It’s now 18 months since writer/illustrators Sarah McIntyre and James Mayhew got together to begin the #PicturesMeanBusiness campaign. It’s a crusade that seeks to give more exposure and credit to illustrators working throughout the publishing chain, from cover designers to full-blown co-authors of illustrated books. After picking up support across the industry, Sarah McIntyre has become the driving force of the campaign and earned herself a place in The Bookseller’s list of Rising Stars of 2016.
#PicturesMeanBusiness began in a small way, when illustrators such as Ted Dewan, An Vrombaut, Axel Scheffler and Sarah herself were quoted in an article for The Bookseller, about how illustrators are often overlooked, with writers credited instead for their contribution. Shortly afterwards, Sarah was shocked to notice in the same magazine a feature article about the enduring popularity of the picture book We're Going on a Bear Hunt, which seemed to give all the credit to author Michael Rosen, while ignoring the illustrator, Helen Oxenbury. This was despite the fact that Helen's images were used to illustrate the article! Sarah complained, and The Bookseller quickly printed an apology. But the incident had lit a fire under illustrators, and a campaign was born.
Here’s Sarah’s manifesto from her introductory blog post:
What does it mean if you support #PicturesMeanBusiness?
- It means you believe illustration (and cover design) contributes to people's decisions to buy books.
- It means you respect the profession of illustration as a proper skilled profession and not some cute little hobby.
- It means you think top-quality illustrators should be able to make a living from their work.
- It means you feel upset when you see a review of a much-loved picture book and it only mentions the writer's name.
- It means you believe illustrators should be listed on databases with the books they've created, just like writers, in ways that their books and sales can be tracked. (If business can't see illustrators' contribution to business, they will assume illustration doesn't contribute.)
After some initial detective work, it turned out that much of the problem was caused by publishing metadata. What’s metadata, you ask? Well, it’s the information that publishers provide in their catalogues and book listings: title, price, genre, author, illustrator etc. A publication like The Bookseller doesn’t have time to do hours of research into every book on their sales chart, so they rely on metadata supplied to them by Nielsen – the organisation that compiles most of the UK book sales figures. Nielsen, in turn, relies on the metadata that they receive from individual publishers. The publishers themselves might have several computer systems behind the scenes for managing this metadata and exporting it.
The whole metadata delivery process is like a leaky sieve. Even if someone in the editorial department enters the metadata about who illustrates a particular book, there’s no guarantee that information will emerge at the other end for The Bookseller to use. And because illustrator metadata is optional (every book must have an author but most won't be illustrated) it can be a difficult thing for people to check.
Sarah has repeatedly gone above and beyond in her quest to fix the holes in the publishing data sieve. She recently went on a field trip to Little Brown Publishing and investigated exactly where the illustrator metadata needed to be added to the popular editorial tool Biblio, and even produced an illustrated guide!
Here are some other successes that the #PicturesMeanBusiness campaign has celebrated:
- The Bookseller magazine has begun listing illustrators in their sales charts
- Illustrators are now included on the Carnegie medal longlist
- The Red House Children's Book Awards website changed their listings to credit winning illustrators
- The Reading Agency amended their Summer Reading Challenge online lists to include illustrators
The campaign has not been without its controversy. Several writers who I talked to early on thought that it was a lot of fuss about nothing, and some openly objected to the idea of having to share credit with a cover designer when they had written the book! To be fair, this latter complaint was caused by a misconception - the campaign was simply requesting that cover artists were credited in 'cover reveals' (when people share their book covers for the first time, specifically showing off the new artwork).
The question of co-authorship has also been a thorny one - at what point in the creative process does an illustrator have to get involved to be seen as the co-creator of a book, rather than just a contributor? Sarah and her co-author Philip Reeve create their illustrated books together from the ground up, but more often, an illustrator will be brought in by a publisher after a writer has already created the storyline and described the characters.
Just three of this year's Bookseller Rising stars - all very familiar to W&P readers!
Sarah McIntyre richly deserves her Bookseller Rising Star Award, for the many, many unpaid hours she has devoted to #PicturesMeanBusiness. The campaign has been highly influential, but there is still more work to do. Here on Words & Pictures, for instance, we’ve occasionally been guilty of not crediting illustrators when we should have. So we’ll be updating our editorial policy to make sure that doesn’t happen in future!
her LiveJournal blog. Somehow, she also finds time to continue writing and illustrating children’s books. In fact, Sarah and Philip Reeve have just launched their latest collaboration Jinks and O’Hare Funfair Repair.
Nick Cross is an experienced word juggler, Undiscovered Voices winner and 2015 honours recipient of the SCBWI Magazine Merit Award for fiction.
Read Nick's most recent blog post for Notes from the Slushpile - Spam from the Slushpile.