cost of picture books has been a real problem for consumers because of the country's economic problems, as well as the rise in computer/ electronic games. Parents have less discretionary money and need to cut some spending. Why not get picture books out of the library and buy the kids computer games?
Then, of course, there is digital publishing. This has not hurt the picture book market significantly as of yet, but I believe in 5 years we will see ebooks, enhanced ebooks and apps competing significantly with the printed picture books, because of the high cost of picture books compared to the digital formats.
Is there still a lot of educational work for illustrators?
When I started representing illustrators, 12 years ago, (I had previously been the art director at two major NY publishers), educational assignments for illustrators was so plentiful that not a day went by when I didn't get at least one job, usually several, for my illustrators. Educational work was our bread and butter and a great way for new artists to cut their teeth. Educational work has quick turn-arounds and there are no worries about reviews or sales, because the agreements are flat fee, often work-for-hire, with no royalties. But nowadays, the school budgets being what they are, there is much less educational work and this is really hurting illustrators tremendously, not to mention the agents. It is terribly sad that it is harder and harder for illustrators to earn a living from their craft, not only because there is less work, but also because most fees and advances have not increased in 12 years; we aren't even keeping up with inflation! I used to encourage artists to give up their full-time jobs so they could dedicate their time to their art, being confident that I could get them enough assignments to make it worth their while. These days I encourage artists to keep their full-time jobs or to find part-time work, as I find it hard to sleep at night when I know that they are trying to raise a family only on the money they are earning in the children's market.
Have the changes affected the way you work?
Because of cut backs in the number of picture books being published, and the shrinking of educational work, I have cut back on the number of picture book authors I represent and am taking on extremely few new illustrators. I am also more likely to take on author/artists if I love their art and manuscripts and I think they are marketable. I am particularly interested in very young, short works with terrific art and a strong central character, as this is what editors are looking for in picture books..
Do you see trends in what publishers look for in illustration?
There are always trends, just like the fashion industry, and, as in fashion, the trends disappear and then return years later. There was a point in children's books, roughly between the late 80's through the early 90's, when the art was all important. Many established artists who had never illustrated picture books before, started working in the field. Adults were collecting picture books and the art was of an extremely high quality and polished; the books appealed to adults as much as to children. The trend, up to a few years ago, was computer art that was, what we call, "in your face" art. That seems to be much less popular these days, and I think the best way to describe today's look is graphic with European influences. It is young and very strong.