The Postcard Post: Beth Mills

I met this month’s author/illustrator at the SCBWI summer conference this past summer. I enjoyed getting to know more about her and her work in this interview. Now it’s your turn to get to know Beth Mills.

Beth Mills is an illustrator and author who lives near Dallas, Texas. While Beth grew up drawing on everything (including early elementary school standardized tests which apparently was a big NO) and writing stories, it took Beth a while to realize that this was an actual thing that she could do for work. After deciding that this was the career she wanted, she got serious about her art and writing and went back to school. Beth graduated with an MFA in Illustration, got an agent, had her second child, and sold her first book, all in the same year. Beth’s debut picture book, ELLA McKEEN, KICKBALL QUEEN is coming Fall 2019 from Carolrhoda Books.

Great use of front and back to tell a story.

How do you choose the image(s) for a postcard?

I look at my 3-4 most recent, strongest images and decide which one will read the best as a postcard. And I ask for my agent’s input too. She will sometimes want me to use particular images to tie into the agency’s marketing or whatever project I’m currently working on.

Do you prefer text on the front of the postcard with the image or do you prefer all text on the back of the postcard?
I put text and images on both sides when I can. The front will have a full-color image and less text— usually just my name and website— while the back will have a smaller, usually black and white image with more contact information. The goal is for the recipient to see at least my name, key image, and website information no matter which side of the postcard they see first.

LA postcard
This postcard is a leave-behind so no need to leave space for address and stamp.

Do you create illustrations specifically for your self-promotion pieces?

I have before and I like doing that when I have the time. It’s nice to design specifically for the space. This year I did a new illustration for leave-behind postcards for the SCBWI Summer Conference* and that was really fun because I didn’t have to worry about leaving space for the address on the back.
*I snagged one of those!

Some illustrators create a series of postcards and send them out over time. Do you create a series or stand-alone images?

I have not done a series before— my images are all stand-alone, or, at most, two related images for the front and back of the postcard. I think a series could be interesting, but I wonder if, with the slew of postcards art directors receive and the gaps between my mailings, if they’d even realize I was doing a series…

How often do you send out postcards?

I used to send out at least twice a year, but I’ve gotten busier and am not as on top of my marketing as I should be. Sadly, I did not send out any mailers this year. I signed with my agency a couple of years ago and have left most of the marketing to them in order to focus more on writing and illustrating, but I really should get back into doing my own mailings.

Who do you target with your mailings? 

I target art directors at publishers and children’s magazines I’d like to work with— I decided early that I wanted to work in children’s publishing so my marketing efforts are focused on traditional publishing houses and children’s magazines. I might branch out to licensing and other illustration work later on, but I think publishing is enough of a beast to keep me busy for a long time. I’ve done a lot of research about a bunch of different publishers (and here I have to plug SCBWI and their wonderful THE BOOK*). I try to target my mailings to people I think my work would resonate with and who work with artists who are somewhat similar to me stylistically. There are about 50 art directors on my mailing list. I did send postcards to agents as well, before I signed with Painted Words, but I was very, very particular about what agencies I was approaching and I think had only about 10 agents on my mailing list.
*I use it too. So helpful!

I love the character’s interaction with the text.

How do you compile your mailing list? Any tips on keeping a list and sending out? 

Hoo boy. It was a process. I consulted SCBWI’s THE BOOK, the Children’s Writer’s and Illustrator’s Market books, and the Artists and Graphic Designer’s Market books then spent a LOT of time on people’s websites, LinkedIn and Publishers Weekly to make sure I had the right contact person at each house, magazine, or agency I wanted to send something to. I have an Excel file with everyone’s name, company, position, address, and email address that I update every few months (or when I learn about any changes). As I’ve gotten to know more people in the industry, it has been a lot easier to maintain my list. I do send out the occasional email blast, but I don’t use Mailchimp or anything like that. I should look into that.*

*It DOES take a lot of time to verify names and addresses with all the changes. I sometimes check twitter bios too.

Do you have any tips on the production process? 

I think the most important thing is to be mindful of the legibility of both the image and the font. You want to be sure that both read really well and make an excellent first impression. I once saw an art director demonstrate his method for looking at the postcards he receives daily – he flipped quickly through the imaginary stack as he walked to the trash can. Sobering, but enlightening! If you have a graphic designer friend, get them to look at your postcard design and ask them for honest feedback. And check your spelling. I’ve had to do a reprint due to misspelling my own name. Not my proudest moment.*

*Ha! It happens to everyone! 🙂

Do you use any online services? What are your favorite places to get postcards printed?
I usually get my promo stuff printed online at Vistaprint— budget is always a consideration for me, and Vistaprint has delivered a pretty good product for a really good price. Plus they have sales almost constantly. I don’t think I’ve ever paid full price for postcards. I’ve also used PsPrint, which was admittedly higher quality, but the price was a little steep (for me).

Thanks much to Beth for sharing her illustrations and tips.

See more of Beth’s work here:

Instagram: @beth.mills.illustrations

If you’re joining us for the first time at The Postcard Post, you can catch up with a general article on postcard mailings for illustrators and previous featured illustrators in the archive (there’s a tab above too). And you can see recent posts by searching for The Postcard Post on this blog. See you next month.

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