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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?!'


'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.)


( 24 comments — Leave a comment )
Jul. 18th, 2015 09:52 pm (UTC)
Excellent post, thank you. I wonder whether you'd be interested in writing something on these lines (or just this) for the Awfully Big Blog Adventure? I'd be happy to give you my slot on the 11th.
Jul. 18th, 2015 09:57 pm (UTC)
Thanks so much! I'm actually taking a bit of time off then. I'm very sorry! But feel free to link to my posts from the blog. Here are all of the related articles:
and website: http://www.picturesmeanbusiness.com

Edited at 2015-07-18 09:58 pm (UTC)
Jul. 18th, 2015 10:13 pm (UTC)
Thanks! I may well do that!
Jul. 19th, 2015 08:26 am (UTC)
This is a thoughtful post for me. I don't generally 'sign' websites I make, but am afflicted by a similar problem of people expecting to be able to give me 3 weeks and pay in fairy dust. (What am I saying? They often expect me to bring my own fairy dust!)

In web development though, we have so many people who are so vastly talented that they can give amazing things away for free, and still make a living. But then I suppose illustration has Deviantart. And the existence of Deviantart does not make illustration any less of a valuable commodity.

I need to start at least signing stuff I make and stop being so apologetic about it, I think. Thank you!

The 'next time I'll just make my own' is also familiar, although I think that is actually a healthy thing - if she really does DIY she will get a much better appreciation of the required effort and expertise. One of my main sources of business is people who have tried DIY and decided that actually life is way too short to develop skills in *everything* and that although they can quickly become good enough to make something basic, after that it Gets Hard.
Jul. 19th, 2015 12:25 pm (UTC)
Thank you! Yes, it's not big-headed to put a linkable logo onto a website you build; it's not about ego, it's about continuing your career. It's not an ego-trip to want to keep making a living at what you do!

And yes, that's a very good point about the author in the second anecdote, and DIY illustration. I'm always encouraging people to make their own books. I think there are two sides to that case:

1. I do think she honestly doesn't understand the illustrations in Diary of a Wimpy Kid took any skill, and underestimates the value of a designer in placing those illustrations. Just because a drawing looks simple doesn't mean it doesn't take great skill; often the reverse. I've seen a couple examples of her drawing and she'll have a lot of work ahead of her to learn how to draw, unless she can find a really clever way to frame very naive work (which is possible, a very few people do it brilliantly).

2. Yes, if she tries drawing the pictures and designing the book herself, she may learn a lot about how much effort and skill it takes. That would be a good thing! She may get very good at it over time. But if she's expecting to have a quick success that rivals the work she's already done with her professional illustrator, she may be in for a nasty shock, particularly if she's hoping to live on those earnings in the near future.

Jul. 19th, 2015 08:38 am (UTC)
Great post, Sarah!
Completely agree - I'll push the #picturesmeanbusiness hashtag whenever I can. Thanks.
Jul. 19th, 2015 12:25 pm (UTC)
Re: Great post, Sarah!
Cheers! :)
Jul. 19th, 2015 09:51 am (UTC)
I couldn’t agree more with all that you say.

I think it's worth pointing out that some of the problems you outline come directly from the mechanics of the publishing process.

Before I carry on, here's a full discosure: I work at a Walker Books, a publisher of children’s books (and one that prides itself on having always properly valued the illustrators it works with). I like to think that we’re better than some at avoiding these pitfalls - but I know we slip up too.

Looking at the table you drew – most of a writer’s creative requirements happen before a book has been given an "unbreakable" publication date. And as such they are easy things for an editor to "give" to a writer. By comparison, it is common that a project arrives with the illustrator when the book has already been scheduled. Then there is suddenly a lot of pressure on an editor to "get things moving" and it is easy to see how that can translate into conveniently ignoring an illustrator's needs. This is obviously a bad thing but I wanted to point out how the behavior emerges not so much from ignorance about illustration but from the external presure that a publishing schedule puts on an editor.

This is no justification whatsoever for the way illustrators get exploited, but I think it's worth having a good idea of how these things operate in the publishing business, as it can only help an illustrator when negotiating a publisher’s requests/demands/outrageous assumptions.

Jul. 19th, 2015 12:34 pm (UTC)
Thanks so much for your candour! And Walker are very good at bigging up their illustrators, kudos to them. I think the worst publishers in this are the ones who mostly publish books for adults and do some children's books on the side; it's a different mentality toward authorship and they often don't have the right data mechanisms in place.

Yes, I know what you mean about that 'unbreakable' publications date. (Oh boy, do I know, heh heh.) I think, in the second anecdote I gave, it was probably the sales team at fault, relentlessly pushing that book to publication when it wasn't ready. It could have been a better book, with a happier illustrator, if they'd waited until the next book fair.

My shock came from the writer having no idea that the short deadlines were a bad thing, and could have a negative impact on her book. After all the work she'd put into it, I would have thought she would want the illustrations to be as good as they possibly could be, and that this might take more time. And then when she gave the illustrator almost no credit in marketing the book, I wouldn't be surprised if he thought he'd rather do work on a different, more rewarding series with another writer. She might have got two books out of it because of contracts, but after that, the illustrator could split and she'd be left without a continuing series. The least she could have done was make a big fuss over the illustrator for having put in such a giant effort (sacrificing who knows what) to meet the deadline.

Edited at 2015-07-19 12:37 pm (UTC)
Jul. 19th, 2015 01:24 pm (UTC)
It's interesting to read some things about the illustrators' point of view and I'll be following picturesmeanbusiness more closely. As a translator and now translation manager I have a lot of empathy with illustrators and I wanted to thank you for mentioning translators.

I consider myself to be more of a craftsman than an artist (other translators may well disagree), so I won't ask for more time to be creative and I don't mind working to a tight schedule.

But I whole-heartedly agree with a few other points. I've translated or been involved in the translation of nearly a hundred books and my name has never been on a cover (often not even mentioned in the imprint). All delays the more creative types in the production process accumulate are handed down the line and need to be compensated for by less time in editing and translation. Not that I blame them, most of the time artists have been briefed incorrectly or there hasn't been enough time allocated to them in case something goes wrong. And pay is not exactly good either.
Jul. 19th, 2015 01:32 pm (UTC)
Re: Translation
Thanks so much for your comment! I've had a couple books translated in the past, but this is the first year I've had any major contact with foreign publishers and translators and it's been very eye-opening! In business terms, we're up against some very similar challenges. Unlike in-house editors and designers, we're usually freelance and not paid a salary or given benefits, so we really depend on building up a professional reputation to keep business coming in.

I consider illustration and writing as much as a craft as translation: they're all skills gained through training and practice (often self-training) and none of them happen by magic, each job involves time and hard work. A beautiful translation can make all the difference over one that's merely accurate. (I studied a language as my first degree, so I'm very aware of how much translators need to be aware of subtle nuances, idioms and the sound of language.) A top translator ought to be celebrated, for sure. I just regret than I often don't know how well my books are translated because I can't read them!
Jul. 19th, 2015 01:25 pm (UTC)
There's been a lot of discussion on Twitter; here are a few of the comments. From Bevis Musson:

From Philip Reeve:

From Paula Knight:

Edited at 2015-07-19 01:35 pm (UTC)
Jul. 19th, 2015 05:22 pm (UTC)
I love that graph. "3 weeks" and "fairy dust." So true! I'll be sharing this article with my blog readers.
Jul. 19th, 2015 07:13 pm (UTC)
That's great, spread the word! :)
Jul. 20th, 2015 09:10 am (UTC)
Sarah McIntyre, you are my hero!
What a brilliantly "Written", eloquently put explanation of what misconceptions Illustrators have to work under, AND how undervalued we often are.
I really do hope that your words are absorbed and that the right people sit up and take notice. Unfortunately I have no weight to lend you at present, but when I do I'll add my girl power to the cause.
Thanks so much for being brave and fighting the fight!
Go Go Sarah Mc!!

Edited at 2015-07-20 09:18 am (UTC)
Aug. 20th, 2015 09:55 pm (UTC)
Re: Sarah McIntyre, you are my hero!
Thank you!
Ciaran Murtagh
Jul. 20th, 2015 09:39 am (UTC)
Great Post
Hi Sarah,

A great post and I try and credit and give thanks to my illustrators whenever I can. I think part of the problem also lies in the fact that there is very often a disconnect between writers and illustrators engendered by the publisher.

With my first series of books Richard Morgan was the illustrator. I had no choice in the matter - and I hasten to add I'm very happy with the results! - nor did I have any direct contact with him. I didn't even meet Richard until after the fourth book was published and that was only because I made direct contact and invited him to an event that was happening near where he lived. As a first time author I found that to be crazy! I was collaborating with someone I'd never met nor spoken to, and I did it four times... Even though we were making a book together it very much felt we were separate parts.

Something similar occurred with my second series with Adria Meserve, but at least we met once! On my third series I finally met the illustrator - Tim Wesson - prior to working together, but all of this was at my insistence and instigation. Having had a few books published I felt I had the right and clout to ask! We then had a couple of Skype conversations to chat through ideas and for the first time it felt like a genuine collaborative process. However, all of this was driven by me rather than by the publisher and to a certain extent it felt like I was insisting on creating an extra step to the process where they felt none was necessary.

I think the more publishers encourage a communication between the writer and illustrator the more it will feel like we're all in it together. I don't think there's an agenda or nefarious reason why publishers don't do this- I think it's probably down to deadlines and expediency - but I think building in time in the process for illustrators and authors to at least meet would encourage a closer understanding and appreciation of what both sides bring to the party.

I don't think it's a coincidence that the third series is the one that has sold best - both here and internationally - and feels like the illustrations and text are unified. The lesson here, for me and publishers, is that if you build in that time, even if on the face of it, it costs you time and money, it will pay dividends in the long run.

Hope to run into you again soon along the way!


Aug. 20th, 2015 09:53 pm (UTC)
Re: Great Post
Thanks for your insight, Ciaran!
Jul. 20th, 2015 09:40 am (UTC)
Another very thought-provoking and useful blog post, Sarah.

One thing I find clients (ie. publishers, businesses, the general public) often don't realise is they think they're hiring you to "just" draw pictures for their project, but 90% of the time they don't quite know what they want yet, so the illustrator is not just the person making the finished drawings, but also the person coming up with many of the ideas.

I think this is more valuable than the actual drawing, and is certainly one of the most time-consuming aspects, yet how many clients actually factor that into the cost? A good proportion of them (in my experience) look only at the cost of the time it takes to draw, say, a character, from nose to toes.

Pretty much all my work this year has involved projects where I've had to do so many sketches and roughs until the client saw what they wanted - I had to sit down in front of a blank piece of paper with only a very general brief. Illustration is so often concept creation AND realisation, but the client rarely expects the fee to reflect that - to them (not all of them, I know) it's just the drawings (a big enough process even if they can tell you exactly what they want).

Sorry, rambly comment. Terrific stuff, Sarah :-)
Aug. 20th, 2015 09:53 pm (UTC)
That's so true, so much of the work is concept and back-and-forth debate! And yes, the fee should reflect that. Cheers, Garen! x
Jul. 20th, 2015 03:11 pm (UTC)
I am an author who can draw ... which doesn't mean I can illustrate. I often have people tell me, you should illustrate your own book! I tell them I'm not good enough and the look they give me tells me that they think illustration is just drawing well. Big respect to illustrators, and you don't deserve to be so chronically under-valued . Candy Gourlay

Edited at 2015-07-20 03:12 pm (UTC)
Aug. 20th, 2015 09:55 pm (UTC)
Don't undervalue yourself, either, Candy! :) You definitely picked up some skills when you were doing the cartooning work in the Philippines.
Jul. 21st, 2015 07:30 am (UTC)
Don't forget
Don't forget that many illustrators have their own following and communities. As such, promoting the illustrator may in turn encourage thd illustrator to prote the book much more, which in turn could help book sales. It's a reasonable and equitable marketing technique.
Aug. 20th, 2015 09:55 pm (UTC)
Re: Don't forget
( 24 comments — Leave a comment )


Sarah McIntyre

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