Being a great artist isn’t always enough to survive in the industry. You need to know how to market yourself, your skills, and how to meet the right people that’ll keep writing you cheques.
The business of art isn’t easy or straightforward. It’s really just like any other business where people meet people, share ideas, collaborate, and work together on mutual goals.
If you need a boost in your artistic business game then these books are sure to help. I’ve cataloged the 10 best books covering the business of art/illustration, marketing, taxes, and anything else you might need to know about working as a professional artist.
The first book you should check out is Art, Inc. and it’s an essential guide for any artist. The book was written by artist Lisa Congdon but it has advice from dozens of pro artists from around the world.
Whether you do illustration, fine art, concept art, or even sewing or home crafts, this book can prove useful. The business advice is sound and applies to every artist regardless of what they’re creating.
You’ll learn how to maintain your own records and keep track of income/expenses to manage your art like a real business(which it should be). Other tips include marketing via social media, launching your own personal website, and learning to sell/price your work properly.
Some chapters deal with more specific advice towards galleries for fine artists, other are more generic which apply to all artists.
I still think the professional advice alone is worth a copy. Art, Inc. should be a staple on every artist’s bookshelf.
The Artist’s Guide
Professional artist Jackie Battenfield wrote The Artist’s Guide as a toolbox of useful business tips for artists who don’t know where to start.
This book is like the perfect missing manual for all soon-to-be professional artists. Jackie shares advice from her own life along with tips from others about self-management, online marketing, developing a powerful portfolio, and connecting with the right people.
Most of these topics are fluid enough to work for any artist. But you will need some discretion to apply the techniques to your own life.
For example, illustrators generally have more room for freelance work than concept artists because there are more projects that call for general illustrations. A key point is to find your preferred niche and stick to it.
And Jackie’s book is a great way to help you develop the right skills to charge what you’re worth, land the right clients, and to avoid being taken for a ride out of nescience or malfeasance.
Legal Guide for the Visual Artist
Love it or hate it, the legal system is a big part of our lives. And Tad Crawford’s Legal Guide for the Visual Artist is a powerful book covering the many legal implications faced by artists on a daily basis.
A big part of this book focuses on copyright and how that applies to corporate work. This book doesn’t cover everything because each project/company usually has their own legal disclosures and NDAs.
Tad explains how copyrights work for digital and traditional art including gallery owners. He also covers certain legalities surrounding sales, licensing, and publishing.
You’ll learn how to connect with attorneys and how to pick the right one to help you wade through the world of legalese. If you’re working for yourself then this guide is a must-have resource and it applies to all forms of art.
I’d Rather Be in the Studio
Self-promotion is a big part of succeeding in art whether you like to promote yourself or not. People need to know who you are before they’ll be willing to buy from you.
However most of this book actually focuses on Internet marketing. This is becoming the new normal and artists need to adapt. Thankfully author Alyson Stanfield understands the difficulties of marketing and promotion, so her writing is aimed towards a complete beginner just starting to promote themselves.
You’ll learn how to build a social media presence, how to get your name into search engines, and how to build a loyal readerbase with your own blog or newsletter.
This book is useful for all types of art but especially for entertainment artists. Whether you want to be a storyboard artist, animator, concept artist, or vis dev artist you’ll need a digital presence. And this guide is the perfect resource to make a name for yourself.
Arts & Numbers
The raw truth is that many artists do not like doing numbers. Dealing with pricing, financials, taxes, and overhead costs are typically not beloved tasks for any artist.
But they are a necessity as a working processional. The book Arts & Numbers is written by artist and trained CPA Elaine Luttrull who knows quite a bit about the numbers behind art.
In this guide you’ll learn about budgeting, taxes, and charting growth through visuals & spreadsheets. The writing style feels accessible to anyone so it shouldn’t scare anyone away. And if you plan to make it as a professional artist you’ll need to know this stuff.
Of course you can always hire a CPA to do the work for you. But it’s still good to understand what that CPA is doing and why they’re doing it.
If you plan to work in-house with a full time position then this book might not be useful. But if you want to sell your art and work for yourself then Art & Numbers is a must-read title.
Inside the Business of Illustration
Inside the Business of Illustration paints a realistic view of what it’s like to work as a freelance illustrator. Professional artists don’t get to sit around and draw whatever they please.
It’s real work and there’s a lot that goes into that work like connecting with clients, dealing with briefs, contracts, and payments. This guide by Steven Heller is a crucial resource in the busy world of a working artist.
It reads more like a narrative mixed with a biography and sprinkled with tips for beginners. Many chapters feature advice from working professionals including illustrators and art directors.
Anyone seriously considering art as a career must read this book. If you read this and still want to pursue art professionally then you probably have what it takes to succeed.
Working for Yourself
This book is made for any self-employed freelancer and it applies to artists too. Working for Yourself is a thick book with over 500 pages of content covering taxes, contracts, and the legalities of working for yourself.
When you work in a studio you’re being paid a set salary with benefits. When you work freelance your salary oscillates and you have to do all the taxes yourself. This can be an intimidating process, but with this guide nearby you can learn everything you need to know.
This isn’t really a “sit down and read” type of book. Instead this works best as a reference guide that you pull out whenever you have a question about something.
It’ll help you learn to read business contracts, draft your own(with counsel), manage your own taxes, and deal with stubborn clients to make sure they pay on time.
And this book applies to all creative fields whether you’re a freelance comic writer, illustrator, animator or concept artist. It’s a very handy guide to further your knowledge about the world of self-employment.
The Artist’s Guide to Grant Writing
Many artists can work hard and still struggle to get by. With cash grants it can make the process easier, but not if you spend time following dead ends.
The Artist’s Guide to Grant Writing is a foolproof guide covering writing tips and marketing strategies to land personal cash grants for your visual art. This seems to apply more for performers or fine artists but it can work for illustrators given the right circumstances.
Grant money is not easy to come by so don’t rely on this as a true metric of success.
However when you’re struggling to put food on the table any source of income can really help. Take this book with a grain of salt because it will not guarantee anything. But if you want to learn more about cash grants and writing proposals then this is the best book to get started.
Book Yourself Solid
Most freelancers still need to reach out and build a clientbase. Even while you’re working on projects you’ll still need to connect with new clients to keep money coming for future months.
In Michael Port’s Book Yourself Solid you’ll learn how to promote yourself and your skills in the most efficient ways possible. Naturally this involves a lot of social media but it also includes tips for branding and networking with the right people to build long-lasting client relationships.
Michael Port is a bestselling NYTimes author and has the chops to prove his business skills.
The roughest part about working as an artist is building connections. This may not ever be easy or natural for you, but it is a necessary part of the process.
This book is a quick read and it’ll definitely improve your marketing techniques. And it’s a fantastic book to reread if you ever need a refresher.
Sell With Confidence!
The concept of “sales” is seen as a dirty word tainted by sleazy used car salesmen. But if you’re selling a great product there’s no need to be sleazy—yet there is still a need to sell.
In Sell With Confidence! author Barry Watson shares actionable techniques to improve your confidence as a salesperson. In the first chapter you’ll learn why sales can seem scary, and why it doesn’t have to be.
This is one of the few books that doesn’t just drone on without anything to say. Each chapter is full of actionable advice and the best tip is to change how you think about selling yourself.
Artists need this confidence boost more than any other self-employed class because great art doesn’t just sell itself. If you want to work as a freelance artist in any field then you’ll need to learn the basics of selling. And this book can get you there with principles that add genuine value to your work and your business relationships.
And with that said we’ve reached the end of this list!
I understand that not every book here will prove useful. Some artists want to learn about networking while others want to build a better online portfolio or learn to manage their own taxes.
The key is to understand where you are right now and what you want to improve. With this knowledge comes self-awareness which makes working for yourself a whole lot easier.