If you look at the children’s book sales charts, you will notice something about the ones at the top: many of them are highly illustrated. These include picture books, but also books aimed at older children, such as Liz Pichon’s Tom Gates series. Writers are always credited, but illustrators quietly despair as our names get dropped from listings. It’s not an ego issue; making a career in books today relies more and more on branding. If an illustrator’s name isn’t attached to a book, it does little to keep that illustrator in work.
The #PicturesMeanBusiness campaign, which strives to have illustrators recognised by the media, has already achieved the following things: the Carnegie Medal now includes illustrators’ names in listings (the Greenaway, an award for illustration, has always listed writers); The Bookseller‘s sales charts now include illustrators; and The Book People and The Reading Agency have recently amended listings on their websites to include illustrators.
Why does it matter? Books sell because of pictures, not just words. Listings increasingly depend on metadata, instead of someone actually looking at the cover of a book. Awards committees copy and paste data straight onto their websites, and this often doesn’t include illustrators.
Much of the software is clunky and needs updating. If you type my name into Nielsen, you will only see the three books I have both written and illustrated; I’m untrackable as an illustrator, which means I’m worthless in business calculations. Another reason to credit illustrators is we can promote—many of us travel the country doing events. But it’s difficult to feature a book we haven’t obviously co-created. Kids lose a potential hero.
How can we help British illustration survive and flourish? Publishers: be attentive in submitting data! Include the names of your illustrators and translators. For illustrated chapter books, include the name of your illustrator on the front cover. You have no idea how crushing it is when you omit the illustrator’s name; I’ve talked with illustrators who are at career breaking point because of this. Publicists and writers: when you do a big reveal of book cover artwork, say who made that artwork! If a book is illustrated and there is no mention of the illustrator, you are pretending the writer created the art and you will lose that illustrator’s loyalty.
When I talk with book people, everyone voices support for the campaign and a love for illustrators, but many still forget to credit us when it counts. Please join us in raising awareness.
Sarah McIntyre and Philip Reeve have co-authored highly illustrated chapter books, including Oliver and the Seawigs and Cakes in Space