Making vs. Marketing

Earlier this week, I received this e-mail from a good friend of mine, Maggie Suisman, asking how to balance marketing work with making work. I think this is a question that many of us ask ourselves, so I thought I would share a bit of my own experience.

Hi Shadra!
I just saw your article on your blog “Just Keep Working”. You were so honest — and how helpful to be reminded that I am doing this first and foremost because I love making art. My summer break from teaching has begun and I am diving into the submission process for my dummy, Aysa Reads and my general portfolio. I have a few questions I thought I might send your way in case you might have a moment to share your thoughts. One is when a creative art director or other people at publishing companies say they are interested in looking at artwork (such as Chad Beckerman does in the 2014 SCBWI list of publishers) should I send in tear sheets or should I print the whole dummy and send it to people who do not provide an email address?

Secondly, how do you divide your time between marketing and creating new work? I feel like I could spend all of my time trying to find a publisher but perhaps it’s better to move on to the next project and keep updating my portfolio and making a new dummy.

Though everyone will have a different answer to this question, here are my thoughts:

Hey Maggie,

It’s great hearing from you!

In my experience when a creative director says they are interested in looking at artwork, that primarily means tear sheets. You can send a query letter along for the dummy. I would clearly label the samples from your dummy so that they know you write as well as illustrate. Art directors are typically not interested in seeing dummies because they are not the ones who would work on a story with you. In a smaller house, however, you may find art directors with a bit more say on the editorial side as well.

I would save your dummy for editors.

I wish I could say I don’t market anymore now that I have an agent, but that is only partly true. Lori, my agent, handles the promotion at this point, but I still do a ton of marketing for the books. I spend time mostly sending postcards to schools, libraries, and bookstores. I try to  that type of work in the evenings after my studio day is complete. Labeling and stamping postcards is a great activity to do in front of the television (or in bed). As far as new work goes, since I am working on books, I do spend most of my days making new work. I keep a mandatory eight-hour studio schedule, typically 9-5, but in some cases, the time gets broken up from 11-7, 10-6, etc. and most days, I work well past my 8 hour schedule, especially in the summer when I am not using so much energy for teaching. I also work on my writing alongside illustrating other people’s stories. The most frustrating part of it all is having many ideas bubble to the surface but not being able to work on them immediately because of other projects and work. I still keep notes on those ideas and try to revisit them later.

I don’t get to do much personal work these days, but I do try to sneak in at least one piece of my own in between book projects…just to stay sane.

Yes, you should absolutely work on more projects instead of putting all of your eggs in one basket. I submitted four or five stories before I sold a manuscript. Looking back on those first attempts, there are a few ideas that I do want to revisit, but in some cases, I don’t have the energy to deconstruct and approach them from a fresh perspective and before they can be published, I can honestly say they need more work.

I would also just make more images for fun. I didn’t get my “big break” until I abandoned the idea of making “sellable” work. I became more playful in the images I was making and I stop putting so much pressure on myself to make perfect art. Doing so opened up a whole new vocabulary for me and helped me tap into the fun of art again. Those images were the ones that excited publishers and helped me get my first book.

Even my first sold manuscript came from playing. I watched a commercial that I loved and wrote a story in response to it. It wasn’t highly personal at the time but I think that’s what made it successful. I wasn’t taking myself so seriously.

I hope that helps!

All images © Maggie Suisman. You can see more of Maggie’s work at