A Cafe Chat with Literary Agent Chad Beckerman, by Berrie Torgan-Randall

Get ready for our Picture Book Crossover Webinars coming in March! These webinars are for writers interested in illustrating and illustrators interested in writing. For our illustrator-based webinar, “Finding Your Story as an Illustrator,” we’ll host literary agent Chad Beckerman from the CAT agency. In preparation for the webinar, our illustrator coordinator, Berrie Torgan-Randall invited Chad to have a virtual chat here at EasternPennPoints. Here’s what they had to say!

A Café Chat with Literary Agent Chad Beckerman, by Berrie Torgan-Randall

Berrie: Hi, Chad. Would you like a beverage from our virtual café? I see in your profile picture from your website that you are holding a mug—What is typically in that mug? 

Chad: Well, that depends on the season. Right now you will find some hot coffee, which then turns into iced coffee around May and then will shift back and forth to seltzer until fall, then back to coffee. 

Berrie: What does the CAT agency do? How are you and the CAT agency different from other literary agents and agencies?

Chad: The CAT agency is primarily an illustration agency, but we are expanding to include more author-only representations. Just last year we brought on Jyoti Chand and sold her debut graphic novel, Fitting Indian, to Harper Alley. What I believe sets us apart is the ability to communicate with illustrators from an illustrator perspective and help them create their own work from that perspective. We are a very close group inside of the CAT agency. We love the boutique quality about our team that gives us the time to be available equally for all our illustrators.

Berrie: What are the most important illustrations to have on an illustrator’s website? And what information should illustrators include? 

Chad: Over the course of a year I may review a few hundred portfolios. Some illustrators are looking to start working in the children’s book field, some into editorial. No matter what area you may want to go into, I am looking for illustrations that highlight the subject matter that the illustrators are interested in. If you love illustrating mushrooms, I want to see that in your work and how you would explore that subject matter with unique compositions that show us how you solve visual problems. “Enjoyment equals better drawings,” to quote the illustrator John Hendrix.

Berrie: What illustration styles are you attracted to—painterly, cartoony, abstract, etc?

Chad: I am interested in all styles or looks. But I am mainly interested in illustrators that have found a comfortable process to create images that communicate the illustrator’s intentions clearly and most importantly highlight the illustrator’s poetic response to the story, or in other words, their voice.

Berrie: How do art agents discover new talent? Instagram contests? Twitter challenges? Meeting illustrators at conferences? Do illustrators still send you postcards?

Chad: I can’t speak for all agents. I personally like Instagram. I am on it all the time, which may or may not be healthy. But I love diving down a rabbit hole of illustration. My suggestion to illustrators is to treat their Instagram pages and stories with the same consideration as they do with their websites. My guess is that folks will find you through Instagram before they get to your site, so might as well make a good impression.

I also teach a professional practices class with the MICA [Maryland Institute College of Art] grad program that allows me to be in touch with what is happening in the classrooms. I also keep an eye out for talent that comes from SCBWI programs and contests. 

I used to be a big fan of the postcard, but now with everyone out of the office, I am not sure it has the same punch.

Berrie: I see on your website that you work with illustrators on a one-to-one basis. Can you describe what illustrators should expect when working with you?

Chad: Yes, This is something I do that is completely separate from my agency or art direction work. I love helping illustrators discover their work. At first we have a 30- to 40-minute chat where we discuss their picture book dummies or figure out what their work is communicating to art directors and editors and better help them highlight their work to put them in the best position for getting more work or the work they want. This is all meant to be able to help highlight a consistent look to their work as well as highlighting subject matter and compositions that highlight the illustrator’s voice. It’s my belief if you can tap into both of these areas you can set yourself up for a longer career.

Berrie: What advice do you have for illustrators who are just starting out?

Chad: Give a project everything you have. Put forth yourself to make the books a fully thought-out package. Don’t wait for someone to tell you there should be an endpaper design or a title page image. Think of all the images of a book as part of how you are telling the story. All these elements add up to the reader’s experience of the work and your work. Be sure to lead your story. A great example of an illustrator that does this is Dan Santat or Jon Klassen. Another piece of advice is to always be working on a personal project! I know so many stories of successful works that started with this path. You are doing a project that is about something you are passionate about. This could be anything! Your passion will be what intrigues someone else to be interested.

Berrie: What is the best part about your job?

Chad: The best part, of course, is getting folks and helping them set up their path to a long career in books. To represent someone is to stand up for them and vouch for them. You are a team. 

Lightning Round!

Berrie: You have worked with Jeff Kinney on the Diary of a Wimpy Kid book series. Which character do you relate to the most and why?

Chad: Fregley. I think he is a hilarious oddball. Do I relate to him? Not really, but I do admire that he is a character that is okay with who he is no matter how weird others think he is.

Berrie: You work for the CAT Agency. Do you have a cat or some other four-legged creature living with you?

Chad: I will let you in on a funny secret. The CAT agency is 50/50 Cats and dogs. I did have a cat, Kentucky. He was found 16 years ago under a dumpster at a KFC in Brooklyn. He was a good pal, but we lost him last year. Now I have a new buddy—an Irish doodle named Arlo.

Berrie: If you could name a crayon color, what would it be called and why?

Chad: This is, by far, the hardest-hitting question you have asked me. I am partial to the blue in the sky just at sunset. When all the colors in the sky seem to be the extreme of themselves. Coucher de soleil Bleu. In French, of course, since it sounds fancy.

Chad W. Beckerman brings over 20 years of illustration and design experience to the CAT Agency. He was the Creative Director at ABRAMS Kids, where he spent 13 years overseeing the design of 250 books a year – from picture books, to novels, and graphic novels. He executed the design architecture for countless series and is behind the aesthetic for over forty NY Times bestselling and award-winning books including the blockbuster Diary of a Wimpy Kid series by Jeff Kinney and The Questioneers (Iggy Peck, Rosie Revere, Ada Twist). As an Agent, Chad is seeking illustrators who know how to use their voice and solve problems on their own terms.

Illustration Credits

Cat Agency logo: Matt Schumacher (he/him) https://catagencyinc.com/#/matt-schu/

Girl drawing cat: Maithili Joshi (she/her) https://catagencyinc.com/#/maithili-joshi/

Dog on bike with cats: Nik Henderson (he/him) https://catagencyinc.com/#/nik-henderson/

Cat with fish: Violeta Encarnacion (she/her) https://catagencyinc.com/#/violeta-encarnacion/

Cat on laptop: Bethany Crandall (she/her) https://catagencyinc.com/#/bethany-crandall/

Cat chasing treat: Chris Danger (he/him) http://www.catugeau.com/#/new-artist-chrisdanger/

Black cat with candle: Mira Miroslavova (she/her) http://www.catugeau.com/#/mira-miroslavova/

Cats in car: Audra Winslow (they/them) https://catagencyinc.com/#/audra-winslow/

Webinar Information

Finding Your Story as an Illustrator with literary agent Chad Beckerman

March 16, 2023 at 7:00 p.m. Eastern time

A picture may indeed be worth a thousand words, but one illustration in an artist’s portfolio may be the start of an amazing new story. Even if you don’t currently have any story drafts or ideas, this session will challenge you to find the story in your art. 

For more information and to register, go to https://epa.scbwi.org/events/picture-book-crossover-webinars/

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