In 2015, children’s book writer-illustrator Sarah McIntyre spearheaded the #PicturesMeanBusiness Twitter campaign to show publishers, reviewers, readers and teachers that by properly crediting illustrators for their work, everyone wins.
This interview with Sarah looks in detail about how the campaign started, what it has achieved and how we can all get involved. Just click on the headings below to read more.
I’ve listen to countless illustrators mourn how their names didn’t appear on the covers of book they’ve illustrated. I’ve heard them seethe with anger as their cover artwork was shared on Twitter, attributed only to a writer’s name. I’ve seen display boards in classrooms themed on favourite picture books with the writer’s name in huge letters and no mention of the book’s illustrator. The list goes on.
I’ve seen how when illustrators complained they were being cut out, they’d get a few replies of sympathy, but nothing seemed to change. Elderly illustrators told me they’d been trying to change things for decades and failed. Asking for respect wasn’t working. Morosely plucking people’s heartstrings wasn’t working.
That’s why I decided we illustrators needed to rethink our strategy and #PicturesMeanBusiness campaign seems to be making some progress.
We can make a legitimate case to publishers, reviewers, readers, parents, teachers that they themselves actually WIN when illustrators are credited. It costs very little to credit us, and it costs a lot if they don’t. Many of them believe they care about illustrators but they need a business angle to spur them to action. It’s a positive campaign.
Imagine a company like Starbucks being told they can’t have their name above their shop or their logo on their cups. They’d tell you to go away, or send in their lawyers. Our names are our logos. Our work may change style, our faces may age, but people can pin our work to our names. If people don’t know our names, they won’t seek us out to give us more work. It’s not that we we’re needy people who want help with our confidence, it’s that we need to make a living. Be sure to sign any work that might go up on the Internet so it’s an advert for your work, not some anonymous piece possibly going viral without any connection to you. And you can come down much harder on people who rip off your work if it’s obvious they’ve deliberately removed your signature.
• Searchability: Say, you win a major illustration or book award; people go online to find your books. Your publisher hasn’t bothered to enter your name into the book data, so their book with you doesn’t come up. Your publisher loses a sale. This doesn’t need to happen, they can supply better data with minimal cost or effort.
• More publicity: People LOVE watching illustrators draw at events. An illustrator has a far greater chance of being asked to do school visit or festival if they’re visibly identified with the book they created (and school visits can shift a lot of books). A writer may not always be free to do events, but with an illustrator, the publisher has two people who may help sell the book instead of one. Since people are far more likely to share social media posts that come with images, illustrators are perfectly equipped to help out in the digital age; why not have your illustrator on board with the book’s publicity? People love following artists on social media, why wouldn’t the publisher want to tap into their fan base?
• Kids gain a hero: Not all children (or adults) come to stories and communication through words. I find in teaching writing, kids are most inspired when they 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?
• Better books for readers: If the only way to make our name professionally is to write our own books, many of us will do it even if we don’t really want to write. So people who might be better writers lose work. Illustrators can’t get more work if no one knows who we are, if only writers get credit. But it’s so easy to credit us along with the writer, allowing us shine in what we do best.
• Illustrator loyalty: An illustrator is much more likely to stick around if they don’t feel they’re constantly being crushed in their attempts to build their career. Using the illustrator’s name on books and in publicity costs almost nothing, and may be the thing that keeps us from running off halfway through a series for a better offer somewhere else. Illustrators talk; publishers will want to be the ones we all want to work for. Building long-term loyalty is very much in both publishers’ and writers’ interests.
• Greater diversity: If lack of credit makes 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.) If publishers are serious about diversity, this is one of the easiest, least expensive ways they can be supportive.
• Pride internationally: In Britain, we’re not known so much these days for our manufacturing. But illustration is one of our much-loved exports; our books sell around the world and people connect in heartfelt ways with the characters we draw. We turn basic paper and art materials into something magical. Publishers can be proud of their illustrators, not hide us away. We want to see rights stands at book fairs absolutely mobbed by foreign publishers trying to get a piece of British illustration talent.
I noticed that when we bring up our personal cases on social media – “My publisher didn’t put my name on the cover of my book! I’m not listed on Amazon!” – often nothing would change. To other people, possibly we sounded pitiable, or sour grapes. Sometimes the publisher would even get cross with the illustrator for casting them in a negative light. BUT… when we fight someone else’s corner, publishers really, really seem to listen. Because of changes in technology, people are looking to set new precedents, and we want to be right in there, making sure we’re collectively not taken for a ride.
A publisher who gets used to crediting other illustrators properly will be much more likely to credit YOU properly. Keep an eye on the ones who are doing it poorly, and if you’re deciding between publishers, don’t choose those ones. If enough of us are watching each other’s backs, publishers start to get the picture. (I’ve been fortunate to have a very supportive agent, co-authors and publishers so they make me feel braver about speaking out.)
Ask. Talk about this with the AOI or your agent.
A lot of times illustrators are left out simply because they or their agent didn’t think to ask their publisher for something. Don’t leave your credit down to last-minute design decisions. Get it in writing, in your contract, how and where you’ll be credited. If the publisher refuses because they’re trying to pool all the publicity around a single name for branding purposes, they should pay a LOT more money. (Usuallly they’ll realise it’s more cost-effective simply to credit you.)
Translators, who are also generally freelance workers, have almost exactly the same issues regarding credit, and we can pool our voices and make changes the help both professions. Their parallel campaign is called #NameTheTranslator.
The AOI are our allies in helping us vet contracts; members don’t have to accept the first terms we’re given.
The Society of Authors Chief Executive Nicola Solomon, who is a lawyer, goes to publishing houses, and she highlights campaign issues to them. The SoA are more knowledgeable about writing issues than illustration issues but they welcome illustrator input from members.
• Illustrator names on books:
– Cover artwork alone: legible back cover credit is fine
– Occasional small margin decorations: discretional but definitely title page credit
– At least one 1/3-page illustration per chapter: legible front cover credit (visible in an internet thumbnail image used for online bookselling)
• Mentions in ‘artwork reveals’: If the tweet of social media post is specifically about the artwork, they need to mention the person who created that art instead of vaguely attributing it to the writer, if the writer didn’t create it. Very often publishers and writers will have a big moment when they share the artwork for their book cover. This should be a shared moment, not all about the writer. Sometimes publicists and writers will mention the illustrator in a later tweet, but this isn’t good enough; that’s not the tweet that will get shared.
• Inclusion in ‘Advance Information’ or ‘Title Information’ sheets: Your editor will send out publicity material about the book to reviewers, and if the book’s illustrated, your name should be mentioned prominently in this. If your publisher is printing up an uncorrected proof copy of your book to send to reviewers, you should be credited as you would for the final book. Fiona Noble at The Bookseller is a great ally in this; she gets very tired of editors who make her dig to find out who the illustrators are so she can promote their books: your name is basic information. If you worry you won’t be included, ask for it in writing in your contract.
• Inclusion on award websites and ceremonies: If you illustrated a book and it’s up for an award, your name should be listed along with the writer’s name. If we spot illustrators being left out of awards lists, we can help each other by pointing this out on social media. Very often the organisers haven’t even thought about it, they’re using an old template, and they’re fine with adding illustrators’ names.
• Inclusion in reviews: It’s not good enough for journalists to list only the writer’s name and talk about the book’s ‘illustrations’ as if they appeared by magic. Particularly with picture books, your work is central to the appeal of that book. Let’s watch each other’s backs and point out when our colleagues aren’t credited. If the writer’s a celebrity, it’s in publishers’ interests to create a second household name of the illustrator; if they only big up TV celebs and neglect people who dedicate their careers to making books, they’re eating their own industry from the inside.
• Mentions in sales charts: If an illustrated book’s a bestseller, that status may be just as much due to its pictures as to its text. (The Gruffalo is just as much Axel Scheffler’s creation as Julia Donaldson’s.) Our artwork sell books: our names need to be in those sales charts or people will assume we contribute nothing to the economy and are therefore worthless in business terms. (Don’t accept any infantilising views that we’re ‘having so much fun’ we can’t possibly be professional business people.)
• Inclusion in television spotlights: If a TV station is interviewing a writer about our joint book and projecting our artwork all over the screens, we need a mention as that book’s co-creator. By name, not just ‘the illustrator’.
• Inclusion on writers’ websites: If a writer decorates their website with our artwork, they need to credit us, and not let people assume they created it.
• Inclusion in education: To inspire their kids in storytelling, teachers can introduce their classes to both the writers and illustrators who created the books they share with their pupils. If kids are dressing up as characters we created for World Book Day, it’s our artwork they’re alluding to as much as anything the writer’s written. Other teachers can be our allies, the ones who’ve realised how their kids connect with illustration and illustrators.
• The Bookseller magazine now lists illustrators in their children’s book sales charts, and more often mentions illustrators and features interviews with illustrators.
• The Carnegie Medal now lists illustrators along with writers. (The Greenaway Medal had always listed writers even though it was an illustration award). Several other awards have followed suit after campaign pressure.
• Agents tell me they are now able to reference the issue in a concise way, saying ‘Pictures Mean Business’ and publishers understand the context of why it’s important to credit their illustrator.
• Many illustrators, particularly of illustrated fiction books, have contacted me saying that the campaign has encouraged their publishers to include their names on the front covers of their books, or given them confidence to ask.
• More illustrators now understand that they can go directly to their editor if their names aren’t listed with their books on Amazon, and that their editor has the power to change that within 24 hours.
• I see more writers including a mention of their illustrators in cover reveals on Twitter.
• Dealing with staff turnover: publicists, editors and journalists change jobs quickly and new people come on board who aren’t aware of #PicturesMeanBusiness issues. We need to get help at the tops of publishing companies: for publishers to make it clear to new staff that part of their job is properly crediting illustrators, and why that’s important for better business.
• Bibliographic data: not all editors enter their illustrators’ names in the bibliographic data they provide to Nielsen (book data the industry uses widely). This can be easily fixed, it just takes them a few extra seconds.
• Sales data: There’s still no way quickly to check illustrators’ sales data on Nielsen. Subscribers (booksellers, journalists) can immediately find out how money writers’ books are making, but they need to ask staff at Nielsen to do manual searches if they want to know illustrator sales data. If people can’t quickly see how our work impacts book sales, they won’t put economic value our work. Bookshops will display books by writers they know sell well, but may not put out books by illustrators that sell well. (For example, airport bookshops will exclusively stock Julia Donaldson books – she’s a sure-fire seller – but none of Axel Scheffler’s books that he’s done without Donaldson.) We need more people asking Nielsen for automatic illustrator sales data.
• Writer support: We need to keep showing writers how we can support them and make their books sell better, not make them fear we’re trying to do some sort of land grab/ mission creep of rights that will make them lose money. #PicturesMeanBusiness deliberately focuses on positive, achievable goals where everyone (including writers) benefits from illustrator credit, and steers clear of more thorny issues such as copyright or film deals. If we’re left out of credits, it helps so much to have our writer speak up for us. And we can show in various ways that we have their backs, too, by mentioning their names at events, in publicity, etc. Creating a general atmosphere of teamwork can help everyone move ahead.
• Journalist support: Just like writers, it helps if we can get journalists on our side. They’re often freelance and fighting to keep afloat, too. One way of showing goodwill is to use their names when we share their articles. Instead of saying ‘The Guardian says…’ we can use the journalist’s name, or share articles with links that name them.
• General awareness: Keep pushing, let’s stand up for each other. Feel free to use the hashtag #PicturesMeanBusiness to highlight instances where illustrators ought to be credited or where there’s been problem in the past and we can applaud people doing a better job now.
You can read more about the campaign at picturesmeanbusiness.com
Writer-illustrator Sarah McIntyre is instantly recognisable in her pointy specs and hats. She first studied Russian for her BA degree, then ten years later went to Camberwell art college to get an MA in Illustration. She works in a studio in a studio in south London and sometimes writes books for herself to draw and other times works with friends. Her picture books include The New Neighbours, There’s a Shark in the Bath and Dinosaur Police, and she co-wrote and co-illustrated Jampires with David O’Connell. Her longer illustrated chapter books with Philip Reeve include Pugs of the Frozen North, Oliver and the Seawigs, Cakes in Space and Jinks & O’Hare Funfair Repair. She is Varoom’s contributing editor for children’s books, and in 2017 she blogged as BookTrust’s Writer-Illustrator in Residence and you can read her articles about children’s book illustration on their website.
Website & blog: jabberworks.co.uk