Illustrating a need for publishing reforms

Illustration Credit - iStockphoto: By Tiero
Illustration Credit – iStockphoto: By Tiero

Yes, she has to draw you a picture.

Since our #FutureChat of Friday (15th May), we’ve had the news that illustrators Axel Scheffler, Chris Riddell, Birgitta Sif, and others — including the irrepressible Sarah McIntyre — are among contributors featured in a new book, Creatures, to be published by Macmillan Children’s Books in September. As our colleague at The BooksellerCharlotte Eyre writes:

Stephanie Barton, publisher at the 0-6 division at MCB, said the book “holds up a central truth about storytelling and about visual literacy” because it entices children to create and communicate through drawing. “Children are not only in on the visual jokes but they provide the visual punchlines,” she said. “The format of the book is key because it lies flat so children can really concentrate on their drawing without breaking the spine of the book.”

Eyre adds: “The book will also highlight the importance of illustrators.”

And what an odd thing — not that Eyre would write it but that she would have to. It’s like the Pope coming out for peace. Could there be a more obvious no-brainer than the importance of illustrators? Good on Macmillan for highlighting it, yes. Sad that someone might have to.

Publishing has suffered many embarrassments in recent years — from its bad pay and contracts for writers to protracted production schedules and a perceived resistance to the inevitable arrival of digital reality. Wouldn’t you think that crediting its illustrators, maybe even championing its illustrators, would be an obvious course of action?

Andre Breedt
Andre Breedt

The mechanics of the problem — otherwise known as the cost factor — is that metadata entry and tracking aren’t being handled with consistency or standards. In Nielsen calls for debate over crediting illustrators, Eyre writes:

Andre Breedt, director of Nielsen’s UK book research arm, said he would love to be able to create an illustrators’ chart but added that the industry needed to agree on when and how illustrators should be credited. Currently, this is a manual process…Most publishers—including Penguin, Egmont, Nosy Crow and Little Tiger Press—were keen to stress that they always credit illustrators, especially when it comes to picture books, and many input data about illustrators into a software programme (Penguin uses Biblio, for example) which feeds into Nielsen. However, unless an illustrator is listed in the author field, the record may not show on BookScan.

In fact, it sounds as if any publisher (no surprise here) will say that crediting illustrators is important. Of course. These are good folks. But the corporate stance may differ: without going to the expense of reforming data-input so that software-standardisation delivers that information uniformly, how earnest is publishing’s support? The world may not believe “Oh, it’s a software problem.” Maybe it looks like publishers being awful to illustrators.

Breedt to Eyre:

“It would be good for the industry to have a debate about this because there is a lot more complexity to it than people realise. We would like to work with the industry to create a chart of illustrators or illustrated titles.”

Sarah McIntyre en chiffon
Sarah McIntyre en chiffon

The readers who love illustraters best may be the ones who count the most: young ones. Publishing understands that young readers are turning  to video, TV, gaming, and other digital enticements, turning away from the custom and habit of immersive text. Can we not see the work of illustrators as one of publishing’s best investments in the battle for the imaginations of potential lifelong readers?

Accordingly, the picture that McIntyre has drawn for her publishing colleagues wings its stubby way high above the fear that publishing has a streak of mean-spirited negligence. Taken along with publishing’s past apparent condescension to authors — the indispensable creative core — and what critics say is its zeal for pouring resources into blockbusters that eclipse its own most worthy work, it’s hard for some to think that there haven’t been, in the past, some unconscionable players at the helm. But where McIntyre — whose Dinosaur Police is out this month from Scholastic in the UK and US — points her pen is at the market rationale, with her hashtagged slogan #PicturesMeanBusiness.

She’s right. She’s also giddy. Or plays herself to be. (Hey, it works with the kids, right?) All I’d say if I were asked — and no, I haven’t been — is that I would’t throw too much chiffon at such an ugly fact as a failure to establish cooperative standards that permit proper credit.

This illustration is by Sarah McIntyre: "Giddy No More!"
This illustration is by Sarah McIntyre: “Giddy No More!”

UPDATE: McIntyre has answered me since this story first was published with a new illustration on Twitter, “Giddy No More!” and the intenstivied hashtag: #PicturesMeanVerySeriousBusiness. Wouldn’t it be great if everyone in publishing had such a gracious sense of humor?

This goes well beyond just being nice. This goes to corporate leadership and priorities, to systems operations and data-management protocols. In #FutureChat, one participant mentioned that staff re-education might be required. So re-educate them. These fall-throughs can mean lost jobs, lost sales, and lost income, let alone the nasty image of a business that doesn’t care for its own. No wonder some observers might like to see McIntyre’s blue Pegasus kick some horse sense into a few executives. That would be an illustration worth an animated GIF.

It might also make the industry understand that other associated creative workers, including its translators, are to be credited every time, as well, without question, and readily. As author Philip Ardagh said in #FutureChat, “How could ‘Illustrated by Axel Scheffler’ work against me?

Read More

By Porter Ander­son

The FutureBook: Illustrating a need for publishing reforms: A #FutureChat recap

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