Wednesday, February 21

Artwork TK: a jeremaid


While reading through any number of Advance Reader's Copys (ARCs) of children's literature it isn't uncommon to come across a blank page or inset box with the phrase "artwork TK" on it. In the strange patois of publishing and editing the abbreviation TK means "to come", which apparently originated in journalism and is somehow more phonetic than TC.

Today while reading an ARC for review purposes it occurred to me that this practice seems unusually stupid in children's publishing. I get taken to task at home for using the term stupid and idiotic but since discovering this is a common practice in children's ARCs I find it especially so.

Why.

I have always understood that an ARC represents an unfinished work-in-progress, a chance for reviewers, critics, booksellers and assorted by-readers a chance to see a book prior to it's official release. All these books come with disclaimers that they are unfinished, unedited and as such cannot be quoted without final consultation with the released edition. Very well.

But if you are including art, comics, photos and what-have-you into the book, and more importantly, if you are incorporating that art into the book by making specific reference to it in the text, why and how would you expect someone to make an informed opinion without the illustrations? If those illustrations are not important enough for review then they must not be important enough for the book, and that's going to cause me to wonder if they are being used as some sort of diversion for the intended reader, a slight-of-hand to draw away attention from the perhaps flaws in the text or storytelling, or maybe just a lack of faith in the reader's ability to enjoy the book without them.

Would a publisher ever send out an ARC with missing chapters, whole chunks of pages marked "chapters TK" and fully expect reviewers and critics to just accept that they can review the book with what they've been given? Final reviews may be fact-checked for accuracy but do the reviewers ever really go back and double check on the missing pages to be sure they didn't miss something crucial?

I suppose part of this questioning on my part would have come up (or at least not now) if I hadn't been reviewing a book where (I feel) the illustrations were integral to the text and half way through were replaced by pages of TK. I can understand that the artist might not have had them ready in time for an ARC but I'm currently looking at a book where my opinion about its success is partially determined by how well the illustrated pages are carried through to the end. And my review is due before a finished version of the book can be obtained.

Do I review it assuming all is well or take caution and give it more non-committal coverage?

Recently another very good book was released, The Invention of Hugo Cabret, which I had the good fortune to read as an ARC back in November. In its recent release there has been much discussion and praise over this book, deservedly, including an interview with its author on NPR. But the ARC had two whole sections where there was artwork TK, perhaps a dozen pages in all. Given that the book is a mixture of text and art, maybe a 20/80 ratio in 540 pages, that's not a lot of missing art but I did wonder at the time just how crucial they were to the story.

Crucial or not, there were many in the blogosphere who reviewed the book from those ARCs. Here's where I go off on a tangent.

There's an American movie from the early 1970's directed by Francis Ford Coppola called The Conversation. Fantastic movie. In it Gene Hackman plays a surveillance expert hired to follow and record the actions of a businessman who may be plotting to do harm. Said conversation reveals an interesting section of dialog that is buried in background noise and eventually brought to the surface through the wonders of the technology of the time. Things happen, things go haywire, nothing is as it seems. While the text of the conversation was correct there was a single point, a single word, whose shifted emphasis takes everything that came before and turns the entire story on its head.

One word.

If a single word, properly placed, can change the emphasis of an entire movie plot, why shouldn't it be possible for a couple pages of artwork to change the look and feel of an entire book? Did those out in the blogosphere go back after Hugo Cabret was released and double-check the TK sections to make sure nothing crucial was missing from the first time around?

Would a kid enjoy a book without pictures the way were supposed to review them without pictures?

My personal sense is that the publishing industry is moving too fast for itself. Books don't get the time and attention they deserve when it comes to proofreading and fact checking, publishing schedules are cranked up like the bonbon factory from an I Love Lucy episode, and in the end its just assumed that the pictures don't matter to adult readers because, well, they're there for the kids anyway.

I'm one person, one voice, and I'm probably alone in this wilderness, but if the publishers don't feel the illustrations are integral to the book then they shouldn't include them at all, ARC or otherwise.

That's just me you hear barking at the moon. Artwork TK.
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