Illustration campaign enters ‘phase two’

Illustration campaign enters ‘phase two’

Pictures Mean Business (PMB), the campaign co-founded and run by Sarah McIntyre and aimed at boosting recognition in the industry and among the public for illustrators, is moving into “phase two”, with an expanded team and a new website.

Joining author and illustrator McIntyre and her co-founder James Mayhew on the PMB team are illustrators Woodrow Phoenix and Soni Speight. launches today (14th September) with a range of resources for professionals and the public alike.

Though McIntyre acknowledges that much has changed since PMB launched in 2015, she says the campaign still has “so much to do”, adding: “People were coming up to me saying, why aren’t you doing this, or that, and I just didn’t have time, so we needed to expand. [Speight] has been amazing.

“On day one she said she could help, day two she contacted Nielsen, day three she started setting up the website.” McIntyre decided that such a campaign was necessary in part due to this very magazine: she read a 2015 story celebrating The Very Hungry Caterpillar and We’re Going on a Bear Hunt—the only two titles never to have fallen out of Nielsen BookScan’s weekly Top 5,000—which noted ...Bear Hunt author Michael Rosen, yet failed to name its illustrator Helen Oxenbury. (The piece was written, ahem, by this reporter).

There has been a shift in the intervening three years, says McIntyre. “We have editors, agents and art directors coming up to us to say they have changed the way they think about crediting illustrators on front covers, particularly for children’s fiction. Illustrators really care about that recognition, as it’s hard to get industry notice if you’re not on the front [of a book].”

Sarah McIntyre, James Mayhew, Woodrow Phoenix and Soni Speight

Improving the data remains at the forefront of PMB’s wishes. Having illustrators credited on Nielsen BookData feeds, McIntyre says, “works: writers benefit, publishers benefit. If the illustrator is visible in the data, it adds to the searchability and you have the opportunity for, say, a well-known illustrator such as Axel Scheffler pulling up the sales of a new author he might be working with. And the best thing about the data side [of the campaign] is that it’s a solvable thing—it’s not idealistic.”

Nielsen Book Research m.d. Andre Breedt agrees. He says: “The fields are there, it’s just a matter of coding it up [with illustrators’ data], and we can certainly work with publishers to help them with that. What I think is great about [PMB] is that it is a positive campaign; it’s not about haranguing or shaming anyone, it’s about how everybody can work together to help more people buy more books.”

Outside of the data, there is a hearts and minds aspect of PMB with the general readership. McIntyre says: “Even if we solve the industry issues, I think there is a long way to go to change the cultural climate [and show] that the illustrator is just as important as a writer. So, we might be around for a long time.”

McIntyre stresses that how much credit an illustrator should get can vary greatly: “We were talking about copyright and co-authorship, and that raised some hackles [with writers]. I realise that might be too much of a land grab. And there are instances of books that are fully-realised works on their own, with some illustrations as page decoration. But we would say that if there is at least one big illustration per chapter, then the illustrator needs that front cover recognition.”

Ultimately, McIntyre says, “illustration has become a bigger thing in both children’s and adults. There are better production values and the internet is completely image-driven, and much marketing is image-driven. Illustration has more of a prominence than ever, and has become more of a valuable British export. So we’re essentially saying, ‘Hey, we’re good for business, let us continue and build our careers’.”

Illustrated material McIntyre has produced to promote Pictures Mean Business' 'phase two'