Give Her Credit: Sarah McIntyre Crusades With Class For Book Illustrators

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Sarah McIntyre / Image provided by the artist
Sarah McIntyre and unidentified bird / Image provided by the artist

#PicturesMeanBusiness And So Does She

Sarah McIntyre. Image:
Sarah McIntyre. Image:

Once you break yourself of tweeting to her as @Jabberwocks — she definitely is not Brown University’s dramatically lit all-male a cappella group — Sarah McIntyre is one of the most colorful forces of nature you’ll find in your Twitter stream.

She is @Jabberworks.

And yes, she’s talking to you. She’s attaching the hashtag #PicturesMeanBusiness. She has a spot on her site for the campaign. And she’s asking you to do something. More to the point, she’s asking you to refrain from doing something. McIntyre might like it if you repeat after her:

From now on, I’m not going to buy any new illustrated children’s books unless the illustrator’s name is somewhere on the front cover.

One of the liveliest creatures in children’s books on the London scene, McIntyre is also one of the most serious. She has identified a major problem for illustrators, many if not most of them working, of course, in children’s literature. In an essay for us at The Bookseller, she writes:

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.

Oliver and the Seawigs by Sarah McIntyre and Philip ReeveIn the professional world she’s addressing, she’s an author and illustrator whose comic Vern and Lettuce appeared in The Guardian, and has “at least four highly illustrated chapter books for Oxford University Press” in the works in collaboration with Philip Reeve. Oliver and the Seawigs and Cakes in Space are two of McIntyre and Reeve’s earlier works together.

I like the artwork, myself, on her new Dinosaur Police, out from Scholastic in May. And she has more works on the market.

But it’s not only as an artist that she gets a lot more respect than most women in giddily outlandish hats and 1950s-pointy eyeglasses might normally achieve.

Where Publishers Go Wrong: Care And Metadata

What McIntyre has discovered, the hard way, is that the “metadata” procedures used in publishing today is not capturing and displaying correctly the names of artists other than writers attached to book projects. Nielsen, one of the biggest data-research forces tracking books today, has confirmed this problem: they cannot see an illustrator’s name in the credits on many of these books.

Cakes in Space by Sarah McIntyre and Philip ReeveThis is not just a problem of hurt feelings, as in, “Oh, gosh, they forgot to put my name on the front of the book.” No, this actually means that illustrators are losing business because publishers, editors, designers, and other authors aren’t seeing the names of the people doing the visual work that makes so much children’s literature sing.

Publishing metadata issues are legion, as is. Particularly in the digital dynamic, a book can all but vanish from online sales points if a bad enough metadata-entry mistake is made. (The “drunken intern problem” is the way one metadata-savvy colleague of mine refers to it.)

What’s happening with illustrators’ credits is that as soon as the first omission of an artist’s name is made in the initial entry stage at a publishing house, that book’s ID — the way it’s recognized, listed and sold all they way across the supply chain — is moving without that illustrator’s name attached. And just as a translator is an indispensable component of a translated book’s value, an illustrator is simply not expendable when it comes to declaring who is responsible for the good work that you or your kid or your sister or your brother loves so much.

As McIntyre writes in her essay:

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.

Dinosaur Police by Sarah McIntyreIn short, artists — the very people who make young kids want to read books in the first place (let’s face it, they’re not asking for more text, please, are they? — are the ones who are not being properly credited.

And McIntyre has made headway, she’s not messing around:

The #PicturesMeanBusiness campaign, which strives to have illustrators recognized 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.

But this is not enough. In a recent article, McIntyre is stepping up the pressure by calling for what is effectively a boycott of illustrated children’s books that don’t properly credit their illustrators.

In #PicturesMeanBusiness: Taking A Stand On Book Covers, she writes:

We’re still hitting major hitches: writers, publishers, journalists and reviewers whom you’d think would support crediting illustrators — some of who’ve even heard of the campaign and expressed interest — keep letting us down. Writers and publicists launch new cover art with no mention of the illustrator. Illustrators of highly illustrated books are left off the cover. Articles show lavish book art without mentioning who created it, the list goes on.

Drawing On Your Assistance

Sarah McIntyre, provided by the artist
Sarah McIntyre, provided by the artist

You can help.

  • Do you buy illustrated kids’ books? Check the covers and see if the illustrators are properly credited along with the writers. If not, consider not buying, as McIntyre is doing.
  • If you decide to refrain from buying a book not properly credited, I’d recommend you be sure to get a message to the publisher of that book — at the very least to the retailer to be sure  your action is noticed. (Walk up to the front of the store and show them the problem so they’ll communicate it to the publisher. Or drop a customer service email to your online retailer.)
  • Many are also using the hashtag. #PicturesMeanBusiness. And that’s McIntyre’s vision of Pegasus, the (blue!) flying horse of mythology, just below.

You may be surprised how many people will support your concern and hers in this. There seems to be no sense in having some of our most talented and engaging publishing community workers not credited the right way. If anything, there’s no detectable intent here, either. The technical systems for listing material weren’t set up correctly to handle this. Fixing it takes consciousness raising and it takes people inside publishing stopping, turning around, and working on the data systems that are screwing this up.

And here’s the best part. McIntyre is doing this the right way. She’s ticked off about the issue, yes. But she’s not attacking the people responsible.

Picture-Perfect Agitation

Illustration by Sarah McIntyre

I’ve had a chance to write a couple of articles recently about anger online in the publishing community.

One is here at Writer Unboxed, In Our CyberVillage: So Much Anger.

And the other is here at Thought Catalog, Online Dragons In St. George’s Clothing: ‘Why Wasn’t I Consulted?’

In both these pieces, where advocates go wrong in how they handle issues — and become those “dragons in St. George’s clothing” I’m talking about — is when they stop being angry at the issues and start being angry at other people.

McIntyre is setting a fine example of how to carry on a campaign to get something important changed without demonizing her colleagues. She’s not rude, she’s not hostile to co-workers, she  doesn’t get into your face and tell you off on social media. She gives no ground, but she manages to remember that the problem is the problem and the people are the potential solution.

Pound for pound, Sarah McIntyre is throwing more chiffon, sequins, feathers, and artful insistence at a good cause (who would come out against crediting our artists?) than just about anybody else in publishing. Perhaps you’d like to consider joining her #PicturesMeanBusiness campaign to get illustrators correctly credited for their work.

And I hope you’ll do it as classily as she does. TC mark

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