WRITERS' MINDS Sarah McIntyre


 Author & illustrator, Sarah McIntyre, discusses the lack of recognition for illustrators and how Pictures Means Business is helping overcome this, with Sarah Broadley

Sarah McIntyre is easy to spot in her hats and pointy specs. Based in her studio in London, she sometimes writes and illustrates picture books by herself, including Grumpycorn, There's a Shark in the Bath and Dinosaur Firefighters, and sometimes she collaborates with friends, such as with David O'Connell on Jampires. For the past seven years she's co-authored an annual chapter book with Philip Reeve, including Pugs of the Frozen North, Oliver and the Seawigs and The Legend of Kevin
 
#PicturesMeansBusiness has been a whirlwind on social media, helping raise awareness of the plight of illustrators when they are not mentioned for their artwork on a published book. Can you tell us a little about why you started this initiative?

I've always enjoyed following the development of our amazing illustrators’ artwork and careers, so when I started subscribing to our major trade magazine, The Bookseller, I couldn't understand why writers got ALL the credit for picture books. The thing that really upset me was when the magazine dedicated four pages to celebrating We're Going on a Bear Hunt with a big picture of Michael Rosen, and not a single mention of Helen Oxenbury. Now, the text is a retelling of a classic campfire song, but Helen has brought a whole new world to it with her pictures and this seemed grossly unfair and inaccurate in terms of the creators’ impact on its sales. 

The Bookseller took my criticism on board and published a correction the following week. But by digging deeper and talking with illustrators, I came to realise that highlighting the unfairness didn't ever bring about changes: they’ve been banging on about it for decades. BUT... changes are happening with regards to the inaccuracy of illustration's impact on business. By reframing the issue, I have shown other people how THEY benefit from crediting illustrators. And we can make a great case for it! Publishers, writers, children, grownup book lovers, reviewers, journalists, librarians, teachers, agents, booksellers – everyone benefits when illustrators are credited.  


Illustrator Soni Speight who built the #picturesmeanbusiness website explain:
Pictures Mean Business has already achieved some success: for example, I see more publishers listing illustrators on the covers of highly illustrated books, writers crediting illustrators when they reveal their cover artwork for the first time on social media, book charities remembering to list illustrator names when they use their artwork in blog posts. Agents tell me that it's easier to argue for credit – they simply say 'You know, Pictures Mean Business' as shorthand, and publishers understand what they mean. 

Do you believe that publishers and those within the literary world have a responsibility to ensure fair and equal promotion for both writers and illustrators? 
 
Yes and no. Pictures Mean Business isn't so much about equality as about appropriate credit. The balance of words and pictures depends entirely on what sort of book it is: the contributions aren't always equal. In a picture book, the pictures tell as much of the story if not more than the words do (think Donaldson & Scheffler's contributions to The Gruffalo). But in illustrated fiction, the writer comes up with a book that works perfectly well on its own, which is then enhanced with some small decorative images. 

In terms of promotion, publishers may want to feature a celebrity writer in larger letters than the lesser-known illustrator. Pictures Mean Business doesn't argue that the names need to be equal size, just that the illustrator name needs to be there, and legible in a thumbnail image, the sort you see when you're shopping online. If it's cover art and no interior artwork, I argue that a credit on the back cover and on the ISBN page is appropriate. But that credit should be there. If readers and reviewers want to look up the artist, we shouldn't make it difficult for them. A celebrity name can boost the career of an illustrator if people can easily see who the illustrator is: if publishing doesn't encourage this promotion of a creator within its own industry, it's eating itself. 

The one place where Pictures Mean Business DOES argue for total equality is in the not-terribly-sexy but vastly-important realm of data entry. Publishers often submit incomplete data for books, for various reasons. This has vast consequences: it's why illustrators get left off award lists and ultimately why the media don't see any need to big up illustrators. When journalists see a writer has earned millions of pounds via Nielsen BookScan, they want to get them in their media slots. Since data is so patchy for illustrators, Nielsen can't effectively calculate illustrator sales figures. If the media don't see millions of pounds attached to, say, Axel Scheffler's name, they write him off as having any importance to business or literature. 

We need that sales data for illustrators' work to be taken seriously. So, we need publishers to enter the data for illustrators as regularly as they enter it for writers. 
 
Do you think reasonable steps are being taken by some publishers now that #PicturesMeansBusiness has highlighted the issues raised?
 
Kate Wilson at Nosy Crow was the first to throw her full support behind the campaign, and my publishers OUP, Scholastic UK and David Fickling have all shown their support. Results are patchy - sometimes I think people simply forget (including for a book cover I recently illustrated – big apologies ensued). But if we keep pushing the angle of everyone benefiting, not just illustrators, and don't muddy the campaign with other issues, I think we'll continue to see progress. We now have four people on the Pictures Mean Business team - James Mayhew, Soni Speight (SCBWI Illustration coordinator), Woodrow Phoenix (on the General Management committee at the Society of Authors) and me. But to work, the campaign needs everyone to get involved. 
 


You have collaborated many times with the wonderful Philip Reeve. Was it a straight forward process to agree on the equality of formatting or was a lot of that out of your hands? 
Our working relationship is a bit unusual; we think up book ideas together right from the start. Then I chip in with ideas while he's writing, and he often helps me with the pencil roughs when I run out of time. We're very much co-authors. On earlier picture books, I often didn't communicate with or meet the writer until well after the book had come out. 

Do you have any words of advice for writers and illustrators for when they are promoting their new work?

Keep a blog. I know the shorter forms of social media – Twitter, Instagram, Facebook – are more commonly used, but keeping a regular blog helps you learn how to show off your work and how to write about it. If you don't have something, you might even find yourself going out to do things, so you have something to put on it: that stretches you. 

Review other people's books and events and link to them on your blog, and you'll find yourself more and more included in what's going on in the book world. It doesn't really matter which platform you use: you can link to it from other social media platforms. And most of all, keep drawing, every day, all the time.   

Find Sarah on Facebook Twitter Instagram 
Pictures Means Business website 

Feature photo & credit: Sarah McIntyre

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Sarah Broadley lives in Edinburgh with her family and two cats. She is a member of SCBWI SE Scotland and is represented by Alice Sutherland-Hawes from the Madeleine Milburn Literary Agency. Follow her on Twitter.

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Natalie Yates is Writers' Minds editor for Words & PicturesFollow her on Twitter. Contact: writers@britishscbwi.org.

1 comment:

  1. Yayyyyyyyyyyyyy!! This is such a great campaign! Since I first heard of it, I make a point of hunting down the cover art designer/illustrator for non-illustrated books as much as possible and definitely name the illustrator of books with pictures. I agree that the illustrator's name should be on the cover, either front or back, as appropriate for the type of book, or on the inside copyright page. I've had to contact publishers to get that info when it's not in the book or easily found on a website.

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