Why don't book people credit illustrators?

Why don't book people credit illustrators?

A funny thing happened to this column on the way to #FutureChat.

No sooner had illustrator Sarah McIntyre agreed to join us in our discussion today than my Twitter stream — and The Bookseller's and The FutureBook's — lit up with this:







Credit: This great banner is the work of illustrator Sarah McIntyre.

Give me artwork for #FutureChat and I'll follow you all the way to 4 p.m. London time.

On Twitter, she is @Jabberworks. Not to be confused with @Jabberwocks, Brown University's all-male a cappella group. (I mean, does she look like an all-male a cappella group to you?)

And she is also behind the hashtag #PicturesMeanBusiness.

As soon as I saw the blue of her banner show up on Twitter, I caught wise to one reason -- I think -- that illustrators don't always get the credit they deserve in the industry: they make it look so easy. I'm not kidding, this started appearing within minutes of reading McIntyre's email saying she'd join us today. My Bookseller colleague Charlotte Eyre (pictured) had invited her to #FutureChat at my request because she, Eyre, has written a story in today's edition of The Bookseller on this issue: Nielsen calls for debate over crediting illustrators.

Here's the lead of Eyre's piece:

The trade has welcomed a debate over the lack of recognition for illustrators, but Nielsen — the global measurement company that supplies the charts to The Bookseller — has warned that the issue of gathering data is not clear-cut.

Its comments came after illustrators such as Sarah McIntyre and Axel Scheffler complained of a lack of credit for their work from award organisers and the media, pointing to the fact that their names are omitted from Nielsen BookScan ratings. 

And as a sidebar to that piece from Eyre, we have an opinion piece from McIntyre, Comment: Credit where it's due. She writes:

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 Geenaway, 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.

McIntyre makes her case — and that of many illustrators for whom she speaks — really well. They're lucky to have such an articulate spokes 'strator. 

Guess who doesn't have such a friend in their corner: writers. 

Why I'm not surprised at what McIntyre is up against: #CreditWriters.

For several years now, I've been irritating people from time to time with the hashtag #CreditWriters.

And guess who isn't good at crediting writers: writers.

Writers don't credit writers. 

You think I'm making this up, right? Wrong.

Check your Twitter stream. Go ahead, stick  your disbelieving head into the fire hose: tweet after tweet from one or another writer flies by with the name of a blog post or article... a link to that blog post or article... the site on which that blog post or article appears...but not who wrote the piece. 

Apparently, it's too much to ask writers to notice bylines. Uh-huh. That community of "creatives," as so many of them like to call themselves, while enjoying painting themselves as a world of put-upon, generous, sharing, mutually supportive, ill-treated people, cannot be bothered to notice who wrote something and credit that fellow author, let alone search out that writer's Twitter handle. (Because too many of our media still won't put Twitter handles into bylines like this Porter Anderson / @Porter_Anderson.) These writers can find five seconds to hit the auto-tweet thingie but they can't find five more seconds to add the name or (better) Twitter handle of the writer before they send that tweet.

I call this lazy, I call it callous, and I say such writers are in bad faith: they are not supporting each other: I'm not surprised at the experience of McIntyre and other illustrators.

When I teach courses on writerly use of Twitter at conferences and in other settings, I advise writers to favour the name or handle of an author over the medium in which their story appears. That's right. I'd rather see you credit @xanalter than @NYTimes if you're running out of space in a 140-character tweet. Why? Because the Times doesn't need the credit. The writer does.

McIntyre is better at explaining this than I am. In her commentary for us today, she writes:

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.

Isn't that beautifully said?

There's an industry list-serv I see daily: you'd be amazed (maybe disgusted) with how frequently someone we usually classify as an "industry leader" will engage in a long chain of email debate about a story posted at one site or another...and no one ever takes the time to mention the name of the writer who wrote what they're debating. No, it's just "The Times has an article..." or "The Bookseller is writing..." or "There's a piece from Paris Review..." and off they go. It tells you a lot, I'm afraid, about an Older World's devaluation of the creative corps. And it makes it all the uglier that so many in our Newer World of digital smarties are just as feckless.

Do I have to draw you a picture?

Ironically, when I wrote about the problem of writers not crediting writers at Thought Catalog in If Writers Don't #CreditWriters, Who Will?, my first header was "Do I Have To Draw You A Picture?" And I referenced an earlier piece from Eyre, Children's illustrators say: 'we're undervalued'. At that point, a hashtag on the problem was #IllustratorLove and there was an idea there, from US-born illustrator Ted Dewan, that this lack of credit for illustrators is worse in the UK than the States. You see McIntyre glancing off that angle in today's piece, too:

How can we help British illustration survive and flourish? 

I'm not ready to concede that UK people are more awful than US people. We work really hard at not crediting people properly in the States, and I think we deserve credit for that. But on whichever continent you find yourself, McIntyre has something important to say to you:

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.

So now she's gone and done it. Translators! Book cover artists! Oh, my God, we have to credit all of them? 

Yes. We have to credit all of them.

Otherwise, you can just shut up about writers and other publishing people being generous, sharing souls. So far, we don't look very generous or sharing, do we? No, we look more boorish than bookisn.

Back to that story from Eyre about Nielsen. Here is the company's Andre Breedt, director of Nielsen's UK book research arm, saying that — I'm quoting Eyre — "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...Breedt added "Often the author is also the illustrator, so if you are compiling a chart, do you exclude the author/illustrator and just take data from the illustrator category? Also do you look at just the primary illustrator? There are often multiple illustrators — there is a different illustrator for the front cover compared to the inside of the book."

#CreditNielsen with the difficulty, right? More Breedt:

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.

Did Breedt just say it would be good to have a debate? Well, he's come to the right place.

Join us at 4 p.m. today London Time, 3 p.m. GMT, 11 a.m. Eastern, 8 a.m. Pacific. 

Ms. McIntyre will be the one not singing male a cappella material. She has, in recent hours, however, noted that my first name is also that of the late Porter Wagoner of Grand Ole Opry fame. Buy me a Campari some time and I'll tell you the story of when I was introduced on CNN by a fellow news reader as Porter Wagoner. I'm not kidding.

See you in #FutureChat. Dolly.

This story was written as the walkup to a very knees-up #FutureChat with special guest illustrator Sarah McIntyre on Friday (15th May). Join us Fridays for #FutureChat on topics in digital publishing at 4:00 p.m. London (BST), 3:00 p.m. GMT, 5:00 p.m. Rome (CEST), 11:00 a.m. New York (ET), 10:00 a.m. Chicago (CT), 9:00 a.m. Denver (MT), 8:00 a.m. Los Angeles (PT), 5:00 a.m. Honolulu (HAST).

Main image: #PicturesMeanBusiness by illustrator Sarah McIntyre