What is First Impressions?
First Impressions is a conference session in which images from illustrators are projected onto a screen so a panel of publishing professionals can comment on them “cold,” sharing the thoughts and reactions they might have in response to an illustrator’s samples arriving unsolicited on their desks at work. It’s the illustrator’s equivalent to the First Pages event for writers. We combine the two into one general session because we believe strongly that the comments given to an illustrator about mood, setting and character are of interest to writers as well. At the very least, writers gain insight into the responsibilities of the illustrator in carrying the story visually.
Who may submit to First Impressions?
All illustrators attending the conference are encouraged to submit a piece to be critiqued. The work is put up anonymously, just as First Pages are presented anonymously, so there should be no worries about being “called out,” or put on the spot. In our experience, the professionals commenting are very supportive, but we do ask them to be honest, and if something about the piece does not work for the market, we hope they will point it out and offer constructive criticism. It’s also true that an illustrator’s work may be more readily recognizable by other conference-goers—especially if the illustrator’s portfolio is on display. The bottom line is—this is an extremely valuable opportunity to get inside the head of an art director or agent. So don’t be shy!
Why First Impressions?
Because what we’re asking for is a snap judgment—a “save or toss” reaction. This is the reality for most unsolicited submissions.
Who selects the First Impressions?
Illustrators are instructed to send files devoid of signatures or anything that would identify the artist. The session coordinator gives each one a number and compiles the images at random into a PowerPoint presentation to be projected onto the screen. We usually have time to get through all the submissions in the First Impressions session, but if we don’t, having them appear at random ensures that each submission has an equal chance of being seen.
Why is First Impressions important to me if my submission isn't viewed?
For the same reason that hearing an editor’s reaction to another writer’s manuscript is valuable. You learn what an art director is looking for—what’s the most important quality about a piece. These are things that can help you edit your portfolio more effectively. Besides, submitting a piece—ONE piece—forces you to take a hard look at what represents you best. More and more art directors say they prefer to receive postcard mailings—which means your fortunes may hinge on ONE image. Developing that mindset will help you focus.*
*Something to consider: Those of you taking advantage of the promo postcard opportunity may want to choose a different image for your First Impressions piece—maybe something you’re not quite as sure about that you would like feedback on.