In a nutshell, illustrators get hosed - as a matter of social tradition and institutional failure. Despite being a critical part of the book, they get second-billing, if at all.
McIntyre cites such instances as:
- The Carnegie Medal didn't list illustrators, even though its parallel prize, the Greenaway Medal, listed authors (this has been corrected as of this year, which is great).*
- The Bookseller - the industry trade journal - covered the above sympathetically,... but still, in their routine discussion of children's books, defaults to referring to them by writer only.
- And the institutional failure: Nielsen - the UK's primary source of book data, and the folks that hold the ISBNs - includes illustrators (and many other roles**), but not as a primary field. So when it comes to, say, sorting books by sales... you can't do so by illustrator. And since Nielsen is provides its data to Amazon, Waterstones, etc., that means searches on those platforms come naturally hindered as well.
That latter bit, as you can imagine, is crucial, as it quietly reinforces - and legitimises - the 'social norm' of author-only crediting.
McIntyre's references are largely to children's books, which makes sense - the gross unfairness is most glaringly obvious when it comes to this market. But even, in say, adult genre books, studies have proven time and time again that the cover is the most important means of reaching a new reader - and yet the artist is rarely listed on Amazon or often even the publisher's site.
What can we do?
Again, there are some suggestions in the article - primarily around remembering to credit the artist.
From a publishing standpoint, I suspect this is easier for those of us at small presses. Although I use Nielsen to get my ISBNs (and fill it out as thoroughly as I can), I'm still used to doing most of the book's 'data entry' as part of a platform by platform slog - Amazon, Kobo, my own site, etc. Since I'm doing it manually, I don't actually rely on the Nielsen export all that often. Larger publishers with more titles do this programmatically, so the Nielsen information is 'all'.
And, of course, when making the books themselves - it is about ensuring that the artistic contributors get the attention they merit, with the bios, web links and credit they have earned.
Interestingly - as a reader, I'd really like to find books by illustrator or artist. Being able to search Amazon for all the Joey Hi-Fi covers? Yes! Please! (Right now, he appears for a whopping three items - two from Jurassic and one from Jungle Jim). Jim Kay is a legend, and somehow appears for less than a handful of titles. (The top one, ironically, defaults to the 'adult' ["boring"] edition of A Monster Calls where they don't have his illustrations. A terrible decision on so many levels.)
Which makes this the proverbial situation where everyone could win: retailers, publishers, authors (writer and artist) and readers. One of the benefits of these big data-gobbling retail platforms is that they can support multiple customer journeys. Why would publishers or retailers not provide for this means of discovery? Perhaps we can give them a poke into doing so. Amazon, like most other search engines, tracks customer needs through search volume. So I wonder if we can do them them (and ourselves) a favour by searching for a few of our very favourite artists? Best case scenario, you find a neat book. Worst case, you're telling their algorithm that 'illustrator' is something you care about.
Any other ideas?
*I think this is really important - as I've argued before - awards aren't beholden to anyone. The 'buck stops with them', meaning they have a unique opportunity to be positive role models. I'm pleased to see the Carnegie doing so.
**Including editor and translator.