21 – The Process of Submitting Your Art
The Process of Submitting Your Art

In this episode, Laura and Nikki pick up where they left off last week, and are discussing art submissions. If you haven’t already, listen to last week’s episode first where the focus was on why you should submit your work and where you can submit it.

With all of the many different markets you can submit your artwork to – from art directors at companies that could possibly license your work, to publications, magazines, podcasts, competitions, galleries, shops, festivals, and even art agents…. the question is, where the hell do you start?

The focus in this episode is on licensing your art and the discussion is around which market(s) do you submit to first? And how do you find the right person to submit to? What do you send to them, and when do you follow up? Listen to find out!

LISTEN AND SUBSCRIBE ON:

Topics discussed

  • Narrowing down your markets and some courses that can help (2:27)
  • The markets Nikki and Laura are most interested in (5:17)
  • Ways to research companies to approach (6:35)
  • How to find out who to contact at companies you’re interested in (10:00)
  • Using LinkedIn for research (10:23)
  • What to send to art directors and what to say (11:21)
  • You should probably hire Nikki to design and build your website! (12:47)
  • Do you need a huge social media following to get licensed? (13:23)
  • Buyouts vs royalties (14:17)
  • What to do after you send that first email (14:53)
  • What kind of responses (or lack of) to expect (15:45)
  • Sending something physical to art directors (17:02)
  • How and when to follow up (17:49)
  • What steps Laura and Nikki have taken towards getting their first license? (18:58)
  • Laura and Nikki commit to actually submitting! (19:56)

Laura

0:07
Hi, this is Laura.

Nikki

0:08
And this is Nikki, with the Startist Society inspiring you to stop getting in your own way, and start building an art biz and life that you love.

Laura

0:17
We are artists who believe strongly in the power of community, accountability, following your intuition, taking small actionable steps and breaking down the barriers of fear and procrastination that keep you stuck.

Nikki

0:31
Follow along with us on our creative business journey as we encourage you on yours. What are we talking about today, Laura?

Laura

0:41
Well, today, we’re picking up where we left off last week, and we’re discussing art submissions. If you haven’t checked it out, we suggest you listen to last week’s episode first. And we talked about why you should submit your work and where you can submit it. But today, we’re going to talk about how you find who to submit your work to and what you should submit to them. And finally, when you should send it and follow up.

Nikki

1:07
Right? So we talked about many of the different markets you can submit your artwork to, from art directors at companies that could possibly license your work, to publications, magazines, podcasts, competitions, galleries, shops, festivals, and even art agents. But the question is, where the hell do you start? Which one do you submit to first? And how do you find the right person to submit to?

Laura

1:35
Yeah, that’s a great question. And it’s a really overwhelming topic, which is why I think so many people procrastinate from doing it.

Nikki

1:42
I don’t know why you’re looking at me when you say that.

Laura

1:47
Well, the process is different for each one of those categories or areas you mentioned. However, some of them are pretty straightforward. For example, submitting to have a booth at an art festival usually involves filling out a form and paying a fee. Competitions have their own set of rules. I think there are a lot of artists that get stuck, though, when it comes to trying to license your work on products.

Nikki

2:13
Okay, so since what you and I are mostly focused on right now is licensing – or trying to get focused on licensing. Let’s stick to that process for this episode. So where do we start? What are the first steps we need to take?

Laura

2:27
Okay, so I think step number one for art licensing is to narrow down your market. It’s okay to be interested in more than one market, but narrow it down to a few just to start with, okay. And I know there’s some really great classes out there like Making Art that Sells, they have a couple of classes called Hot Markets for Your Art Part A and B, that have an overview of all the major markets, things like editorial, paper products, home decor, bolt fabric, etc. These really help you understand what markets you’re most interested in, and which markets that your art may be best suited for. Then I know they have separate courses where you can dive a little bit deeper into things like creating collections for home decor, illustrating children’s books, designing for the toy market, and a lot more things like that.

Nikki

3:21
Okay. And, and I know you’ve taken a course called Leverage Your Art.

Laura

3:25
I did. Leverage Your Art was taught by Stacie Bloomfield, who we recently interviewed. And Stacie covers all the different ways that you can monetize your artwork. She really goes into depth on the business side of owning a creative business. And she covers book publishing, bolt fabric licensing, wholesaling, pitching your work to companies, and so much more that can really give you lots of ideas so you can then narrow down your focus and decide which one you want to sort of work on first. And I know enrollment for that particular class is opening June 8, so I highly recommend it.

Nikki

4:04
Awesome.

Laura

4:05
And Nikki, I know you took Pitch Your Portfolio last year, right?

Nikki

4:09
Yeah, so I took a Pitch Your Portfolio with Shannon McNabb, who we interviewed in episode 8. And if you missed that one, please go back and listen to it. It was our first interview and Shannon shared so much great stuff with us. Pitch Your Portfolio goes into a lot of detail about searching for clients, how to find email addresses, which we’re going to talk about a bit, how and when to make contact, and really kind of how to follow up. She has a great bonus training that teaches you how to use Airtable to track all this research and who you’ve reached out to and who you’re licensed to and just a great way of organization that I really need to start implementing.

Laura

4:53
Cool.

Nikki

4:54
Right. So okay, so after taking Leverage, you took Pitch Your Portfolio, we dove into a lot of stuff about different markets. So what are some of the markets that you’re interested in, in reaching out to and that you think your work would fit well with?

Laura

5:11
Well, in my brain, Nikki, I want to do all of them.

Nikki

5:15
Of course you do.

Laura

5:17
But I think I’d like to focus on greeting card design submission first. I’ve been designing greeting cards with stamps in the crafting world for 15 years. So I’m now illustrating my own designs. And I think it’s a very natural progression for me, and it feels a lot less intimidating than some of the other markets.

Nikki

5:37
Yeah.

Laura

5:37

Nikki, how about you?

Nikki

5:40
So I’ve been doing a lot of print on demand with my work. And I’ve tried, oh my god, I can name all the products, but we’d be here for hours. So, the ones that I’m most excited about, though, are in home decor. So I figured the print on demand was kind of a test, they’re prototypes for me. So I think my work really suits itself to things like pillows and bedding, linens, and, oh, shower curtains, I have a shower curtain. I have all these things with my art on them. It’s ridiculous. And then also sort of home and kitchen goods like mugs and dishes and things like that.

Laura

6:21
Cool.

Nikki

6:22
Yeah, yeah. So okay, so there were some great resources for taking classes on how to do that, that we mentioned. But what if you’re not ready or able to take a class right now? And you just kind of want to do some research on your own?

Laura

6:35
Yeah. So step number two is to research. I mean, basically, you have to make Google your best friend.

Nikki

6:42
Google has been my best friend for a really long time.

Laura

6:47
So you start by thinking about the brands that you personally love in your chosen market. And do they match your own style of artwork? And usually, when we think of our favorite brands, it might be huge ones like, say, Antropologie, I mean, who wouldn’t want their work in Anthro?

Nikki

7:05
Oh, I would love it.

Laura

7:06
But in reality, when we’re just getting started, we need to take a step back and think about some other brands. Anthro can still be on the list down the road. But if you’re starting by submitting to them first, you’re probably not going to get anywhere fast.

Nikki

7:20
Okay, so let’s start smaller. I’m sure there’s tons of companies we don’t even realize exist that license the kind of work that we make. So how do we find out who they are? How do we find the names of those companies and who to contact.

Laura

7:33
So there are two techniques that I personally use. Number one, I go into stores, like, like TJ Maxx or Target, and I turn a product over that I love that has pretty artwork on it. And I make a note of the brand or the manufacturer or just snap a photo and stick it in a photo album on my phone. Then when I get home, I can Google the heck out of them.

Nikki

7:55
Nice. Okay, so I know Target has their own brands, which you know, it’s going to be hard to get in with Target, but they already carry work from many other smaller companies, right? So you might not be ready to approach Target directly. But from the research, you might find other companies that can license work that’s like yours. Like, for example, back in the 90s. Yes, I know I’m old. Before I even had heard the word licensing, I was approached to design a small line of T shirts, and I sold the designs outright and they ended up being sold in Kmart, which was pretty stinking exciting, right. Since I sold them for a flat fee as a freelancer, I didn’t get any royalties.

Laura

8:42
Bummer.

Nikki

8:43
Can I have a do over?

Laura

8:46
Well, it’s a bummer. But it’s still cool.

Nikki

8:48
Right? Very cool.

Laura

8:49
Yeah. So step one is to sort of browse and look at, you know, brands that you love and research the heck out of them. And I think the second technique that I personally use, and I only started doing this pretty recently is that I use the save to collection functionality in Instagram. So when you follow other independent artists who have licensing deals, they will often announce them on Instagram when the product is released. So if the company seems to be a good fit for your own artwork, I save that post to my… I created a submissions collection on Insta to refer back to later.

Nikki

9:29
That’s brilliant.

Laura

9:30
Yeah. And then I can just add those companies to a spreadsheet as potential future collaborators that I could reach out to. And it’s worth mentioning here, don’t dm the artist and ask them for their contact.

Nikki

9:41
Totally.

Laura

9:42
It’s just not cool.

Nikki

9:43
Not cool.

Laura

9:45
That is on you to do the research for yourself. But you’re halfway there if you already know who the company is that they license with.

Nikki

9:52
For sure. So okay, so once we have a list of companies that we’d like to approach, what’s the next step? How do we know who to talk to and what to send to them?

Laura

10:01
Well, that’s when a little more research comes into play. Okay, I would start first with their website to see if they have any contact us info, some will specifically have submission guidelines that are listed on the web page. Some of them have competitions, I mean, really anything like that, do as much research as you can directly with the company.

Nikki

10:23
And if you don’t find any info like that, on their website, you can try looking at places like LinkedIn. LinkedIn is a great place to do a little more research about a company. So you might find out who their art director is. And if you’re lucky, get some contact info.

Laura

10:38
And I’ve heard that LinkedIn messages oftentimes may not get a result. But you can likely figure out what their actual email structure is at their company, you might find out their email is first name dot last name@company.com, for example, through other people who perhaps work at that company, then you can usually guess what their email address would be and try it out.

Nikki

11:01
Awesome. Okay, so let’s talk next about what do you actually say in the emails now that you’ve found some people to submit to?

Laura

11:08
Well, I think the important thing is to keep it short and simple. I mean, art directors get so many emails that they don’t have time to read something that looks like a book, they’re just going to hit delete.

Nikki

11:18
Right? So what do we actually send?

Laura

11:21
So I would send an email to introduce yourself and personalize it to that company as best as you can. Don’t have it look just like any other form letter people can totally tell. Right. I’ve also heard some horror stories about artists that sent emails to art directors and forgot to change the name.

Nikki

11:40
Oops. Okay, so first of all, make sure you use the correct frickin name right? And see something that shows that you know a bit about the company, what their products are, and how you really think your work would be a great fit for them.

Laura

11:56
That’s just the same as if you were writing a cover letter for any job that you were trying to get. Right.

Nikki

12:01
Right. And if you found the person you’re emailing on Instagram, you might even mention something specific to that person. So they know that you’re paying attention and not just mass emailing something generic, right?

Laura

12:11
Right. And you’ll want to attach some images of your work that would fit the company’s brand. I mean, this could be either low resolution JPEG files, or a PDF file that has several images attached that are low res. And if they have submission guidelines on their website, make sure that you use those and follow them to a T. For example, some companies don’t want attachments at all in their emails, they want you to embed photos in the email itself, otherwise, that email may bounce back. And it’s also good to send them a link to your online portfolio if you have one.

Nikki

12:47
Right. So if you have a website, definitely linked to that. And if you don’t have a website, well, you should probably hire me to design and build one for you.

Laura

12:57
Nice plug.

Nikki

12:58
Subtle, huh?

Nikki

13:00
But in the meantime, you can link to your Instagram, if you have a professional Instagram account with your artwork. Art directors probably don’t want to see a lot of pictures of your babies and cats.

Laura

13:09
Wait a second Gus is dang cute. And if I were an art director, I’d look at him all day.

Nikki

13:15
Yes, your dog is very, very cute. And so are all of my critters, but they’re not going to get me licensed.

Laura

13:23
So let’s be real for a second. And many of us are just getting started with the licensing side of the business. And it seems that more and more people are looking for artists who have flourishing brands and large follower counts on Instagram. And I know this is definitely the case in the publishing world. But when it comes to getting your art licensed by an art director, do the numbers really matter? Or if you have just a beautiful feed with beautiful art, is that enough?

Nikki

13:55
Well, so I think it’s definitely true for some companies that you need to have a large following. But I think a lot of companies aren’t necessarily looking at putting together a line of products under the artist’s name. They’re just looking for great art to be released under their own brand, right? So for that, I think it’s much more the quality of work and not your own brand or name.

Laura

14:17
Right. So does that mean when you start out you are only doing outright buyouts of your work? Or can you can you actually license and get royalties without your name attached to the product?

Nikki

14:29
So obviously, I’m only going by what I’ve learned in courses that I’ve taken or what I’ve read online, but I think that both options are possible. And it depends on the individual companies and your own personal negotiation skills.

Laura

14:42
Well, Nikki, those would actually be good problems to have, right. But let’s say that you’ve sent your first email out. Now what?

Nikki

14:53
Uh, panic? Have an anxiety attack? Enjoy a lively bout of imposter syndrome. Okay, but seriously, you need to have a way of tracking what you’ve sent to who and when and a plan of how to follow up.

Laura

15:10
Yeah, I know, I have a free Gmail extension on my Chrome browser. It’s called Hunter. And it basically tracks whether or not an email has been opened by the other user.

Nikki

15:22
And who told you about that lovely extension?

Laura

15:25

Nikki, I think you did, yes.

Nikki

15:28
Oh, nice.

Laura

15:30
So basically, it can help you know if the email you’re using is valid or not, right, especially if you’ve made a guess, on what you thought their email was for a specific art director or something. So that way, you can tell did anybody actually open it or not?

Nikki

15:45
Okay. So once you’ve submitted your work, you may or may not actually hear back from somebody. If you’re lucky, you get a positive response. And they’ll tell you that they want to license you and they’ll tell you how to proceed, right. That’s the dream. But maybe they respond and say, Well, we like your work, but we don’t have anything for you right now. So you can ask them, then, you know, would you like to hear from me periodically? Or when I have new work? So then the next option is that you might not hear from them at all? And if that’s the case, you can put them on a list of people that you might want to follow up with, say, once a quarter or whenever you have a new collection that you’re releasing, so don’t be worried about bothering them because they actually need your art.

Laura

16:32
Yeah, exactly. And sometimes, they might just say that you’re not a good fit. And it’s hard to do this, but don’t take it personally. Because everyone gets rejected. Heck, even Harry Potter was rejected, like a dozen times by publishers that are clearly kicking themselves now. But it’s really a numbers game. So if you put two emails out there, you may not get a positive response or any response. But if you put 100 emails out there, you’re much more likely to get forward movement.

Nikki

17:02
Right. So I’ve heard about people actually sending something physical in the mail. It’s not something I’ve ever tried, but I know that some people will send out portfolios they put together or postcards of their work. What do you know about that?

Laura

17:16
I love that idea. Basically it can help you stand out from the crowd in the sea of emails that an art director might receive. I think in particular, this works really well for markets like bolt fabric, where you submit an entire collection in a beautifully designed Blurb book, for example, or something similar. Or another ideas, perhaps you create a collection of oversized postcards with your artwork that you then package together in a beautiful presented die-cut folder, you know, that’s very unique and lovely to open.

Nikki

17:49
Right. And then those postcards can also be used individually as follow up every now and then just to keep your work top of mind for people.

Laura

17:58
I’ve even heard of some people sending calendars at the beginning of the year, so that if they end up getting used, if the art director likes them and actually puts it on their wall, your work is then in front of the art director all year long.

Nikki

18:11
I don’t know why I haven’t thought of that. I’ve designed calendars to sell for the last three years; it never occurred to me to actually send one to art directors. Okay, I know what I’m doing next year. All right, Laura. So we figured out what markets we want to reach out to. Say we found people to submit to and laid out the steps we need to take. Let’s talk about what we’ve each done to this point.

Laura

18:37
So we’re going to basically embarrass ourselves now.

Nikki

18:39
Well, embarrassing ourselves is part of our brand, isn’t it? Along with bourbon?

Laura

18:45
Well, bourbon is part of your brand, Nikki?

Nikki

18:47
Oh, right. Oh, right. Where’s my bourbon? But seriously, what steps have you taken towards getting your first greeting card license?

Laura

18:58
I have put together a small portfolio of greeting card designs, and I have a list of probably about eight companies that I could submit to but there’s one in particular that I’m really, really, really, really interested in. But I haven’t actually submitted yet.

Nikki

19:13
So what’s stopping you?

Laura

19:16
Fear, procrastination, imposter syndrome, all the things. But I really tend to be someone who overthinks everything and wants to have it all just right before I submit.

Nikki

19:28
So overthinking is your personal brand.

Laura

19:31
Well, duh.

Nikki

19:35
Okay, so you have a list of companies and I know that the one that you want most has their submission guidelines on their website, right? Yep, you have a portfolio. The next step is to write that email and send it. So I’m gonna put you on the spot here and get you to commit to committing to at least that one company by – give me a date.

Laura

19:56
Okay, so this is a scary but commit to sending an email by the end of May, because this company has some particular subject matter challenges they put out there that I’d like to create some artwork for before I hit the send button.

Nikki

20:11
Okay. Okay.

Laura

20:13
And Nikki, this goes both ways. So you mentioned home decor as one of your preferred markets. So when will you be submitting your work? And how many potential partners?

Nikki

20:27
Okay, so I’m going to tell on myself here, because in a previous episode, I mentioned that my 100 day project was going to be 100 days of submissions, right. And I think I did maybe four or five days of it before I got busy and scrapped it quietly without mentioning it. So the problem is, I didn’t really have a good plan. So one of the main reasons I scrapped it was I didn’t have a plan in place of what I was going to submit who I was going to submit it to. I was just kind of like, I had a list of random notes jotted down about all kinds of things. It was all over the place, but I wasn’t following a plan. So I’m not as organized as you are, I believe we’ve already well established that winging it is my style, right? What I need to do is actually do the research that I know you’ve already done and find the companies to submit to, because I haven’t, I haven’t actually done that yet. Right, I have a portfolio I started putting together of my work with some mock ups of how I think it could look on bedding, pillows, shower curtains, a few other things. But I have to actually do the research. I mean, I’ve done kind of the same thing you did, where you save the name of companies on Instagram. And when I come across somebody doing something cool. I just have a random list of companies, but I need to figure out which ones are really the right fit for me, figure out what their submission policies are and actually make a plan. So what I’m going to commit to is spending the next couple of weeks researching companies to submit to so that by the end of May, like you, I’m going to be ready to submit to say, I don’t know, like five companies maybe. How does that sound?

Laura

22:11
You said that you’ll be ready to submit?

Nikki

22:13
Oh, no, I’m sorry.

Laura

22:15
I challenge you to reword that.

Nikki

22:16
Okay. Let me reword that. By the end of May, I will have submitted my work to at least five companies.

Laura

22:26
Awesome. Okay, so we’re doing this, we’re committing.

Nikki

22:29
We’re committing and we’re going to come back on here and we’re gonna actually say, this is what I’ve done. By that time, we won’t have any follow up, because we will have just done it but we’ll announce that we’ve actually done what we’ve committed to.

Laura

22:44
Absolutely. And we’ll definitely keep people updated in our Facebook group.

Nikki

22:47
Yeah, for sure.

Laura

22:48
All right, what are our key takeaways from this episode, Nikki.

Nikki

22:52
So the first takeaway is choose your market and narrow it down. You might want to do all the things but choose 1-3 of them to focus on right now, right?

Laura

23:02
Preferably one.

Nikki

23:03
Preferably one.

Laura

23:06
And I think you can choose more than one if they’re very complementary. You know, like, if you’re struggling with choosing, you might have something like greeting cards and stationery, but maybe not home decor and children’s books.

Nikki

23:18
Okay. Right. So our next takeaway is to do your research. And we’ve listed a bunch of ways to do that. Whether it’s taking classes or googling or going shopping, going shopping is a great way to do some research. Ooh, remember going shopping?

Laura

23:34
I love shopping, especially like window shopping in your favorite places.

Nikki

23:38
Yeah, absolutely.

Laura

23:39
Okay. And then the third thing is to actually submit your work.

Nikki

23:44
Well shit, that’s the step we’re missing.

Laura

23:48
I mean, take your 10 seconds of courage and draft an email. Check it a couple of times. Make sure everything’s worded right. By the way, Grammarly is an awesome tool. If you don’t know about Grammarly, totally download that, it’s an extension for Chrome and it will fix your spelling mistakes and your grammar for you before you hit send.

Nikki

24:07
Just make sure that you put the right name in there because Grammarly’s not going to tell you that you’ve got the wrong name.

Laura

24:14
This is true. And then you just want to hit send and you put it out there in the world and then repeat the process

Nikki

24:22
And you close your eyes and cross your fingers and wait.

Laura

24:26
Yes, but actually you sit and just submit more instead of waiting for a response from that one person.

Nikki

24:31
Right?

Laura

24:32
Remember numbers game?

Nikki

24:33
Okay, fine. Yes, fine. Numbers game, numbers game. All right.

Laura

24:37
Okay, if you want to join us in this challenge and challenge yourself to submit something by the end of May, we would love for you to share it with us in our Startist Society Facebook group or Instagram @startistsociety.

Nikki

24:49
And if you’ve enjoyed this episode, please follow Startist Society and leave us a five star review.

Laura

24:54
Speaking of reviews, they really mean so much to us and we read every single one. In fact, we want to periodically highlight some of our listeners by sharing their reviews.

Nikki

25:05
And if you give us your Instagram handle, we’ll even give you a shout out on the podcast.

Laura

25:09
The first review we wanted to share comes from Kate with Create More Design via Apple Podcasts. And she says, “Entertaining and insightful, whether you’re well established or just getting started, this is a must listen. Nikki and Laura do an incredible job leading the conversations about fear, procrastination, and a whole lot more. It gives you a nice push in the right direction to just get started. I highly recommend listening and subscribing.”

Nikki

25:36
Thank you, Kate, so much for sharing that with us.

Laura

25:39
You’re awesome.

Nikki

25:40
Yeah, we love it. Visit startistsociety.com/keepsubmitting to learn more about the podcast and read today’s show notes.

Laura

25:48
Thanks for listening, and we’ll see you next week.

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