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Thursday, March 4, 2010

6 Tips in Writing Winning Query Letters to Manufacturers that License Art

The purpose in writing query (also called Cover) letters is to market your art and also to build relationships with manufacturers. Including the right information in query letters starts those relationships and makes sure that the letter is read. Note: The following discussion also applies to writing query letters to art licensing agencies.

The six tips in writing a good query letter are:
1. research each manufacturer
2. personalize the letter
3. describe your past licensing success (if any)
4. tell the manufacturer the next step
5. attach/include art example(s)
6. have an attention getting subject line (if e-mail)

To write a winning query letter you should first do your homework. Become familiar with the manufacturer and the products they produces (or the type of art the agency represents) by looking at their website. This will help you determine if the manufacturer is the right fit for your art. It will also let them know that you are targeting their company and aren't just sending out e-mail/"snail mail" blasts to hundreds of companies when you mention specific information pertaining to them. Studies show that you get better results by writing individualized query letters than generic letters.

Also, if at all possible, find out the name and contact information for the person handling licensing (art director, licensing director, etc.). The query will be more personalized if you address the art director by name and you'll thus have a better chance in getting a response from that company. The contact information may be on the companies website but most often you will have to call to get that information. Company receptionists tend to be very accommodating and will give you the name and contact number for the art director. Sometimes you'll even be able to speak to the art director yourself. Hint: If that happens, take the opportunity to start a dialog and ask her/him what kind of art they are looking for, how to get their artist guidelines, how they would like art submitted (email jpg, on CD, printed, etc.), and how often they like art submitted. Also ask if they send out periodic design directions (cattle-calls) to artists if you are interested in participating in that type of program. See "Thoughts on Doing CattleCalls - Should You?

If you gasped, when I said that you might end up talking to art directors, don't worry. Even though art directors are really busy, they often are willing to answer questions if you are brief and to-the-point. When you do a "cold" call, have a short "elevator speech" ready about who you are (artist that licenses your xxx art) and why you are calling (to find out xxx). Have the list of questions handy so that you can refer to them when talking to the art director. I surely was outside my comfort zone when I first started calling manufacturers but it got easier the more I did. And when you run into that rare grumpy art director, remember to just chalk it up to experience and move on.

Write and address the letter to the person in charge of licensing if at all possible. The letter should be short - three to five paragraphs max. If it is too long, it won't be read. Start the letter by mentioning something about the products the manufacturer produces and why you think your art is right for them. For instance, you could say something like "While browsing your website, I noticed that you have some products with cat but no kitten designs. Cat and especially kitten art is very popular with consumers as I am sure you are aware. Attached is a tearsheet of one of my adorable kitten art collections that is sure to grab consumers attention. More kitten and many other art themes are available on my website at" Note: Make sure that you include the password to your site if it is password protected. Also it is a good idea to list all your contact information at the bottom of your e-mail or letter.

Licensing Success
Next describe your success in licensing your art (if any) but don't make it too long. Make sure that you mention your art that has been licensed to other manufacturers. This generally sparks interest because manufacturers want to license art from artists that has a proven track record.

Next Step
Just writing one query letter to a manufacturer is usually not enough. You must continue to write letters showcasing different and new art. So wrap up the letter by stating that you will contact them again (by phone, by e-mail, by snail mail) and also when (in a week, a two weeks, a month). And then make sure you do it. Follow up is a must!

Note: Before, I had an agent (took over contacting manufacturers) my method was to write the initial query letter by e-mail and followed up by sending hardcopies* of tearsheets with an enclosed cover sheet a week later. In the cover sheet I reminded the art director that I had contact her/him by e-mail the previous week. Then a week later I'd write another e-mail asking if she/he received my art and had a chance to review it. If I did not get a response, I would send another e-mail once a month for several months. After that I assumed that they were not interested. However, depending on how badly I wanted to get a deal with that particular manufacturer, I would periodically send additional query letters.

*Sending hardcopies to manufacturers can get you deals. Art directors like to post art on their office walls. Your art may not be needed at the time you send it but if it ends up on the art directors wall it has a better chance in being noticed when a need arises for your type of art style and subject matter.

Art Example(s)
Attach at least one example of your art to the e-mail and make sure your contact information is on EACH piece of art sent. Rather than attaching single pieces of art to the e-mail, I like to create one tearsheet that is specific to the product(s) the manufacturer produces. Read "Marketing your Art with Tearsheets" to see examples. If you are sending a query letter through the mail, you may want to include five or six tearsheets. Sending postcards with your art on them is another way to get your art noticed.

Subject Line in E-mail
Art directors receive hundreds of e-mails a day. To make sure that yours is opened, write a clear and concise subject line stating what it is about. The subject line should be professional but it helps if it is also intriguing. But if you write an intriguing subject line, make sure that you explain and expand on it in the letter.
For instance, it could say:
"adorable kitten art available for your products, " or
"numerous themes with color of the year (turquoise) art available," or
"see huge collections of popular Christmas art themes including Santa & snowmen"

Note:  Make sure that your read the comments posted below for additional tips that have been shared by others.

Any suggests or comments that you would like to share about this article would be greatly appreciated. Click on the comment section below.


  1. Great information Joan! Just an add-on from a former art director to the Research section: if you do get an opportunity to talk with the art director, be sure to have done your research first so you don't ask for information that is already available on the company's website. You don't want that art director's first impression of you to be just another artist who hasn't done their homework! Most Art Directors are very, very busy and don't have time to educate you about their business -- especially if they haven't seen your artwork yet and don't know if the style or quality is appropriate for their company.

  2. Great post Joan. I know I often put as the subject line "My name art submission" or something that allows them to search for me quickly should I get them on the phone afterwards. I like reinforcing my name so hopefully as I send more items, they start to recognize me from all the other piles of stuff.

  3. Thanks Joan! This is an invaluable post! I'm so glad you took the time to write it :)

  4. Yes, thanks Joan, great tips. I would like to share this on my "newbie" blog and will sure to credit you link your blog info.

  5. Thank you so much for sharing your experience and knowledge.
    I´m a graphic designer and illustrator, and I recently became interested in the art licensing field of illustration.
    Your blog has been incredibly helpful to me.
    So again thank you!

  6. Another great post with helpful tips. Thank you so much Joan!

  7. Joan, thank you so much for this post, extremely helpful. Especially with the tear sheets and with following up, i have never followed up as I have always assumed the company just didn't like my art.
    I now have renewed faith that my next emails to companies will be far better than previous ones.
    Thank you so very much.

  8. A very helpful and informative article. Thank you so much for sharing your insight.

  9. Just spotted this post. Excellent article - Thanks for posting.

  10. Fabulous article Joan! Love your blog as well! I'm just gearing up to find a licensing agent for my vintage children's fine art images and am so excited to incorporate your advice for landing a licensing agent! Thank you so much again for the informative info! I will be visiting your site frequently! You're welcome to stop by my website and sign my guestbook to let me know what you think! Thank you again!