I have a problem with the word 'author'. Well, it's more that I have a problem with how people use it. When I do 'Author's Visits' to schools, teachers will introduce me as an 'author', explain to the children that this means I write books. Then I have to explain to the kids that I write a little bit but, actually, I mostly draw for a living. It's confusing! Yes, I AM an author! And I would still be an author even if I never wrote a word.
Authors are the people who create the book, they're the people who turn an idea into a story. Traditionally the authors are a writer (who writes) and an illustrator(who illustrates). My co-author, Philip Reeve, and I pretty much worked like this on our Oliver and the Seawigs and Cakes in Space books (even though we brainstormed the story ideas together).
But it's not always that straightforward. For example, in making our Jampires picture book, my co-author David O'Connell and I brainstormed the story together and took turns writing drafts to submit to the editor. I created some loose thumbnail roughs, David reworked the compositions and drew the detailed pencil roughs, then I went over his pencil lines and turned them into finished artwork. So it's impossible to say that one person is the illustrator and the other is the writer; we both did both jobs. I think this working method is rather exciting; it let interesting creative things happen that shaped the book. And I think it could inspire kids, by showing them that they can try a bit of everything, they don't have to decide this early whether they want to only write or only draw.
But oh, this can cause PROBLEMS! Because my name is listed first on the book cover, people assume I'm the writer and David illustrated. Which is understandable, being the traditional format. But the thing that makes me SPITTING MAD is that often, because of this, David's name gets left out of listings altogether. I'm deemed the writer so therefore, somehow 'the boss', and his role is seen as less important. A friend told me that a respected journalist explained how he leaves out the illustrators' names because 'the writer is the one in charge'. ...NO WAY! If you want to put it that way, the editor is in charge, or the publisher, or possibly the Sales & Marketing team. The writer often has a lot less 'control' than you'd expect. (Cue loud weeping from writers with terrible book covers.)
If you're buying books and you just see the writer's name on the cover and not the illustrator's, it's misleading. You might assume that the writer also drew the pictures. Or you might assume that the illustrator isn't worth mentioning because his or her role is less important. In some books with minimal illustrations (say, a small picture on the title page), this is probably true; the writing is what conveys the story to you. But in highly illustrated books, this is unfair; you're learning as much about the story from the pictures as you are from the words. ...And the uncredited illustrator feels about this big:
Oddly, in British culture, some people DO actually believe that words are more important and more worthy than pictures. They believe a 'proper book' is one that lets them create all the images in their head, with no picture crutches. They might assume pictures are for children, a means of luring them into the REAL business of reading words.
But think about this: when people read a story set on, say, a distant planet, they still tap into pictures they have been fed from outside sources. If there aren't pictures in the book, readers will conjure up images they've seen in film, on television, in video games, advertising, etc. Their brains might use the text to tweak these images a bit, but people draw their imaginative pictures from images they've already seen. When we give them an illustration, it teaches their mind something new; they have to move beyond what they already know and they gain a new way of imagining something, they can picture a new world. Unusual illustrations can stretch the mind and make the words of a story conjure images that are much more unique to the pictures the readers might have had in their minds with plain text.
So why would people still think a writer is more important? Partly it's a mythology we've created, or even a working uniform, like a boiler suit on a mechanic. We like to think of writers as thoughtful, possibly depressed and alcoholic, but torturing themselves to pull profound truths out of their deep, dark souls.
Illustrators, on the other hand - particularly children's book illustrators - are often thought of almost childlike. People associate drawing with something they enjoyed in childhood, but put aside when they grew up. They like to think of illustrators as children who never grew up, bohemian artists, who dance about a studio splashing paint around and giggling merrily.
Guys... this just isn't true. I know a lot of writers who run around having fun and acting like children, and I know a lot of illustrators who are almost permanently attached to their work desks and computers and suffer back problems and repetitive stress injuries. Everyone's different, and works differently, but everyone's due the respect given to professional adults. And reviewers need to learn how to describe illustrations and how they enhance a story, not rely on stock phrases such as 'bright and colourful'.
This supremacy of the writer over the illustrator most certainly IS a British cultural thing. In France, the illustrator is considered far more interesting, and it's the illustrator who will get mobbed at signings. But the French attitude might not be ideal, either; illustrators find they're expected to draw more and more elaborate pictures on the dedication page at signings, often painted, in full colour. (Gallery-worthy art, really.) It gets so intense that at one festival a few years ago, a lot of French illustrators joined together in refusing to do anything more than sign their name because the expectations were getting so high. This doesn't usually happen in Britain, fans are often surprised to find they get more than a signature. Some children even panic slightly, seeing someone drawing on their book. ('But Mummy, drawing on books isn't allowed!')
But you might correctly point out: a book isn't only made by a writer and an illustrator. There's a much larger team involved. And yes, I'm hoping to see more credits given to people in the production process, starting with the editor and designer. David O'Connell and I made a deliberate point of including the names of our designer (Ness Wood) and editor (Alice Corrie) on the dedication page of our David Fickling Book, Jampires. I suggested it to my Scholastic editors when I was illustrating Superkid and they looked askance at each other and said they didn't think it would be allowed. But I recently suggested it for my upcoming book, and they seemed pleased and said they would include their names.
The only reason I can see authors might not want their editors listed in their books is that, as any aspiring writer or illustrator will know, it's quite hard to find out who the editors are at publishing houses. Even the listings in The Writers & Artists Handbook can often be incorrect because people move around a lot in these jobs. So authors might worry that, if people know the name of their editor, they will mob the editor with their own submissions. This could be a selling point for the reader but not popular with all authors. But... hey! I like to think my editors and I are strong teams, and if I can give them credit, they'll be even more glad about working with me, since people will be able to see their hand in it. The book's created by a team.
The biggest problem with crediting the book to everyone in the whole production team, including the names of the people who printed it in China, is that people can't remember more than two or three names; if you put more names than this on the book cover, they'll all be unmemorable. It's a branding thing. But this isn't a problem in films; you only get the big stars listed at the beginning of a film, but there's a big rolling list of credits at the end. I'd like to see more of this on the page with the ISBN number and all the small print. If someone really wanted to find out about the team, then they could.
So, reviewers, teachers, parents, writers, publishers, all readers: think twice when you say who a book is 'by'. Here's the simplest guide I could come up with for crediting a book:
(You could also say 'words by/pictures by', etc.) I've noticed that a couple of the organisations that used to use the first two styles of crediting books have recently changed their ways and are using the second two styles. I don't think it's something most people do deliberately; it's the sort of thing that when I point it out to them they say, 'Ah yes, well, of course'.
Some writers commit what may be an unintentional crime of putting their illustrator's artwork all over their own website - it's part of their books' branding - but then not crediting the illustrator. This rankles badly. But whenever I mention attitudes toward illustrators on social media, writers fall over themselves to say, 'Oh, but I always credit my illustrator!' or 'But it's not my fault, it's what the marketing team does!' Besides being honourable or chivalrous, crediting an illustrator makes sound business sense. Book publicity is so reliant on events these days, that it's financially silly not to have two people doing the publicity work and traipsing about the countryside to festivals and things. I love working as a team with my co-authors; it's much more fun being on stage with a friend.
I'm lucky that Philip and Dave have worked so closely with me and I love that we're completely in this business together.
Website and blog: www.jabberworks.co.uk