Portrait photo in The Bookseller by Dave Warren
Charlotte has written a longer piece, and created a 'Top 10 Picture Book Illustrators' sales chart, which is something very new. Helen Oxenbury has gone from being unmentioned for her role in creating We're Going on a Bear Hunt with Michael Rosen to being listed in her own right as illustrator. You can read Charlotte's article here, Nielsen calls for debate over crediting illustrators.
But the issue's not as clear as we illustrators would like to think, and Charlotte flags some of the complex areas which need addressing:
Last Wednesday, a group of us from the Society of Children's Book Writers & Illustrators met in the Savoy Tup pub in London to discuss #PicturesMeanBusiness, organised by active SCBWI members Candy Gourlay and Mo O'Hara. Carnegie head Joy Court, Charlotte Eyre and I talked with the group about the campaign and we pooled what knowledge people in the room had on the issue so far.
Joy was the first person who made me aware that the data was such a big issue in the Carnegie award listings. One thing I've been learning, and which was strengthened by the discussion was that Nielsen isn't entirely to blame for the problem. When I first came to the issue, it seemed like the main problem was that Nielsen had outdated software and needed to update it; then all the listings would fall into place. But that's only partly true. The other problem is that publishers all have different ways of organising the data they submit to Nielsen (many of their own systems desperately outdate), and Nielsen has to work with what it's given.
Some publishers realise that their illustrators may not get credit if they list them as illustrators, so they list them as authors. (And, in a sense, illustrators are authors in telling the story.) But if they leave the illustrator field blank, then it's tricky to discover who illustrated the book. Other publishers are giving incomplete data, possibly only listing the writer. What's submitted to Nielsen is a big, irregular mish-mash. Since the publishers are paying Nielsen for the data collection service, it's more likely that they can demand things of Nielsen, rather than Nielsen demanding software upgrades from the publishers. Charlotte has been liasing with a contact at Nielsen and said he's been very open and helpful about it.
So we need to look to the publishers to provide more regular data. Digital data may be a boring topic, but it is a BIG DEAL. As more and more processes are computerised, our livelihoods become very dependent on the accuracy and searchability of this data. Amazon are leading the way in organising their data, and because it's so easy to find things on their websites, it's beating out sellers who don't have access to such good data. UK publishers need to up their games so Amazon doesn't take all the sales. (And politicians need to sort out better tax laws so sellers are taxed fairly and equally, but that's another subject, even if it's related.)
At the SCBWI discussion, we asked, how can we encourage publishers provide better data? One suggestion by Charlotte was to try to get publishers to sign up to a charter, agreeing on a standard way of submitting book data. By signing, they would be stating that they submitted a complete set of data to the charter's specified standards (including illustrators and translators). Charlotte said The Bookseller might be able to spearhead this action.
But as Charlotte has pointed out in her article today, crediting is not always clear. We're going to talk more about this in a follow-up discussion on Twitter at 4pm (British time) on the hash tag #FutureChat. Bookseller Associate Editor Porter Anderson will be hosting the discussion, manning @TheFutureBook account. Please do take part if you can!
And I've realised that my #PicturesMeanBusiness updates sprawl over many blog posts, so I've tightened them up on to one page here: www.jabberworks.co.uk/pictures-mean-busi
On that page I talk about:
1. The problem of uncredited illustrators
2. Why it matter and whom it affects (beyond illustrators)
2. How you can help with the campaign
4. Campaign progress so far
And I just spotted that Bookseller Associate Editor Porter Anderson has blogged about WRITERS going uncredited! I can see what he means: there is a lot of 'The Times says...' or 'The Bookseller claims that...' without mentioning the journalist.
Big thanks to writers Candy and Mo for hosting this weeks' SCBWI event!
One wonderful thing from that night was meeting Yat-Hong Chow, who created this book, Yellow as a real family effort. His seven-year-old son, Yü Chow, wrote the text, 'a fictional diary of a seven year old boy', with his dad's help. Yat designed the book, and his wife, Yü's mother, Hannah Kops, created the illustrations. Not every family can do this so expertly, but it's a wonderful example of a family coming together and recognising every aspect of creating a book. What a sense of achievement, to work as a team and create something like that together! (Here's their Kickstarter page.) It felt very much in the spirit of what we'd been discussing that evening.