Pictures Mean Business

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When asked, everyone I know says they love illustration and support illustrators whole-heartedly. Yet illustrators continue to suffer career setbacks when:

* Illustrator’s names are left off covers of books they’ve illustrated (even highly illustrated). Sometimes publishers even forget to put illustrators’ names inside the book. (This happens most frequently with ‘middle grade’ illustrated fiction.)

* The artwork is used as branding for a writer (for example, on the writer’s website), but the illustrator never gets mentioned, implying that the writer did the artwork.

* Publicists launch illustrated book cover artwork to great fanfare, mentioning only the writer’s name.

* Media interviews and articles talk about a picture book as ‘by’ the writer, leaving out the illustrator’s name even though the book is mostly pictures.

* Award websites list only writers of books.

* Reviewers neglect to mention illustrations in their reviews, even when the pictures tell much of the story.

* Teachers lead their classes in studying a book without mentioning the illustrator or studying the book’s illustrations.

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Why does it matter? Who loses out?

* Kids lose a hero. Not all children (or adults) come to stories and communication through words. I find in teaching writing, kids are most inspired when then can draw a character and create a visual world around it, and only then do most of them want to seek out words to help the story along. Many children who won’t pick up a novel will happily read a comic. If people are inspired by drawing, why not let them look to illustrators for inspiration? It’s awfully hard for illustrators to impress classrooms of kids with their authorship when their names aren’t even printed on book covers. And it won’t even happen if the teacher only invites writers to visit.

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Photo by Sarah Howells; pugs by Katie Hand, Keara Stewart, Teri Smith’s daughter, Sam Reeve and Sam Decie

* Business misses a trick. Outdated, clunky book data systems can’t track career earnings of illustrators, only writers. They can tell subscribers, for example, how much money writer Julia Donaldson’s books are earning, but they can’t tell you how much money illustrator Axel Scheffler’s books are pulling in. If you search for my name in Nielsen Bookscan, the only books that will come up with be the three books I’ve both written and illustrated. Even my book I co-wrote with David O’Connell won’t appear, because you’d have to search for David and my names together. Since business people can’t easily find out how much money illustrators contribute to the economy, it’s as though they contribute nothing.

Business people cannot make concrete sales decisions based on how much earning power an illustrator has. For example, some airport bookshops only stock Julia Donaldson’s books in the picture book section because they know from the data that she’s a bestseller. (Fair enough, she’s a sound bet.) But it’s possible that Axel Scheffler’s drawings of the Gruffalo sell the books as much as Julia’s words do. The shops sell Julia’s books illustrated by other people; why couldn’t they stock other books illustrated by Axel that Julia hasn’t written? Because they don’t have the sales data to help them. Amazon has a much more searchable data system than most booksellers; and with occasional glitches, you can search by illustrator. Competing booksellers need better systems so they can up their game.

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* Illustrators struggle to earn enough money to live. More and more, sales rely on branding. People partly buy books because they recognise the names on the covers. If illustrators can’t build a name for themselves, they have to start from scratch each time they work with another writer. If people don’t know the illustrators’ names, the illustrators have less chance of being invited to do paid events, or offered media opportunities that will help sell their work. (Usually book advances aren’t enough to live on, and the payments are irregular; many illustrators survive on school visit and event fees.) Illustrators have less chance of making connections and gaining followers on social media if they’re not mentioned. And it’s ironic, because the Internet is becoming more and more image-based; publicists NEED those striking images as clickbait and to pull readers through screens full of text.

* Writers and publishers miss a potential source of publicity. People LOVE watching illustrators draw at events! And illustrators are perfectly equipped for Internet marketing because they can make images that make potential readers more likely to share material. Why have only one person bigging up a book when there could be two? The loss of ‘branding’ income from having two names instead of one will be far less than the loss incurred by cutting out the illustrator. Besides, promoting a book by yourself can be very lonely; why not do it as a team?

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Co-authors Reeve & McIntyre, photo by Sarah Reeve

* Readers get books that aren’t as good as they could be. Margins are so tight for illustrators that many have to give up and find other work. Children LOVE reading comics, but comics are so time-consuming to make that very few of the top talents can afford to make them, particularly if there’s a good chance their artwork will go uncredited. Writers may lose picture book work as illustrators realise that the only way they can build their profile is to write their own books. Not all illustrators want to write their books, and some writers may do it better, but unless things improve, illustrators may feel keeping total authorial control is their only financial option.

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* We lose diversity in publishing and illustration. If lack of credits make it more difficult for illustrators to build careers, only the ones who have other sources of income will rise to the top. Single people and people from poor backgrounds lose out in building careers, and readers don’t get to read books from creators with very different backgrounds. (This point ties in well with the #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign.)

How can you support the #PicturesMeanBusiness awareness campaign?

PUBLISHERS: Be attentive about your Nielsen data! Whoever is entering the data, make sure they know it’s essential to include the name of the illustrator (and translator, where appropriate). Nielsen can only work with what you give it. Here’s some help if you use Biblio to submit data.

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If a book is highly illustrated, included the illustrator’s name on the front cover of the book! Hiding their name inside the book or on the back cover won’t help when people are browsing covers online; your illustrator will be forgotten. (My rule of thumb: ALWAYS credit illustrators on the front covers for picture books, and on any book that has at least one illustration per chapter. You and your designer can decide on the size of the lettering, but make sure the illustrator’s name is at least legible in an online thumbnail image.)

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WRITERS: When you show off a beautiful new book cover for the first time, mention the people who made that cover happen! It might be the illustrator who also did the interior illustrations, or an artist paid to do a cover for a text-only book. It might be assembled by a designer. If it’s your book cover, find out who made it and share the news! This information can be very hard for your readers to discover if you don’t share it. Your support of #PicturesMeanBusiness will mean more coming from you than from illustrators; credits are obviously in illustrators’ self-interest, but your thoughtful behaviour will be more convincing to readers and others in the industry.

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If you’ve used your illustrator’s images on your website, be sure your illustrator gets a credit and website link! (Otherwise it looks like you’re saying you did the artwork.)

PUBLICISTS: Be sure the AIs or TIs (Advance Information or Title Information sheets) you submit to the media always include illustrator data. Even when you’re dealing with a celebrity writer from television or sport, that doesn’t mean it’s okay to omit the illustrator’s name. Do your bit to help illustrators become celebrities in their own right or you’re undercutting your own industry.

Mention illustrators and cover artists. If you can’t fit the name of the illustrator or designer in the main body of your tweet, consider including them in the ‘Who’s in this photo?’ tag. If this doesn’t work on your particular browser setting, find one that gives you this option:

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DATA WARRIORS: Anyone entering book metadata for a publisher, be sure to enter the illustrators’ names when you’re submitting the important data to Nielsen that goes out to everyone else. If you use Biblio, here’s a tutorial on the Society of Authors blog about how not to miss a hugely important drop-down menu. Your role is vital!
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TEACHERS, LIBRARIANS AND PARENTS: Encourage children to talk about pictures as well as words in a story. Help the child realise that a real person created these pictures, they weren’t just made by a picture machine. Encourage them to draw, to read books with pictures and to create their own illustrated books and comics (as this school has done). Discuss how they can create effective book cover designs and get them to think about how lettering can communicate information about what’s written. Here’s a Booktrust link for one way to teach story creation through writing AND drawing, through the medium of comics.

The #ReadingForPleasure campaign highlights the importance of kids being able to read all sorts of material so that they come to love books and embark on a lifetime of reading, rather than seeing reading as only an educational grind. If they love books with pictures, don’t take those books away and try to force them to read books with only text. Adults, if you don’t already, try reading books with pictures yourselves; you might find you enjoy them, as grownup readers in France and Japan do. It’s odd for adults who spend a great deal of time sharing pictures on Facebook to tell their children that they shouldn’t be looking at pictures in reading material. Pictures are naturally a big part of what we all read.

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BOOK LOVERS: Find out who illustrated your favourite books! See if they’re on Twitter or have a website. If you’re writing reviews, try to expand your vocabulary so you can discuss the pictures, and how they contribute to the story. Include the illustrator’s name when you write the credits for the book.

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ILLUSTRATORS: In doing research for this campaign, I’ve more and more come to realise that it’s metadata that may make or break our careers, and it’s getting ever more important as book sales automate and book data travels around the Internet. I met up with Andre Breedt from Nielsen book data provider (along with representatives from the Society of Authors, SCBWI and The Bookseller) and learned a lot of things I didn’t know about metadata collecting and distribution. I used to think Nielsen was the company mainly at fault, but Nielsen just works with what it’s given and what it’s asked for. The problems of illustrators not being listed or not being searchable are more to do with how publishers put in data and how awards committees, media, etc take it out again. If your name isn’t appearing on Amazon, it’s your publisher’s fault for not submitting good data. (Read more about that here.)

Book data is still letting us down. Nielsen compile two totally different kinds of data: bibliographic data (basic information about the book itself) and sales data (how well the book is selling or how well the writer is selling). There are no automatic ways of compiling illustrator sales data, just writer sales data. Not enough people are asking for illustrator sales data to make it financially worthwhile for Nielsen to set up an automatic sales chart table. Nielsen DO include our names in bibliographic data, but we still need to find a way to make people realise that pictures SELL books and that if books by an illustrator sell well, it might be worth their while to order more books by that illustrator. Click here for a more in-depth look at how metadata works.

In the meantime, help yourself be credited:

* Sign your artwork whenever possible. If your images get loose on the Internet, it will be easier for people to trace them to you. And then people who crop off your signatures are more obviously and intentionally doing something wrong.

* Get a Twitter account. Publicists love Twitter, and if you’re not on it, you won’t realise just how often you’re getting left out of discussions, festival listings and promotion. In fact, you don’t ever need to write a single tweet, but DO set up an account; post a profile image so people can tell you apart from other people with your same name, and put a working link to your website in the short bio area. When people see you don’t tweet, they’ll click over to your website, which is where you wanted them in the first place.

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* On Twitter, use the hash tag #PicturesMeanBusiness to keep the discussion in one place. If you use it, people can click on it to find out more about the campaign.

* Be vigilant about your contracts. Particularly illustrators of chapter books, get your publisher to commit in writing to putting your name on the front cover of the book. Don’t leave the decision to a last-minute whim of some marketing person. If the publisher doesn’t want to put your name on the cover for their own branding purposes, realise that it’s going to affect YOUR brand, and the publisher should compensate you for this loss by paying you much more. Lack of a name of the cover may also affect whether you get invited to do paid events, and many illustrators depend on this second source of income. Read more about contracts here. You at least need your name on the title page if you want to claim Public Lending Right fees (PLR), another source of income. The Society of Authors can help you vet your contract if you don’t have a good agent.

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AGENTS: Right now a big issue is cover credits. Illustrators need you as agents to pull together and make it standard that illustrators get contract guarantees that their names will be on the front covers of the books they illustrate. (Here’s a longer article about supportive agent roles.)

What has #PicturesMeanBusiness accomplished so far?

1. The Carnegie medal: illustrators are now included on the Carnegie medal longlist. (Writers have always been included in the Greenaway illustration medal list.) Joy Court spearheaded the changes to the unquestioned traditional listing swiftly and graciously, citing a major problem with book data supplied to the award.

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2. The Bookseller magazine: The Bookseller printed an apology for feature articles celebrating writer Michael Rosen as the creator of the We’re Going on a Bear Hunt picture book with no mention of illustrator Helen Oxenbury. The Bookseller is increasingly crediting illustrators for their work, now including illustrator names in the sales charts, when they only used to list writers. Journalist Fiona Noble and Charlotte Eyre and editors Philip Jones and Porter Anderson have been very supportive of the campaign.

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3. The Book People amended the listings of winners on the website for the Red House Children’s Book Awards to include illustrator Oliver Jeffers in the award for The Day the Crayons Quit.

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4. The Reading Agency amended their Summer Reading Challenge Record Breakers book collections online lists to include illustrators.

5. Following many publications by various media of 2015 Author Sales Chart (with Julia Donaldson at the top), The Bookseller (Charlotte Eyre & Kiera O’Brien) published a 2015 Illustrator Sales Chart on 5 Feb 2016, compiled manually from Nielsen data. (We’re hoping they’ll do it again, and even more, that enough people will want this data often enough to make it worthwhile for Nielsen to make this data accessible automatically, instead of having to be compiled manually).

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We have a long way to go in persuading British culture to value its illustrators. One of the problems is that people see making artwork as ‘fun’ and something slightly mad people do, so they consciously or unconsciously assume it’s neither business nor hard work. If you want to find out what a children’s book illustrator really does, I’ve written an article about it here.

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But we’re making progress. Keep up the pressure! What makes this campaign different is that we’re not just pleading for kindness or sympathy, pictures really DO mean business. We contribute to the economy and in an ever-competitive marketplace, we very well may be the edge you need to sell those books.

You can tweet with the hash tag #PicturesMeanBusiness and the simplest web link is picturesmeanbusiness.com. Even though I drew the blue Pegasus and set up this web page, I don’t ‘run’ the campaign. I’m a busy illustrator like everyone else, and we’re all in this together. So don’t wait to be asked to do things; feel free to think creatively and take things forward in whatever way you think might help!

Note: this website has a special focus on illustrators of children’s books, but ALL illustrators need credit for their work.
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FURTHER READING

Besides #PicturesMeanBusiness, check out the #ArtCred hashtag (set up by Declan Shalvey) and the #CreditArtists hashtag.

1 July 2016: The Bookseller magazine highlights the #PicturesMeanBusiness campaign with its 2016 Rising Stars list.
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20 May 2016: Herald Scotland article:
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18 Mar 2016: The Bookseller Journalist Fiona Noble calls for people in publishing to credit illustrators on covers and in advance information sheets and bibliographic data:

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30 Dec 2015: Ross Collins speaks to Nan Spowart at The National about #PicturesMeanBusiness (read the full article here).
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30 July 2015: #PicturesMeanBusiness with Dan Damon on BBC World Service

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21 July 2015: #PicturesMeanBusiness by Alison Flood in The Guardian

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21 July 2015: #PicturesMeanBusiness by Kat Brown in The Telegraph

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17 July 2015: Fiona Noble in The Bookseller

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17 July 2015: On the same day as The Bookseller article, Emily Drabble’s team at Guardian Children’s Books was struggling with poor data from publishers and what was probably sub-editors not realising the importance of the missing information. The team are very pro-illustrator and regularly feature illustrators, which made the omissions more surprising: old habits die hard. (Here’s the fixed article, with artist data added.)

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2 June 2015 update about METADATA, after meeting with Nielsen, Society of Authors, SCBWI and The Bookseller. Lots of important information if you’re interested in knowing more about how data is working against illustrators. Read here.

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15 May 2015 issue of The Bookseller: article by Charlotte Eyre on Nielsen calling for debate, the complexities of crediting illustration, and illustrator sales chart; article by me about the #PicturesMeanBusiness campaign.

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Associate Editor of The Bookseller, Porter Anderson, blogs about #PicturesMeanBusiness on Twitter discussion #FutureChat, 16 May 2015: Why don’t book people credit illustrators?
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(In the #FutureChat discussion, two ideas seemed to come up: Charlotte Eyre’s idea to set up a charter for publishers to sign, stating they list their books’ contributors in a standardised way. This would involve coming up with a standardised listing method, taking it around publishers, and publishing the listings publicly online. Charlotte said she’d be glad to feature the list in The Bookseller but said she couldn’t come up with the charter itself.
Another suggestion was to ask Nielsen to come up with a website a bit like IMDB for books (reminding people that IMDB is owned by Amazon.)

Article I wrote for The Awfully Big Blog Adventure: Why I hate the word ‘Author’
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RELATED ARTICLE: Writers and illustrators – what we really DO all day