3 S.R. Johannes: Marvelous Marketer: Jim Di Bartolo (Illustrator)

Monday, June 01, 2009

Marvelous Marketer: Jim Di Bartolo (Illustrator)

Hi Jim thank for joining us today. before we get into your marketing brilliance, can you tell me a little about yourself.

Well first off, thanks for contacting me about the interview! I'm honored.

I'm a freelance illustrator who at one time wanted nothing more than to work as a penciler in the comic book industry. That was one of the primary motivating factors that brought me to art school. Some years later now, I have no regrets with the path I took since all of that focus on drawing really gave me a strong foundation for any and all of the art I do. Plus, as a bonus, I met my wife, author and designer Laini Taylor, there during my second year at CCA.

While I did end up dabbling in comic books for a couple of years, I started getting more and more interested in the book-publishing side of illustration and have had the good fortune to collaborate with my wife and her publishers on three books now. I did the covers and interior illustrations for her DREAMDARK series with Putnam (BLACKBRINGER, which just came out in paperback, and the September '09 sequel SILKSINGER). We also collaborated on the upcoming (October '09) illustrated teen book LIPS TOUCH being published by Arthur A. Levine Books (one of six "YA Buzz Books" featured at BEA this year!).

This past year I've also had the privilege of working with Simon & Schuster and Scholastic Press on some fun cover work and unique illustrated educational projects respectively. It's been unbelievably fun.

Do you have a website/blog? When did you start it and who manages it?

I have both. My newly (slightly) updated
website and my sporadically-attended-to blog.

The former was first designed and active sometime around 2002, and the blog started in the fall of 2005. I manage both of them myself. I'll be doing a larger update of the website in a few months, but since a fair amount of the work I've done recently is being kept under wraps until the books containing that work come out, I'll have to wait to do a more complete update.

As for my blog, I tend to be pretty good about semi-regular updates when I'm only a little busy, but terrible about updates when I'm realllllllly busy and stressed. I would make some sort of powerfully assertive declaration that "Starting NOW I hereby declare that I'll be doing more regular updates regardless of how busy I am!!" But since we're expecting our aforementioned
first baby (a little girl!) to arrive in a couple of months, I imagine that she will have (an adorable!) time-suck effect on any blogger decrees I might make for a bit. I'll be honest and say that I'll do my best to be more frequent with updates though.

In your opinion , what are the top 3 things every illustrator should and must do to promote their book?

Well, a web site and blog are pretty much expected when promoting yourself. They're almost "gimmes," but since having a web presence is absolutely necessary and has worked in unexpected ways in securing me art jobs, I'll definitely put these two as #1. Between being able to be found through other people's sites mentioning your work OR through Google searches if you take care in titling your blog posts, a presence online is essential.

At #2, I would absolutely say that attending industry conferences and conventions is crucial and quite possibly what I've found to be the most effective in a variety of ways. From getting inspiration from faculty presenters at organizations like the SCBWI (Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators), to making friends with peers for critique groups, these sorts of gatherings are incredible. Plus whether it's Comic Con, International, SCBWI, or ALA, getting to meet Editors, Art Directors and Art Buyers, Agents, and Publishers face-to-face can have fantastic results.

However, unless you've somehow made a pre-arranged time to review artwork or a manuscript, don't expect to get your work looked at and evaluated at these functions by your dream Editor/Art Director/Agent/Publisher. Instead, introduce yourself, make a good impression if you can (i.e.- no biting, kicks to the neck, or strange unprovoked hugging) and quickly follow up the conference with an e-mail or snail mail sending links to your website or samples.

#3 would be mailing those printed samples and e-mail links to your site.

In your opinion, how important is social networking?

I certainly think it's important to take advantage of those technologies to make and nurture new and existing friendships in any way that can help, but there has to be a balance heavily-weighted toward actual productivity vs. networking or else you'll end up with a bunch of great friends and acquaintances but nothing cool accomplished to show them other than increased typing speed or the ability to regularly think of something clever to update your online status about. I suppose it's like TV or some such, it's all OK in moderation & can be a distraction sometimes if you're not careful. You know what I mean, right? Entry example: "Saturday, 2:02 p.m. Just made a sandwich. Put too much mayo on it. Drat." Followed by: "Saturday, 2:13 p.m. Just ate the sandwich. Not so bad after all." All the while you could have been painting.

How important is technology to an illustrator's marketing plan?

Wow, despite my previous answer, I don't know what I'd do without technology! Since you're specifically talking about marketing, I'd have to say that it's of the utmost importance, or at least for me it is. Whether it's designing promotional postcards with Photoshop that I'll then upload to a web-printing site, or sending out e-mails to people I've met at conferences (or "met" online) with links to my web site and blog, technology touches it all. And that's not taking into consideration that even when I do artwork traditionally (i.e. watercolors, inks, oils, etc.), I'm usually going to do at least a small amount of refining and futzing in Photoshop.

Did you think about marketing before your work was published? Did you start getting the word out prior to getting an agent or publishing you work? If so, when and what did you do?

I definitely did, but I certainly didn't really know what I was doing for a while. Laini and I have joked that putting promotional mailings "out there" sometimes feels like tossing them into a void, especially if you don't hear ANYthing back from them. Ever. Which happened to me a couple of times. However, one of my first jobs came from sending a packet of art prints to a Submissions Art Director at the role playing game company White Wolf Publishing a packet of art prints, and while she didn't hire me, another A.D. that was in her office one day saw them sitting there (I assume NOT in the trash) and called me. I've since ended up doing illustrations for over 25 of their books and manuals, plus a fair amount of trading/gaming cards.

Getting that first opportunity from the right mailing to the right person (or their office-mate!) can pay for itself and keep paying YOU for years to come. Plus, you never know when the work you do for a particular job might lead to work somewhere else. It's all about building relationships AND your portfolio.

What other advice do you have for illustrators regarding marketing and getting their name/work out?

Hmmm. Well, this is a tough one. I'm a big believer in the "Never give up on your dreams and goals!" sort of philosophy, but this can have some major caveats. For instance, if you're not succeeding with your current style, maybe consider something drastically different with your technique or materials. Or if you're getting a lot of feedback that seems to be suggesting that the foundation of your skills is lacking, you don't have to quit necessarily. There is always Art School, or even great art classes at the J.C. level. Also, speaking of technology earlier, there are a TON of tutorials online (many for free) that walk you through traditional and digital art techniques.

Once your skills are on their way, I feel that much of success has to do with persistence coupled with recognizing -- and working on -- what your work might be lacking. The "natural talent" of an unmotivated artist can be surpassed by a somewhat less-talented artist who's very driven (and meets deadlines).

What creative things have you done to promote a book?

Definitely the most creative thing I've done (so far!) to promote a book was for the graphic novel that Laini and I did for Image Comics entitled THE DROWNED (July 2004). We printed up in-progress copies of the book (all of it fully drawn and lettered, but the painting was at various early stages) and mailed them out to online comic book reviewers in nice white boxes. Each manuscript inside was tied with a red ribbon that had a rusted metal key in the knot and a black feather tucked under it (all elements from the story). We then printed up nice custom address labels using artwork from the book. While sales of the book didn't break any records (or even close), we managed to get about 20 or 30 very positive reviews. But in the process of it all we learned a lot and gained some friends (and fans) and had a lot of fun.


Vicky Alvear Shecter said...

Wow, what he and Laini did for DROWNED was impressive. Very costly, I imagine. Also, I loved his comment about persistence and a willingness to work on your own weaknesses. Good stuff!

holly cupala said...

Jim is just about the most rockinest illustrator I know - incredible work! It's really cool to see him spotlighted here. Together, he and Laini are just about unstoppable!

Lee Wind said...

This was really fun to read - Jim is so articulate - and a great artist!
Thanks for sharing this interview with us all,

Vivian said...

Great interview! Jim is a great artist. Wouldn't it be amazing if Jim and Laini worked on a graphic novel together?

Danyelle said...

Wonderful interview. I really enjoyed it, along with all of the great information!

Carrie Harris said...

Fabulous interview as always. I got my start at White Wolf too; I'm not sure why that fact tickles me so much.

Kelly H-Y said...

Awesome interview ... as usual! Thanks!

Suzanne Young said...

Jim ROCKS!!!!!!!!!!!! He is so wonderful and I'm very excited about LIPS TOUCH from him and Laini (who also rocks!)

Jim Di Bartolo said...

Thank you all for your VERY kind comments and a HUGE thanks to Shelli for doing this! I'm very honored.

Happy summer to everybody!