Thursday, July 10, 2008

You Don't Get No Respect

I've often felt like the Rodney Dangerfield of children's book illustrators. So much of it seems like a hush hush situation but I feel like writers get more respect than illustrators when it comes to publishing children's books. I've been in this business for over 20 years. I know the pay isn't the greatest, but I feel like it hasn't improved over the past 15 years! I know that teachers' salaries are not the best and yet they make more then I do. I'm having to do a lot of research, too, that editors seem to not acknowledge as time spent on a project. I find it all so frustrating lately and I hate being so negative about the business, but I'm single and just trying to make a living at what I can do my best at. Even Amazon doesn't give me recognition on a picture book and just gives the author the credit on their site.
I can't do much about what you're being paid; perhaps you should be negotiating harder. ...And stepping up the pay scale in illustration is often a matter of developing a style that's recognizably yours and that builds a fan base. Is yours unique?

In terms of authors getting more respect, I think this is true some of the time, unfortunately. The public understands better what the author does, and tends to credit the author with the generation of ideas for the book. (Often idea generation is the author's, but illustrators also sometimes contribute ideas to a book.)

Let's just recognize right here that the public simply does not understand how much work it is for either the author or illustrator to create even the simplest picture books—which is why idea-generation is where they're laying all the glory.

Now, editors have much less of an excuse. True, editors are sometimes buffered from illustrators by the designer, who may or may not trouble to let the editor know how much work has gone into the illustration. But a thoughtful editor should be able to guess, and moreover should be interested enough in her field to find out.

What to do about this? I'm not sure there is much to do. But artists could make a start on educating people by not just showing finished art on their websites. Giving viewers a sense of how many studies/drafts you went through, the brainstorming you did, will help them to realize that you have a job, not just a pastime.

(And editors face the same thing. Lots of people face the same thing. When the public doesn't have any idea how difficult a job is, they go ahead and assume it's easy. How many jobs do you think of as "easy"?)

Amazon is something you can fix, though. There's a link at the bottom of the page (in the Feedback section) where you can click to update product info. Or you could click on the "any other feedback" link, which allows you to send Amazon a message-- which could include a link to your publisher's website so that Amazon can double-check that the illustrator is who you say it is. Give them a couple weeks to make the changes you've requested.


Bob Schechter said...

Don't illustrators generally get a bigger percentage of the advance, meager as it may be?

For what it's worth, this unpublished picture book writer does not underestimate the illustrator's contribution. So many wonderful picture books have pedestrian or merely okay text, in my opinion, the sort that no one unfamiliar with the illustrations would particularly enjoy hearing read aloud.

In fact, as a writer, I am sometimes frustrated to see the unspectacular texts that get to be part of a beautiful and successful picture book simply because the writer was lucky enough to be hooked up to a brilliant illustrator. I often see beautiful illustrations and think to myself that just about anything I have ever written could make a beautiful book if they assigned me the same illustrator.

And the books I tend to buy are the ones that draw me in with the pictures. Why should I spend $17 for 300 words I can read in the store? I plop down the money for the pictures and to own the right to look at the illustrations whenever the mood strikes.

I'm in awe of what illustrators do. Language is something we can all handle to a certain extent (though obviously there are some who handle it better than the rest), but being able to draw something better than a stick figure is magic that is entirely beyond the dreams of most people.

Anonymous said...

I am one of those lucky writers who was teamed with a brilliant illustrator. If my book does well at all, it will be because of her incredible illustrations. I HOPE she got a bigger advance than I did, because no one of her caliber should have to work for that little. I know it won't help pay your bills, but illustrators get a ton of respect (and awe) from me!

Paul Schmid said...

It would be helpful for any illustrator to now and then glance at a copy of the Graphic Artists Guild's Handbook of Pricing and Ethical Guidelines.

Christine Tripp said...

And the books I tend to buy are the ones that draw me in with the pictures. Why should I spend $17 for 300 words I can read in the store? I plop down the money for the pictures and to own the right to look at the illustrations whenever the mood strikes.

Robert, WOW, what a cool way to look at it, I don't think it has ever really dawned on me before!

Anonymous said...

FWIW, not too long ago somebody (Roger Sutton?) figured out that author/illustrators win the big awards far more often, statistically, than books produced by a separate writer and illustrator. So the "singular vision" thing is probably an advantage and might help this particular illustrator... maybe start working on some projects that are all your own and trying to sell those?

But I think the bottom line is very, very few people in this biz, editors and copyeditors and art directors and so forth included, get enough respect or money. But as EA pointed out, that's true of perhaps a majority of jobs and most avocations, too.

Anonymous said...

With all due respect, since Robert says he is a writer, the notion that "Language is something we can all handle to a certain extent" reflects a broader, popular misunderstanding that children's books are easy to write. Most people cannot handle written language with any elegance or grace, however simple that elegance may strike the reader, it was probably not easy to write as such. Even the most lush illustrations are sometimes created in response to very sparse text, but this does not mean the text was easy to write, nor unremarkable. A simple story is not necessarily unspectacular. I'm sure that you know this of course, as a writer yourself . . . but I thought I'd add it for others who might come across your post. And sometimes, spectacular illustrations would only ever be created because of an elegant and simple story---which left it open in a beautiful way for the artist to interpret. There are definitely pedestrian stories out there accompanied by beautiful art, but for all the hard-working, lyrical writers for children out there who don't illustrate their own books (and might be paired with absolutely brilliant illustrators), they deserve respect too and are very often underestimated and undermined by people who say "the art is beautiful but the story paled in comparison." Sometimes this may be true, sure, but I've seen it said way too often about really beautiful books with deceptively simple stories (key word, deceptive). Clear, evocative, poetic stories (however plain they may seem) are not easy to write well, and can also be accompanied by beautiful art---the two work in tandem sometimes, with incredible results that are not easy to achieve by anyone involved.

Anonymous said...

It sometimes strikes me as unfair that a fiction picture book manuscript may have only taken a week to write but requires months and months of work from the artist. But on the other hand, illustrators are given something to work off--a manuscript--and don't have to face the author's dilemma of trying to come up with an unusual, funny, fabulous story that no one has ever written before.

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