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A couple weeks ago I was exchanging e-mails with journalist Charlotte Eyre at The Bookseller magazine, and was pleased when this article came out, quoting Axel Scheffler, Ted Dewan, An Vrombaut, Simon James and me about how illustrators are disgruntled about being left out of so many mentions of their books.

You can read the full article online, but here's a clip:

It's why I argue that people should say 'writer and illustrator' not 'author and illustrator', since BOTH the person writing and the person drawing are telling the story. Both are authors. (You can read a more lengthy article I wrote about this a few months ago: Why I hate the word 'author'.)

So I was shocked today to read the feature article in The Bookseller, lauding Michael Rosen as the creator of the enduring picture book We're Going on a Bear Hunt with an obvious lack of reference to its illustrator, Helen Oxenbury, although the article used her images. Here's the beginning of the online version (hidden behind the paywall):

And the print version:

The only mention given to Oxenbury was by Rosen, a sentence in his profile next to Eric Carle. Even the listing with selling data should have given a clue, with her name written next to Rosen's on the book cover. But it only mentioned Rosen:

Now, I know this isn't Rosen's doing. He's freely credited Oxenbury at other times with her magnificent achievements in the book, and this Guardian article about the book from 2012 lets Oxenbury talk about her contribution to the book before Rosen. (You can read the full article here: How we made.)

In articles about their books and media mentions, illustrators regularly get left out. You might ask, 'Does it even matter, as long as kids are able to find and read the book?' If I insist on credit for my picture books, am I just being A BIG ATTENTION-SEEKER?

...First, I need to say a few things about the idea of 'recognition' for an illustrator

1. Illustrators do NOT just want recognition because we are insecure and need pats on the back to tell us we're doing a good job.

2. Illustrations do NOT usually care much about being recognised in the street. Very often we are quiet people and would rather go unnoticed while we sketch.

3. Illustrators do NOT usually count trophy cups and television appearances as the pinnacle of our careers. We're much happier when we get a freshly printed copy of our book, open it, and feel proud of what we've done. We're happy when its intended audience gets to read it. We're happy when we get paid enough money to live on.

4. Illustrators are discovering more and more that it's not enough to sit at a desk and turn out beautiful illustrations. In a media world driven by celebrity culture, it's the people who appear on television and national radio who sell the most books. (David Walliams, for example, has a massive head-start on us.) If no one knows who we are, we'll have an awfully hard time making a living. If there's any way we can get a mention on telly or national radio, it really helps sales.

5. Illustrators (sometimes grudgingly) tear ourselves away from the work we most love to take trains and buses around the country to tell people about our work, to 'make a name for ourselves'. We're not doing it to get popular and 'recognised', we just hope enough people will buy our books to let us keep doing this job for a living. We end up working several full-time jobs at once - illustrator, publicist, book-keeper, event organiser - and we get incredibly tired.

6. Most illustrators aren't so-called 'media whores'. But my publicists and I noticed that when I read two minutes of Oliver and the Seawigs on Radio 4 Woman's Hour, our book sales had an absolutely enormous spike. So anyone with business sense will look out for opportunities like that.

7. When illustrators read articles by people in our own book industry - often even people in the children's book industry - who leave our names out of publicity about our picture books and focus solely on the writer, we feel like we're fighting a losing battle if even our own people won't support us.

8. Many illustrators are scared. We don't have pensions so we basically need to do this job until we die, unless we have a mega-hit like The Gruffalo (which almost no one will). But we already get stretched to the limits of our energy and worry we won't be able to keep up when we start approaching the age of Shirley Hughes, Judith Kerr or Quentin Blake. And by then, it won't be easy to switch careers.

'...Well', you say.

'That's a hard lot for you illustrators. But I'm not an illustrator, why should this be important to me?'

1. Book quality: As a reader, you'll get less quality collaborations. If illustrators continue to be left out of book listings, we have no way of advancing our careers. We sadly begin to realise that the only way we can make a name for ourselves is to write our own books. Not every illustrator can write well. I don't believe every illustrator should have to write. I love collaborating with Philip Reeve on my books, but I still feel I need to come up with some solo books or my work will go unnoticed by the media and I won't be able to keep doing this job.

2. Diverse books: Do you want books only illustrated by people who are wealthy enough to do it as a hobby? I'm not sure I could have gotten into my job without my husband supporting me for ten years while I fought my way in. I know a few people who have done it completely alone, without earning partners or trust funds, but most fail, and the few who succeed have gone through financial hell. If we want stories told by a wide range of people (and illustrators tell a story in a picture book as much as the writers), we need to let these people build a public career. You can help by naming both writer and illustrator when you mention the book.

3. Teachers and parents are missing a trick: Children find drawing hugely inspiring. I see time and time again that children who would never write a words-only story will happily pick up a pencil and create a comic strip. I showed Oliver and the Seawigs to a 10-year-old boy who kept reading until he came to the first page without pictures, when he put it down. Why do you think books such as Diary of a Wimpy Kid and Tom Gates are overwhelmingly popular? It's because they have lots of interplay between words and pictures.

4. Business is missing a trick: The Bookseller is full of articles about how the children's book industry is becoming a greater and greater force in sales. Children's books are doing better than any other kind of book. And many, many at the top are books illustrated by Liz Pichon, Axel Scheffler, Martin Brown and his Horrible Histories team, etc.

But... here we come to another huge problem, one which I'm only beginning to understand.

I first heard about it when I queried the Carnegie Medal listing of only writers, not illustrators, on their shortlist. (The Greenaway Medal listing included writers, even though it's an illustration award.) That was a bit of a saga (which you can read about here: The Carnegie Co-Author Conundrum).

The result of my queries was that the prize's chair, Joy Court, investigated and quickly changed the listing. She's a kind-hearted librarian who truly loves books, and she was happy to bring about the change.

Court explained to me that they were following a format that had been used for years and years, and they just hadn't questioned it. But she also mentioned the influence of something called a 'Nielsen listing', of which I'd vaguely heard mention before. It's how the Carnegie committee received Oliver and the Seawigs' information from the publisher, and the information only included the name of the writer (Philip Reeve). When the Carnegie website person plugged the information straight into their website shortlisting, the illustrator got left out. (And Reeve always makes a big deal about us being co-authors.)

Now, this next bit is going to sound like boring business-y stuff. It's information I hardly know anything about. Almost none of the illustrators I know have any inkling of how this all works. But I'm starting to suspect more and more that it can mean life or death to our careers.

Take a look at this part of The Bookseller article:

It wasn't just lazy journalism that left out Helen Oxenbury's name. This article was all about the tracking of how books sell, and while you can instantly find out how Rosen's books are doing on Nielsen BookScan, you can't track how Oxenbury's books are selling, except for the ones she wrote herself.

I've never actually seen a Nielsen BookScan or BookData entry; it's paid-subscription-only, accessed mostly by booksellers, publishers, librarians, agents and book journalists. Here's the Nielsen BookData website:

From what I gather, you can look up sales figures if you do a search for an author's name, or if you do a search for a book title. But you can't get figures by searching for an illustrator's name.

And these easy-to-access sales figures are how business gauge how books are doing, and how they publicise the successes. If the journalist only has information about the picture book's writer, they will publicise that the writer is doing well. Awards will be given to the writer. The picture book writer will get media appearances and invitations to do high-profile events. People will buy the writer's picture books. If the writer does particularly well, certain shops may stock only picture books by that writer, as is the case with airport shops who exclusively stock picture books by Julia Donaldson (because they know from Nielsen BookScan that her books sell well).

So where does that leave Axel Scheffler? He benefits from Donaldson's sales, and it's his work that the buyers are spotting in the shops and gravitating toward. If he works with another writer, his work will be just as high-quality, but the shops may not stock that book because of Nielsen BookData. If Julia Donaldson works with an illustrator who's less popular, the books will still appear in shops, regardless. I love Julia Donaldson and have huge respect for her, but this system isn't fair on Axel, or on any of us.

Here are the UK books I've worked on:

And here are the books my agent tells me that show up if you look for me on Nielsen BookScan:

If no one can see the illustrators' names in listings, no one will know about us to give us awards. If no one can easily access the commercial value of our illustration across all the books we make, no one can assess the commercial value of our career. Our work means nothing to people in business. And illustrators have to be business people. We are not free-spirited fairies who live on dew drops.

Readers don't care about our commercial value - they just want good books - but people who publicise books do. And readers mostly discover books through publicity and the media. We need recognition for our value to business to survive.

My agent (who represents a lot of illustrators as well as writers) joked that the silver lining for illustrators is that, if we're doing poorly, no one knows that, either.

So what needs to change? At least two things would make a big difference:

1. Remember the illustrator. People in the book industry need to remember to list the writer AND the illustrator of a book. If a writer is showing off a book cover, mention the book cover's artist. Awards groups, list both creators, don't default to the writer.

2. It seems to me that Nielsen's software needs updating.

It sounds like Nielsen's had people tell them this, including my agent, and an influential book-industry person who direct-messaged me, but no luck so far.

Which makes me think, why would Nielsen feel they need to change? Apparently it's a monopoly, there are no other book-data systems vying for people's business. So searching Nielsen could possibly run like Amazon, where you can click on either name and turn up all that writer OR illustrator's books, but why would it bother? It doesn't have to worry about its public relations, since there aren't any other options. But as the children's book business is growing in relation to other parts of the business, they might start to find tracking illustrators more important in determining what sells best.

I should add that The Bookseller does care about its PR and getting things right, and its senior editor apologised. I love The Bookseller, subscribe to it, and I know its journalists are working flat-out and make mistakes like we all do. But Nielsen is not being our friend right now in this.

So what are we supposed to do? What can I do, as an illustrator who's all but invisible to Nielsen? Not a lot. But I know a lot of people who care passionately about books, including The Bookseller, The Society of Authors, editors, agents. And some of them might be able to make changes.

So this is a plea to anyone who can help us, please do your part to influence Nielsen.

I'll end with a tweet by Joy Court from the Carnegie prize:


( 40 comments — Leave a comment )
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Feb. 7th, 2015 09:30 pm (UTC)
For more detailed questions about Nielsen's system (including the difference between BookScan and BookData), it's probably best to ask a librarian, bookseller or agent. I don't have access to the Nielsen database so there's an awful lot I don't yet know about it!

Some Twitter comments by Phoenix Yard Books publisher Emma Langley:

Edit Sun 12:47
I've discovered Nielsen even provide all the data Amazon use, which is why a lot of illustrators keep getting left out of Amazon as well. It's Nielsen, not Amazon, who are the source of all these listing problems.

Until Nielsen can fix this (and they've shown no signs of attempting to do it in the past), here's a potential hack for publishers, suggested by @La_Lynne on Twitter (read full size here):

Edit Mon 13:20

Follow-up blog post from publisher Jared Shurin, who works outside of children's books and has some experience using the Nielsen database:

Update: I've corresponded with my agent, who wants to look into it, and tweeted with @Soc_of_Authors, so we're getting the ball rolling. Feel free to chime in with your experience! This system is such a mystery to most of us.

Edit Fri, 13 Feb 14:45

Yay! This apology printed in today's copy of The Bookseller. (Tweeted by @childrensbookil.)

Edited at 2015-02-13 02:45 pm (UTC)
Sue Eves
Feb. 7th, 2015 09:53 pm (UTC)
How about listing the illustrator first? With picture book titles, the writer is always listed first - and the Illustrator's name falls away in the listing.

The Quiet Woman And The Noisy Dog by Ailie Busby and Sue Eves
Feb. 8th, 2015 12:12 am (UTC)
Hi, Sue! I'm not sure, that could be even more confusing. At least with the writer first and illustrator second, people have a good idea of who did which job. And there's a lot more blurring between picture books, comics, illustrated chapter books and illustrated books for grownups. But I definitely thinking asking for both writer and illustrator (and translator if it's a foreign edition) to be listed isn't too much to ask.
Feb. 7th, 2015 10:52 pm (UTC)
I think that most of these problems arise from processes and attitudes that arose long ago and have lived beyond their usefulness. The two things that I think have most influence on this are related. They are the prevalence of the concept of a primary creator and the disproportionate value put upon writing. Bibliographic systems were sorted on a primary author before automation supported multiple sort keys. Some current systems do not use multiple sort keys and many users do not bother to exploit them when they are supported so we still see a de facto primary creator. Publishing has long been the preserve of the formally educated and formal education is an academic world that values words more highly than images (or even mathematical symbols). So writers are usually identified as the primary creators of joint works. I speak in broad generalisations but I do not believe that the exceptions to this are sufficiently numerous to invalidate my points. The identification of joint creators as peers would be a good start.

Edited for typo.

Edited at 2015-02-07 10:55 pm (UTC)
Feb. 8th, 2015 12:18 am (UTC)
I agree with you, Theo! And it is a very British thing; in France, people find the illustrator much more interesting.

I think it also sometimes arises from a view that infantalises the illustrator:

Or people who shelve things find the creative process too confusing and oversimplify to include only the writer's name.

But it's time for changes to happen. Children's books are a growing market compared to other books and need to be taken seriously in straight business terms.

(Images taken from this earlier blog post.)
(no subject) - jinty - Feb. 8th, 2015 08:51 am (UTC) - Expand
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Feb. 8th, 2015 01:07 am (UTC)

W P x
Feb. 8th, 2015 03:29 pm (UTC)
Thanks, Woodrow. x
Feb. 8th, 2015 05:03 am (UTC)
I am a junior primary librarian and whenever I read to the children, I always talk about the illustrator too. I read Sir Scallywag and the Golden Underpants this week and we talked about the pictures. They all recognised Korky Paul as the illustrator of Winnie the Witch books. Without such amazing illustrators, the stories would not be nearly as exciting.
Feb. 8th, 2015 03:22 pm (UTC)
The odd thing is, so many people in the book industry seem to think like this, including the journalists in the Bookseller. (One of them came to our Seawigs dinner party in Bologna and he's lovely.) But then they just somehow forget illustrators when they talk business.
Feb. 8th, 2015 09:05 am (UTC)
My first middle grade novel is out this year, and my publisher decided to have it illustrated. When it came to talk about the cover, I was surprised to learn that the illustrator wouldn't get his name on the front too - in fact, he doesn't even get a credit on the title page, only in the small print about copyright. Apart from being unfair on the illustrator, this also struck me as short-sighted, as you wouldn't know the book were illustrated unless you opened it and flicked through, and I'm sure the presence of illustrations would encourage some kids (and maybe adults) to pick it up.

Anyway good luck, I hope you succeed in lobbying Nielsen and others for a change.
Feb. 8th, 2015 03:23 pm (UTC)
That's sad. That story repeats itself a lot. :(
peter bangs
Feb. 8th, 2015 02:27 pm (UTC)
recognising illustrators
No disrespect meant to Julia Donaldson, Phillip Reeve or other writers, but the illustrator has been a primary selling point in every picture book I've bought for my two children. Helen Oxenbury has long been a favourite and her wonderfully evocative illustrations were why I have bought 3 copies of we're going on a bear hunt over the last 10 years. So I hope many people who can help effect a change see this and realise it is important for illustrators and for publishing. Being able to search by illustrator on Amazon has been a real boon.
Feb. 8th, 2015 03:26 pm (UTC)
Re: recognising illustrators
I know what you mean, Peter! So many people tell me this and I'm the same! But I must be talking with a smaller group of clued-in illustration-loving people and that warps my perspective. I still think there's a perception out there that the writer of a picture book is somehow 'in charge', or the boss of the project. And because the illustrations are very child-friendly, and people connect drawing/colouring with their childhood, they seem to infantalise the illustrator and his or her role. ...At least, that's one of my theories.
Feb. 8th, 2015 02:56 pm (UTC)
I am in charge of adding titles to Nielsen for a teeny indie graphic novel publisher, and I have always entered all the creator names as authors. Even when there was a distinct difference between the roles - often with comics there isn't. There's room for three authors, after all :) (which actaully is an issue for books with more than three authors, like anthologies).
Anyway, yes, you can change records, although it's a manual process for Nielsen - you submit the changes and the website says it might take a few days. It's a very easy change to do.
Feb. 8th, 2015 03:29 pm (UTC)
Hmm, I wonder if there's a way it can be streamlined - made automatic - or if publishers just need to accept they need to spend more time feeding in the changes manually. I'm concerned that many won't make the time, and there's no real way for an illustrator to check if he or she has been correctly listed on Nielsen.
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Milk Whiskey
Feb. 8th, 2015 04:28 pm (UTC)
An interesting perspective
I was asked this year to run an "author study" at my daughter's school and I've been gravitating toward author/illustrators to simplify my life. Next week I'll change that, and I'll try to find more ways to engage with the kids on the thoughtful decisions the illustrator is making, as well as the writer. It'll be good for the kids who aren't writers yet to see another way to tell a story. Thank you for shifting my perspective.
Feb. 9th, 2015 08:56 am (UTC)
Re: An interesting perspective
That's great! Thanks for your reply!
Feb. 9th, 2015 01:42 am (UTC)
Royalty Fee payments
Thank you for your article. In my experience (Australia) an illustrated novel is credited with the illustrators name if a royalty is involved. For 'flat fee' work, then your name might or might not be mentioned on the cover and in the lists (often not).
For picture books, two names always.

But there is an imbalance in payment. Often the royalty is split 75%-25%, with the lesser being the illustrators fee for an illustrated novel.
A picture book is nearly always 50%-50%. (I'm talking about unknown names here, not celebrities.)
The fee is never 25% - 75%! The writer always receives 50% or more. The illustrator receives 50% or less. Why not with the heavily illustrated picture books have the pendulum swing the other way, and allow 75% to the illustrator?
Feb. 9th, 2015 09:01 am (UTC)
Re: Royalty Fee payments
That's interesting! In the UK, the percentage a picture book illustrator can vary a bit more, I think. If the writer is a big celebrity, that's different, but if the writer and illustrator are equally known, in my experience, the picture book illustrator will earn a bit more, because it takes the illustrator so much longer to do the work.

In my chapter books with Philip Reeve, everything is 50-50, because we both contribute in various ways to the story and the pictures. Often the writer will get all the money related to film rights (because the illustrations aren't used in the film), but Philip didn't think that was fair (since we both have so much to do with the creation of the story), so we share that 50-50, too.
Feb. 9th, 2015 08:28 am (UTC)
Invisible artists
Excellent article and so detailed. Could be worse, could be a Beano artist. And at least everyone gets their revenge on writes when it comes to movie credits. Kev F
Feb. 9th, 2015 09:02 am (UTC)
Re: Invisible artists
Thanks, Kev. I know, Beano artists have it rough. I've heard the colourists only earn £25 a page, flat fee. :(
Feb. 9th, 2015 10:11 am (UTC)
It's going to take me awhile to absorb this! But for what it's worth, me and my team "Talking Animal Addicts" will ALWAYS value and respect what illustrators do.

I sadly was one of those ignorant readers that didn't always take note of what the illustrator brings outside the picture book space.

I know better now and since I started reviewing books at T.A.A. the illustrators are ALWAYS mentioned are just as part of the review as the author of said book, whether or not they're both author and illustrator.

In fact, I think remember you or another illustrator on Twitter talking about this apparently deepening issue a year or two ago and since that time I make extra sure when I review books I give as meaningful attention to the illustrator when they're not one in the same.

Not just saying the token "These are pretty pictures" but really try to give as much thought and reverence to what you do as illustrators as I do the authors who give awesome turns of phrase, brilliant wordplay, and flawless prose or verse, whether it rhymes or not.

As an author who WISHES more and more he could illustrate, I've never taken those such as yourself can do visually for granted.

This is a bigger issue than what I or any one person or company can improve, but I hope what I do at T.A.A. can at least remind you and others that the majority isn't always right and there are people in your corner who hurt with you.

I made this video out being both inspired and saddened with this ever growing problem that obviously has been bubbling awhile but now is really heating up!


Take care and please don't lose heart,
Taurean J. Watkins
Feb. 11th, 2015 10:17 am (UTC)
Thanks, Taurean!
Feb. 10th, 2015 08:26 am (UTC)
It's why I argue that people should say 'writer and illustrator' not 'author and illustrator'

Thinking about this, I wonder whether "illustrator" isn't equally problematic. One illustrates something that already exists, after all - which cedes a kind of priority to the writer. "Writer and artist" would be better, perhaps?
Feb. 11th, 2015 10:04 am (UTC)
Hi! I agree that 'illustrator' isn't always entirely accurate; sometimes the pictures come first or at the same time as the text, and sometimes the books are wordless. I can see why someone like Shaun Tan might want to be called an artist rather than an illustrator for his book 'The Arrival'. And yes, it does imply a slightly secondary role.

Personally, I don't mind being called 'illustrator' because 'artist' to me is too general a term, and puts me in the same category as fine artists. I don't feel like I belong with fine artists, my art is very applied, and more like design or craft, and business. Telling the story in the best possible way is more important to me than self-expression. I've worked with a lot of fine artists and, to be honest, with a few exceptions, there's usually not the same degree of professionalism. I don't usually enjoy being invited to do 'art events' because they tend to be much more vague and unstructured than illustration events, so they end up taking five times longer to prepare, earn me less money, and I don't know what's achieved by them. At least with the word 'illustrator', people get a general sense of what I do.

I know that's overgeneralising about artists, but I much prefer the world of illustration to the world of fine art, so I'm happy to keep the name. The world of children's book illustration is even more enjoyable; people are generally very kind and encouraging, as well as being creative. (I wouldn't use the word 'kind' to describe the fine art world.)

Edited at 2015-02-11 10:09 am (UTC)
(no subject) - jabberworks - Feb. 11th, 2015 11:20 am (UTC) - Expand
Feb. 11th, 2015 10:55 am (UTC)
Just from the perspective of someone who writes about books, I can't see how you can evaluate a picture book without acknowledging both the writing and the artwork - and the relationship between the two. If you're talking about the longevity of a book like 'We're Going on a Bear Hunt', how can you not take the illustrations into consideration? - The book as a whole has iconic status. I don't think I'm alone in judging a picture book on a slight bias towards the illustrations...?

Now that it's been pointed out to them, I sincerely hope Nielsen Bookscan will reorganise their database. I do think that one of the issues is also the need for more recognition of the importance of visual literacy, especially when it comes to story-telling - and we need more picture books for older readers. It's not just about an emotional response, although that is, of course, very important.

I also think that one way to get illustrators properly recognised as artists is for people to have more access to viewing original artwork - James Mayhew's current exhibition at the National Gallery of Scotland is definitely a step in the right direction...

Marjorie (Mirrors Windows Doors (http://mirrorswindowsdoors.org/wp/))
Feb. 11th, 2015 11:06 am (UTC)
I agree! And it's becoming clear that besides Nielsen fixing their database, publishers also have to be careful to enter all the necessary data, not just fill in the quickest thing possible.
Feb. 13th, 2015 06:25 pm (UTC)
Is middle grade fiction heralding a new era for valuing illustrators?
We live in a visual society, yet we seem to be culturally inclined to value words more highly than pictures. Is it because imagery in all its forms is so ubiquitous that we just fail to see it? Illustration is integral to books for younger readers, yet older kids can be quick to distance themselves from it and by the time they’re grown up, illustration is often looked on as something for younger kids. Changing the way Nielson records data will help with this strange short sightedness, but until we stop seeing the school art room as a road to nowhere, illustration will always be seen as an add-on, despite the valuable and very obvious role it plays in enriching the words and attracting sales.

But all is not lost. The rise in middle grade fiction is heralding an innovative use of illustration that bridges the gap between picture books and the genre driven front cover design for older readers. This is apparent not just in the rise of comic books, but richly illustrated novels where the illustrations and words engage beyond the chapter headers to create an immersive read – see ‘Circus of Thieves’ by William Sutcliffe & illustrated by David Tazzyman, ‘Phoenix’ by S. F. Said & illustrated by Dave McKean and ‘Granny Samurai, the Monkey King & I’ written and illustrated by John Chambers. Are we entering a brilliant new era for illustration and book design?
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Sarah McIntyre

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