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Tuesday, May 8, 2012

The art licensing big question: ‘Why don’t agents ever call me back?’

by Kimberly Montgomery
art licensing agent at Montage Licensing

If you’re an artist looking in search of an agent in the art licensing business, there’s one question you have likely asked yourself a time or two – “Why don’t agents ever call me back?” Unfortunately the answer is not as interesting, life-altering or even as clever as you might have expected.

In fact the answer is pedantic and pragmatic. They just don’t have the time. Really. That’s all there is to it.

A talented agent is swamped with business – more work than can ever get done in a day. But, you say, there must be a slow season - time to catch up, return calls, clear the decks. Well, even if things do slow down, there is marketing to handle; tasks that bring in the bucks. In other words, spending time on “non-income producing” activities, like returning the calls of hopeful artists, just doesn’t make it to the top of an agent’s to-do list. Sad, but true.

The thinking, from the agent’s perspective, is that he or she must keep business going for each of the properties they already represent. Most agents are simply not looking for more artists; their looking to mine the works of the artists they already represent. Counterintuitive, you say. Don’t they need new artists, new business, in these challenging times?

Well here’s the inside scoop. If an agent saw the work of an artist with great potential (read money making here), a spot would magically open up. The agent’s calendar would morph to fit in time for that fresh artist.

I know. I’ve taken this approach myself.  I routinely say that I’m not looking for another artist…until someone incredibly talented comes along.  If that happens, that artist gets my attention right away. I am suddenly available.

The truth is, there are many more are many more artists looking to break into licensing than there are agents available to represent them.  That, and the fact that the level of talent in the industry has become so high, make becoming a successful, and profitable, licensed artist a daunting task.

So, what’s a new artist to do?  Well that’s the good news – there are steps to take.

First, make a list of all the agencies you are interested in having represent you.  Then put together a concise, clear and pithy email stating your intention to develop an agency relationship. When you send the email, include a few low-resolution jpgs of your very best work, along with a link to your website.  Let your work speak for your talent.

Send off your missive and then keep your fingers crossed.  If you don’t hear back, put a note on your calendar to send updated work in three months. New work. Innovative work. The kind of work that stops and agent in his or her tracks.

And now I bet you’re asking yourself a new question:  “Really? That’s it?” The answer is “yes.” That’s it. Breaking into this industry is a challenge that will require both patience and persistence. Think of it as a marathon, rather than a sprint. Put your best foot (work) forward, press on and strive to show leading agents that your work is fresh, energetic and profitable.  Good luck!

Comments are welcomed. Enter them in the below comment section.


  1. Hi Joan and Kimberly - I just read the article on your blog. As a licensed artist, working without an agent, far longer than the one I started out with, art agent stories always catch my attention. I have submitted art to a few of my top choices, (one three times) did hear back, but not as I had hoped. I am still looking (hopeful) for the best/right fit. I've enjoyed extraordinary success on my own, but only in a concentrated venue. It stands to (my) reason, that there is much more potential that could be reached if only I (or an agent) could manage to cover more markets/clients/contacts. Too much to accomplish all aspects of this business single handed, I find.

    Tougher to break in these days, I agree, Into Art Licensing and art agencies! Thanks, I enjoyed reading.

  2. Great article - Enjoyed reading it.

  3. Thanks so much! I never pass up an article on your blog, Joan. I appreciate Ms. Montgomery taking the time to explain the agent's workload.

  4. I think if an agency is receiving unsolicited submissions, then it is okay not to reply to them.

    But if an agency is inviting submissions on their website, posting their submission guidelines, or encouraging submissions, then one should expect a reply, even if it is a postcard or note saying thanks, no thanks, we'll keep your name on file, etc.

    That just seems like common courtesy to me.

  5. I think if an agency is receiving unsolicited submissions, then it is okay not to reply to them.
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