How The Apprentice Undermined An Entire Industry.
That pompous business show full of over confident twenty somethings that we all love to oggle in disbelief at is back on our televisions. Yes, The Apprentice is back on the BBC at 9pm on a Wednesday night and this series is shaping up to be as cocky and hilarious as ever. This week the task set to the candidates was to write and design a children's book and create an audio CD and when the news was announced, my heart did all the happy excitable dances - finally, a task I can relate with.
But alas, the episode did not go the way I thought it might and actually, it left me and 4723087509237509285 other designers on social media pretty pissed off.
Yes, single handedly in on hour on our tv's, The Apprentice undermined the entire industry with one bee and one dragon/elephant hybrid. The task was to come up with a character, a plot, write a children's book, get some poor designer to illustrate it and have it printed overnight and then sell the stock the following day. This kind of task is frankly, impossible for people that actually work in the industry.
The candidates needed no concept of story structure, book layout, some of them didn't seem to understand rhyming words. They needed no real wordsmith skills, they didn't take their reading audience into account, they had designers, illustrators, sound recordists and printers at their disposal and they had pitches set up with Britain's leading retailers in children's books.
This is not the reality for those of us who do write and illustrate children's books as a living. We do have to get an education to study the structure of books, we do have to learn to write books with no training, we do have to work toward a target market of age groups and genders, we have to write the books, illustrate the books, write the blurbs and the legalities. We have to design the covers, we have to market them ourselves, we are in the hands of the printing companies and we have to work flipping hard to get anybody to take any notice of what we have done. We love it, we love being creative, we love working on a project and seeing it come to life on a book page but my god is it a difficult industry to work in.
You cannot create a quality book overnight. You cannot create a quality story on your first written draft. You cannot create quality illustrations by a quick doodle on an Apple mac. You cannot send a book to print once overnight and have it in your hands tomorrow. And you cannot just walk into Waterstone's and sell them 250 units. This is not reality for the people in the industry and Wednesday's episode was a really poor representation of what we do.
One of the candidates said "it shouldn't be this hard" when things were moving a bit slowly for his liking. But for those writers, illustrators, designers, printers, publishers and agents working in children's publishing, the process of creating a book for our youngest of readers is flippin' hard. It takes teams of people, tonnes of hard work, a lot of rejection but ultimately a lot of fun and creative work and that is why I hoped it would be portrayed in a more sympathetic way.
I know The Apprentice is essentially a reality tv programme and isn't true to life and to work but this episode sorta made the children's book markets look a joke. It made it look like illustrators magically can design an entire book in one night and this is simply not the case. It made it look like easy work, like the job can be done by anyone, that the industry is not in fact as valuable as you might think. This is of course not the case, the industry is invaluable to both the people that work in it and to the children it benefits. The individuals that work in the children's publishing market cannot be replaced, they are talented creative people and the being able to write and to draw is a talent that not everybody has.
My main concern of Wednesday's episode of The Apprentice is the expectations people not educated in the industry might have of the people that work for it. The over night deadlines, the ease of creating a perfect story, the recording of the audio books in one sitting, the illustrating of an entire book in one go, the foot step into the biggest retailers in Britain.
This is not how the industry works. These types of deadlines are unreasonable. This type of work doesn't happen. My only hope is those who do want to commission writers and illustrators either didn't watch this week's episode of The Apprentice or that they don't start believing in unrealistic expectations of an industry full of talented, hardworking, creative individuals.
If you want to watch Wednesday's episode of The Apprentice you can find it on BBC iPlayer here.