Six months ago, I felt like I couldn’t pay anyone to hire me. I mean, I guess that kind of defeats the point, but I was getting pretty frustrated.

After getting pregnant with my second, I’d decided to do the whole stay-at-home mom thing while using my freelancing to make up the difference between my fiance’s income and what we needed to get by. It sounded like the perfect solution- a win-win for everyone- so shortly before he was due to be born I quit my 9-5. I’d had good luck getting jobs consistently before, and I figured that by putting in even more work I’d be able to get more jobs.

… Not so much.

I’d spend hours scouring the deviantART job forums, Elance, FurAffinity, and anywhere else I thought there was even a small chance I might find some work. I’m ashamed to admit that I even got desperate enough to try a few contests on 99Designs, as much as it bothers me to do unpaid spec work. (As a side note, that’s really not something I would recommend for anyone- artist or client. Clients, find an artist based on their portfolio; that’s why we have them. You’ll get better work and build better business relationships. Artists, don’t devalue yourself or your industry. You’re worth much more than maybe getting some money if you win. This is a great article about why.)

Back to the point, even with all of that I was only getting maybe one or two jobs a month. It wasn’t really enough to help us get by. I was getting frustrated and very disheartened, and I was starting to worry that I would have to get a job at Walmart or something to help support our family. The breaking point was when I went over a month without being able to find a single client. I could make excuses, like the fact that I was moving, adjusting to a new baby in my home, or struggling with depression, but in reality none of that had any impact on my ability to find jobs in the first place.

It was time to reevaluate what I was doing, and whether or not it was a sustainable option for my family. And as much as it pained me to acknowledge it, what I was doing wasn’t sustainable.

So I had to ask myself- what exactly was I doing, and where was I going wrong?

 

HeavenlyBladeHeraI was marketing myself as a fantasy artist. What kind of work was that getting me -besides the obvious answer of “none?” What kind of work was I hoping it would get me?

Well, I was doing character art for individuals- fursonas, RP characters, and things like that. I was excited to have an opportunity to work with Exodus, the Trading Card Game. This was the sort of thing I had pictured as my ideal- doing fantasy art for a trading card game. But the professional market is really tough to break into (and I’m really not there yet skill-wise), and there are so many start-ups out there, and start-ups usually have pretty limited funds.

I was also getting work doing occasional book covers for self-published fantasy authors, and these were some of my favorite jobs. I was also able to charge a bit more for these jobs than private commissions, since they were commercial projects. They were the most profitable and enjoyable thing I was doing, so I decided to give myself one more month and focus my efforts on finding work with book cover design.

This would be my last chance to salvage the art career I wanted so badly.

 

I decided the first step was to focus my marketing efforts, which meant creating a new web presence separate from my illustration portfolio to show off my cover design work, which had previously been relegated to a small part of my portfolio website. This led to my new cover design website.

From there, I had to figure out how to connect better with authors. I focused more on deviantART or Elance jobs that advertised book covers, but since I was doing that already it didn’t help much. Luckily, I stumbled upon a message board for authors, where I was able to create a thread advertising my work as well as an entry in their “yellow pages” for author services. I also took some time to participate in the community by contributing to discussion topics where I could. It wasn’t long before an author contacted me, and I got to do some work for Travis Hill:

TravisHillHis most recent book, Hallowed Ends, was just released on the Kindle store.

My participation in the author forum also helped me learn a lot more about what specifically authors are looking for, what information to provide on my website, what pricing is competitive in the current market, and how to really market myself. The things I learned led me to redesign the website into what’s pictured above within just weeks of starting to promote it. Additionally, since I used to work on photo manipulation before focusing on illustration, it was an easy choice to offer that as well for a cheaper option (and they’ve since become my preferred project). That made a noticeable difference in clients, and I’ve since had the opportunity to work with many amazing authors.

Things have really snowballed from there, and it’s gotten to the point where I recently made the tough decision to stop offering private commissions. At least for now. I really love working on private commissions, but I can’t justify the prices I’d have to charge to keep up with my cover design work.

Finding a niche saved my art career.

 

It sounds kind of obvious, but it’s true. I had tried to find a niche in “fantasy art,” but that’s a genre that’s way too broad and way too competitive. I have a long way to go before I can compete in that industry, and at this point who even knows if that will even be what I want to do after all? I love working with self-published authors. I admire their passion for their work. I love what I’m doing right now, and I’m thrilled it’s working out for me.

Finding a niche, participating in a community dedicated to that niche, and learning the ins and outs of what was expected was the absolute best business decision I’ve made so far, and I wanted to share my little success story.


 

Are you an author looking for cover design work? Check out my cover design portfolio and contact me at: commissions@rebeccaweaver.com

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