(Apologies for the post title which will be incomprehensible to the large chunk of this blog's readers who aren't familiar with blackly humorous BBC social dramas of the 1980s.)
This question popped up on another forum, and I thought it was worth a post here:
"Have you ever posted anything on finding work?"
Now, I will confess that if I had a magic formula for getting work, that's one thing I probably would keep close to my chest!
As it happens, however, I don't have any special insight! The bulk of my income is currently derived from two publishers, and my "in" with them was chiefly dumb luck: in both cases, they were looking for a fill-in letterer in a hurry and my samples were top of the pile. In both cases, the samples had been out for so long that I'd actually forgotten about them.
And this is the only key piece of advice I can offer: if you don't actually have any samples out there, then even dumb luck isn't going to work in your favour.
Also, you're going to want to those samples to represent your best work. I have a simple database (although a spreadsheet will work just as well) with the postal address of every US and UK publisher I can find details for. I record the date when I send a sample pack out to them, and what response -- if any -- I receive. In the overwhelming majority of cases, there is no response at all.
Every three months or so, I try to find time to update the sample pack with current pieces of work, and send a new pack out to everyone who hasn't already commissioned me, or told me to never contact them again.
Be aware that raising your profile is largely a matter of doing a lot of free work and hoping that some of it turns into paying work. The first year I made any money from lettering, I'd say that about 75% of the work I did was actually free, or 'back end', the second year it was about 50/50 and I was able to pack in my day job; this year I think it'll be about 66% paying and I hope that next year it's going to be north of 75%.
(I should stress that I am very fortunate to live an area of the UK where housing prices are relatively reasonable, I have modest lifestyle expectations, and an understanding wife with professional qualifications and a good job. You will not get rich doing this!)
On the subject of back end deals (where you do all the work for no pay up front but in return for a percentage of the profits on publication), I should say that I am not --in principle-- as hostile towards these as many professionals. There is an argument that if the work is good enough to be published, it's good enough to get paid for, a sentiment with which I take no issue.
However, given that these deals do exist, then they are certainly a means, if nothing else, of getting some original material to work on! Your chances of making any money on these deals (excepting some of the big players, like Image) is pretty slim, but if you look on these projects as good practice that you might get paid for, then I would argue that they certainly have some value.
Beyond that, the only advice I can offer is about making sure that even a small break turns into a bigger one: always do your best work, regardless of the page rate; always deliver on time; try very hard not to be a dick.
That's all I've that been doing. So far, so good…!