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Thursday, December 6, 2012

Making a list - checking it twice - yep, it's postcard mailer time!

Postcard Promo's by Hazel Mitchell

Illustrators, here's where we have a major advantage. Postcard promo's. Whether you are published, unpublished, agented or unagented the likelihood is you have/are/will be mailing postcards at some point in your illustration career.

If you're new to the business of children's illustration and considering mailing out postcards, here're some basics to get you started. 'But wait!' (I hear you cry) 'A postcard is a postcard, surely?' Yep, it's a piece of card with a stamp, but it's what you put on it and where you send it that matters.

More often than not, when considering a first mailout, we tend to think: WHAT IS GOING TO MAKE THE MOST IMPACT SO I GET SEVERAL FAT CONTRACTS FIRST TIME AND NEVER HAVE TO DO THIS AGAIN!!!

Unfortunately, it doesn't work like that. (Well, not for me anyway). The high-faluting-all-singing-all-dancing-die-cut-embossed-with-a-resume-included-and-portfolio-plus-recipe-for-chocolate-chip-cookies rarely gets much attention. OK, so they will eat the cookies. Because we all know chocolate gets you what you want, right?

Reasons include
1. The time the recipient has to look at your submission. If it's too complicated, it will likely hit the area of the office called - trash can. That is, if it even gets ONTO the slush area. Even opening envelopes takes up precious time, and with the amount of mail constantly hitting publishing offices, you don't want to aggravate the lovely people straight off.
2. You are trying too hard - let the images speak for themselves, with minimum info.

So here's some good rules that I have learned along the way, from people better qualified than I.

And yes, check it twice. In fact, check it every time you mail out! Because people move around and addresses change. All the time!! And rule 101 ... use a spreadsheet. It's SO MUCH EASIER.
Make sure you are targeting the right publishers and the right people. There is no point mailing to companies who won't be interested in your style/genre of work. When you begin compiling a mailing list, there's no way around it - it's a lot of work but if you do it right you'll benefit for many years to come. You may want to compile more than one list. Art directors in one, editors in another. The companies you mail to may include publishing houses, magazines, multi-media companies, game and toy manufacturer's. What ever floats your boat and whatever part of the industry you want to work in. You may also want a separate list if you are looking for an agent or art rep. Later on, you may have lists for schools, libraries, reviewers, readers. Did they tell you about this in art school. NO! (At least not in mine).
No easy way. Sorry peeps. Trawl through the Children's Writer's and Illustrator's Market and read the publisher's section. You'll find addresses and names. Join SCBWI, their yearly guide includes a market guide to publishers and their national and local bulletins always include publishers looking for submissions, info on editors etc moving houses, new imprints. Attending conferences can also bring you a wealth of info for your mailing list (makes the cost doubly worth it). Harold Underdown's website has regular updates on the work movement of editors and art directors. Check places like Publisher's Weekly, Publisher's Marketplace for new info. There are a myriad other resources ... Jacketflap etc. Go to your local bookstore and look at the kind of books you want to do - sometimes the editor is listed on the verso page info. I mention editors because they also have a lot of input on the illustrator they would like for their books. So it really is worth mailing out to them too. All I can tell you is ... keep your list up to date and if (when) you get returns CHECK the person and the address. You can always call the company if you need to! Bottom line, a name on the card will give you a better chance of getting you out of the slush pile of DOOM. As will a stunning image, of course!
One way to make keeping a mailing list easier is to share the burden with a trusted group, or one other illustrator. Then you can share keeping it updated and adding to it. Better like those buddies though ...
How long is a piece of string? My AD list is about 250. With editors it's well over 500. But I have a 'I really want to work with these people' list of 100. Which is more affordable. You also may keep a list that is international. Hey, who has time for illustrating? I am too busy keeping lists.
I like the standard 4" x 6" printed both sides. Boring? Possibly. But what AD's and editors like to do is pin the cards to their noticeboards (if they like your card!) so that they are in view for that certain manuscript. This size doesn't take up a lot of room. I have tried different sizes, and it doesn't make a lot of difference to the result. You can get bigger, smaller, narrow, blah blah blah. All I can say is I like to keep the cost down - it's important!
Colour is about the same cost as black and white these days. Printed both sides is usually more expensive, but worthwhile. With digital print you can get as few as 25 cards. Often 1000 is the same cost (practically) as 500. Then you have cards to give away at visits and conferences. (I always collect cards at conferences - got to keep abreast of what the competition is doing!) Different companies offer different finishes - gloss, satin, matte and some have different card stocks. It's a personal choice. Also printing on different stocks can make a difference to colour output. Check the specs - does the company require CMYK, JPEG, what resolution, bleed etc. If you are not tech savvy, try and find another illustrator or pay a graphic designer to help. Or feed them cookies. But make sure you have a GOOD image to print on your card. There are an abundance of postcard printers online, or maybe you have a good place in town that can help? Pay for the best quality you can. Ask for samples .. they should send you a bunch free. When you order, make sure you have given enough time for the cards to get to you. Who needs nasty surprises if you need those cards next week??
Some of the companies are:
Just put in 'postcard printing' in a search engine ... you'll come up with a bunch. Plus, ask your friends who they use. If you don't have friends who send mail outs, network!!
You may also want to use a mailing company who will print, merge your mailing list, stamp the postage onto each card and then mail them for you. Sometimes this can even work out cheaper! But watch the quality.

What to stick on there? The first card I sent out I thought was hilarious! Unfortunately it had nothing to do with kid's illustration. What was I thinking? I didn't get to read a blog post like this, that's what. So, make it relevant, make sure it is representative of what you do and who you are. If you don't want to work in that style, don't send it! Send your best work. If you do a larger card you might want to include one big image and a couple of smaller ones on the front. Include your website address on the front, (what? make a website NOW!!!)  so it's easily seen when the AD or editor pins it in the middle of their board. On the back keep it simple. Again, I used to put a whole lot of info. Now I just put my website/portfolio address, name, address, email, telephone at most. Let this be about the artwork. I often add a small spot in black and white/grayscale on the back related to the image on the front. Some people do colour both sides, but I am from Yorkshire and we like saving money. Remember - the card usually has to make it through the GATE KEEPER (dun-dun-duuuuhhhh) possibly a design or editorial assistant. If you can make them go awww ... or wow ... you might make it to the BIG DESK OF AUTHORITY.

It's up to you. Most illustrators do a quarterly mail out. Or bi-yearly. Or yearly. Or once a month ... or ... argh. See? Very personal. You can mix it up and do a quick double/treble hit just to shake up that publisher. But just make it professional. Also, depends on how rich you are. Like I said, I don't like spending money.
What can I say? Good work speaks volumes. (So does bad work). If you are too ostentatious you might stand out for the wrong reasons. However, postcards are NOT the only way. I have heard people talk about sending small booklets of illustrations, or a pack of cards, or a mini portfolio or a concertina gizzit. You might include a short bio ... or a pitch on a book related to the image. This is where we stick it to the writers. In the end you might make a big splash with it and be set forever. These things cost $$ and are a biggish investment. But for ongoing 'hi, it's me, I'm still out here, working and ready for your great m/s' you can't beat the good ol' postcard.
If you did what I said and kept a spread sheet, then printing labels is a doddle. I print on to Avery labels and use the easy to use software online from Avery. Of course, there are lots of other programs you can use on your computer.
Yep, some more advanced publishers don't want us using the world's resources up and ask for email's only with a couple of jpegs. It's great - you can start making a new list RIGHT NOW. Please send it to me on completion for checking ;-).
Here's to them! All I can tell you is over the years postcards have gotten me work. I believe in consistency and persistency. (sp?) Your first mail out may bring you NOTHING. Also: the second ... but, here's the thing, that postcard may be pinned to the middle of that notice board, waiting .....

Thanks for listening! If you have any other ideas, please feel free to add them to comments. (But don't be surprised if I nick them).

Find me on Facebook

PS - I will be teaching workshops at the NESCBWI conference in Spring 2013

and my new book is '1,2,3 By The Sea' by Dianne Moritz from Kane Miller publishing Mar 1st 2013.


  1. This is great, Hazel. And so thorough! You know, as I was reading, I wondered if this might work for a novel? A new way of looking at those dreaded query letter, I guess. Good job!!

    1. Hi Ellen ... you could give it a try! Why not??

  2. Great information and advice all in one place. I'm bookmarking this post to use as a checklist for future mailings. Thanks Hazel!

  3. Hi Hazel! This is SO timely and SO helpful for me. I am about to start getting my act together to get my new cards printed--so--YAY! Perfect timing! Thank you!

    1. So glad! Thanks for reading and commenting ... get those cards out!

  4. Great info! I have not been persistent about making postcards but actually have some on order right now. They are double sided with envelopes to mail. I wanted to put 2 scratchboard illus and that medium does not reduce well to 2 on 1 side. Do you think it is much better for next time to have no envelope and illustrations adjusted accordingly?

    BTW I was interested to see that you are from Yorkshire. I was born in Wales to an English father, but never have gotten to Yorkshire yet. I did enjoy the scenery in the BBC production of "All Creatures Great and Small"!

  5. This is fantastic information and detailed examples too. This would work for screenplays i think. And graphic novels where it is all about the illustrations. Yay. Now...to make my list!

    Thank you Hazel.

    1. Thanks Craig ... nothing like making a list!

  6. Sophie ... I would go with no envelope ... but that's not to say it won't get opened! Just cheaper!

    I live in Maine now .. but I miss Yorkshire ... my friend lived in the area where James Herriot was filmed. So beautiful!

  7. Great timely post! I always plan on doing a postcard mailing 4x's a year but only seem to make 2 mailings a year. Here's to next year's promo campaign. Like your tip on sharing info amongst friends.

    1. Thanks Di ... it's hard to keep up to mailings, all our best intentions ...

  8. What a thoughtful, helpful post, Hazel!