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pugs of the frozen north: birthday pugs!

Oh my goodness, if 66 pugs make up a dog sled team, I think we have enough for two teams!! Huge thanks to everyone who took the Birthday Pug challenge! (See previous post for details.) I tried to include everyone's; huge apologies if I accidentally left out your pug!


By my Pugs of the Frozen North co-author Philip Reeve (a fart-powered Dartmoor Pugasus)


By Katie (sent by Martin Hand)


By Sam Reeve


By Jonathan Edwards (@Jontofski on Twitter)


By my Jampires co-author David O'Connell (@davidoconnell on Twitter)

Click here for lots more under the cut!Collapse )

birthday pugs



Big birthday, I turn 40 today! I have a zillion things to blog about (I've been in the USA for three weeks) but I'm scrambling to get ready for our first stage performance of Pugs of the Frozen North at the Edinburgh Book Festival on Saturday. (You can see all my upcoming events here.) So detailed blog later. But if you want to give me prezzie (yay, prezzies!), how about drawing a pug for me? Here's one way you could do it:


(Printable version here)

We put 66 pugs into Pugs of the Frozen North and I'm hoping maybe I can get 66 pug drawings, all with their own names, each a member of the sled team. I just got to see the final printed book two days ago, mega-exciting!



A few people have already let me know they've found it in the shops (notably Foyles in Waterloo station). Here are my friends Dulcie and Laurence finding out that the book's dedicated to them, and Katie getting stuck in:



Okay, I'm 40, I'm allowed a reflection moment: I used to wonder how many books - if any - I'd have published when I turned 40 and, not including pamphlets things and mini-comics, I'm up to 19 books, which I'm really happy about. I used to be awful at public speaking and I've gotten better at it. Best of all, I'm getting to work with talented colleagues I really enjoy spending time with, having a laugh and creating things together. I still need to work on time management skills, making the time to see friends and taking time to stay healthy, but I feel like I'm doing what I've always wanted to do. And I'm really excited that people have responded to the #PicturesMeanBusiness campaign; it would be brilliant if illustrators started finding it more feasible to keep working in this profession and the career started becoming more accessible to people from diverse backgrounds.

Ah, one more thing, here's a pug who wanted to be in the dogsled team but who kept failing at auditions. We finally let him in on charm, and you can read the book to find out if the dog sled actually managed to go anywhere. Pugs aren't famous for being agile on ice. (Thanks for the link, Caroline Smith!)

It's great following on Twitter the #PicturesMeanBusiness campaign to credit illustrators and seeing how we're making some progress. (See picturesmeanbusiness.com if you wan to catch up.) But 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.



Why? What's the problem? I don't think most people are doing it deliberately, they're just being thoughtless, or can't be bothered. What I love about children's book world - but what also can trip us up - is that its people are mostly very NICE. They love book-themed cupcakes and photos of puppies and being, well, nice to each other. Everyone can coast on a wave of niceness, never addressing the major issues that have illustrators flailing while often maintaining their rictus grins.

I want to do something that's not exactly nice. But maybe taking a stand will bring attention to the problem:

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. Join me, if you like! By 'illustrated', I'm going to set the standard as 'at least one illustration per chapter'.

'But... but... that doesn't give us any time to make changes!' a publicist might object. 'Books might be send to print a year in advance of publication!' Well, I'll make a concession for one year: I'll buy the book PROVIDING the bookseller puts a Post-it note on the front cover, letting me know the name of the illustrator.



'But... that's kind of ugly!' the publicist might object. Well, yes, it is. Better just to put the illustrator's name on the cover then, right? A quick redesign of a dust jacket might work, before you change the cover to include the illustrator for the second print run.

Publishers: if you don't think the fact a book is illustrated adds any value to a book, or that making people aware of this draws in potential customers, don't bother spending the money to get your book illustrated. And then watch as the illustrated books soar ahead of your books in sales and those other books draw in the so-called reluctant readers, gladdening the hearts of parents and teachers.

(Find out more at picturesmeanbusiness.com and browse the #PicturesMeanBusiness hash tag on Twitter.)
It's great having the support of writers for the #PicturesMeanBusiness campaign: our previous Children's Laureate Malorie Blackman was one of the first writers to support it, Philip Ardagh asks questions when illustrator names are left out of articles featuring illustration, Joanne Harris tweeted a list about illustrators, and of course my co-author Philip Reeve has been right there with it all along. I think it adds extra weight to the arguments when writers fight for us, like we're in it together. When I first started talking about it, writers on Facebook were quick to point out how much they value their illustrators and cover artists.

But even writers who talk about the importance of crediting their team still forget to credit them at key publicity moments. Why do they do this? I think many non-illustrators in the world of publishing are completely clueless about everything related to illustration. They think it's something quickly added on at the end of the book process to make it extra-shiny. But they don't understand what illustration actually involves.



Here are a couple of real-life scenarios (genders may have been changed for anonymity):

Scene one: A writer raved about his new book cover on Twitter, even writing a detailed blog post about how much he loves the artwork and why he loves it. But he forgot to mention the name of the illustrator, much less link to her. Why? There was no lack of space to write that information, he just didn't think of it.

But isn't it obvious, to link illustrations with the person who made them? Perhaps the writer saw it like I do when someone compliments me for my outfit and I just say 'thank you', instead of telling the person who designed each item (because they didn't ask). But I still find it VERY strange when someone compliments a writer on their book cover art and they just say 'thank you' instead of saying 'Isn't it great? It's by Joe Illustrator!' In this case, the person just needed a gentle private reminder and he fixed the blog within minutes. (Funnily enough, I find myself talking a lot about my tailor to people these days when they compliment my dresses.)

Scene two: A publisher got in touch and told me a writer has been asking to have me illustrate her children's book (fiction, with chapters). I had tight commitments to do other work, but I knew the writer a little bit and thought, well, maybe I could do the work in the gap times. I read the manuscript - it was pretty good - and I could see ways I could inject a lot of extra humour into it through the pictures. I wrote back to the editor to find out what sort of deadline I'd have, and she replied, 'One month'. WHAT? Okay, so there's no way I could do that in the gaps. The designer wanted over 150 illustrations so it would've had to have been my full-time job. I wrote back saying I couldn't do it in that amount of time. We wrote back and forth a couple more times and the correspondence took about a week.

I ran into the writer at an event a couple weeks later. We had a chat about the book and I apologised for not being able to illustrate it.

'I can't believe they would only give me a month to do all the pictures', I said, with a rueful expression on my face. To my surprise - and horror - the writer smiled broadly and said,

'But isn't that great?!'

'What...?'

'It means the publishers really want to push my book, to get it out there!' she gushed. 'They're not going to let it sit around.' I gaped at her. This was a writer I knew had spend at least a year, possibly YEARS, preparing this manuscript, taking it to critique groups, crafting it to be just right.

'But it's not fair on the illustrator', I protested. 'Over 150 illustrations in... well, now it's three weeks, not a month'.

'But that's okay,' said the writer. 'He has a really sketchy style and he can just knock them out in no time.'

By this point I was almost on the floor, overwhelmed with grief for this poor illustrator. The writer had NO IDEA how much time and effort that illustrator might be taking to work out the layout with the designer, come up with the looks of the characters, get the drawing compositions right, etc. The illustrator might have to make five painstaking under-drawings of a picture before tracing over it in that 'sketchy' style that looks so effortless.

The book came out, the writer was thrilled with the pictures, which weren't amazing, but still surprisingly good, considering how fast they'd been done. But my heart hurt for the illustrator, I hope he hadn't had any family crises or anything during that time. He must've needed the work very badly to have agreed to that time schedule. The writer proceeded to publicise the book vigourously, never mentioning the illustrator's name unless directly asked.

I made a vow to myself that I would rather change professions before agreeing to work with that writer. And I don't think she ever had any sense that what she'd been saying to me was so horribly offensive. I later heard her saying she might self-publish and illustrate the next book herself because 'Diary of a Wimpy Kid is practically stick figures and that sells well'. ...There are stick figures and there are stick figures. I didn't even know how to respond, in any way that she could understand. If she can pull it off, more power to her, but I have my doubts.

Writers often like to cast themselves in a very romantic light. They tweet about their process, staring thoughtfully out windows, drinking too much coffee, trying to pull something from the depths of their souls. But I think this is sometimes how they understand writing and illustrating:



And they are very wrong. Here's the truth. (And I think much of this also applies to translators.)



But it's not just writers who underestimate what goes into illustration (and translation); publicists are forgetting even to include information that their books are illustrated. Publishers, why bother spending money on illustrations if you're not even going to mention them? Isn't that false advertising? You're either pretending the book isn't illustrated, or you're pretending that the writer made the illustrations. And don't say 'but the illustrator's mentioned on the back cover'. No one looks at the back cover when they're browsing online.

Fortunately we have a #PicturesMeanBusiness ally in Fiona Noble at The Bookseller. Here's her article from this week's magazine. Publicists, people WANT illustrated books. Don't be ashamed of the illustrations, don't forget about them, and certainly don't forget that it was a real person who created them. Writers, remember that illustrating may be a long, thoughtful process, too, and it's worthy of credit.



(Find out more at picturesmeanbusiness.com and browse the #PicturesMeanBusiness hash tag on Twitter.)

some updates

I've just been updating my website Events page (do have a peek!), and SCBWI have just announced that Philip Reeve and I will be keynote speakers at November's conference!



In fact, there will be four keynote speakers, including Jonny Duddle and David Fickling, and there are about twenty other people speaking (some more famous than us) who could easily have stepped in!



SCBWI Conference is such a great opportunity for anyone who's starting out in children's books and wants to find out how to get in deeper, or who's been in the business for awhile and fancies mixing with company, learning some new things and sharing experiences. Here's the programme. The cost of a packed weekend is £220 for SCBWI members, £250 for non-members and you can book here. I've been to several of these conferences and they're a big part of how I got into the business.

Sometimes my books with Philip are called 'middle grade' and Philip hates that term, for good reason. So he's written a new blog post about it, and you can leave comments or tweet your thoughts to him on the subject at @philipreeve1 or leave a comment on our Reeve & McIntyre Facebook page.


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