james rumford: the author’s lament

Spread from Rain School by James Rumford

You must read this eye-opening post by Hawai’i author/illustrator James Rumford.

I call it “eye-opening” because of Jim’s candor. He speaks freely about editor-author relationships, his disillusionment with the lack of creative nurturing by editors, why he thinks so many authors are turning to self-publishing, and ultimately what it would take for publishing to survive.

I share his wish that publishing houses were smaller (like in the old days), “when publishers cared about their authors and considered it important to nurture the fragile egos they had taken under their wing.” At one point, he refers to editors as “bosses,” not necessarily there to be liked, who “sometimes treat illustrators as hired help.”

I admit to being someone who bought into the romantic notion of the old-fashioned author-editor culture, only to be somewhat disappointed that, in my limited experience at least, it was nowhere to be found. Yet it must still exist, since I often read about other authors who love their editors and value them highly. Still, it’s disheartening to hear that Jim, with his enviable track record of creating unique, timeless books, is finding more evidence that such relationships are the exception rather than the rule.

I know that publishing is a business and there are things like bottom lines and profit margins. The oftentimes conflicting interests of art vs. commerce have always been part of the picture. But to me it’s common sense: take good care of your authors and artists; make it possible for them to do their best work. Be ever sensitive to the negative consequences of “art by committee.”  Then everyone stands to benefit.

Any time something gets too big and impersonal (i.e., corporate publishing), there is a price to be paid. This is true in any field, not just publishing. But we’re talking about art here. We already live in a society that may appreciate art, but for the most part doesn’t support and/or value its artists. This has to begin with those who profess to value art enough to devote their careers to disseminating it. We cannot lose sight that human beings make art and human beings have the power to either foster or destroy it. Yes, I know it’s way more complicated and I oversimplify in my idealistic thinking. But, oh, how money corrupts.

Please go read and share your thoughts.

♥ BTW,  I was thrilled to hear Jim’s gorgeous picture book, Rain School, was one of three titles selected for the 2011 Spirit of Paper Tigers Book Set. This means that new copies of the book will be donated to schools and libraries all over the world. A well deserved and suitable honor for a widely traveled, multilingual artist with a lifelong interest in different cultures. Be sure to read Marjorie Coughlan’s excellent interview with Jim to learn more about Rain School, and do visit the Paper Tigers Gallery to see more of his art.

Copyright © 2011 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.