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My Job in 5: Vicky Barker

Meet Vicky Barker, art director at b small publishing and award winning illustrator.
Written on 07/19/2023 - 10:21

Describe your role

As art director, my role is to look after the creative side of the business with a particular focus on the books we produce. Sometimes I come up with book concepts then design and illustrate them myself. Other times, I am taking someone else's concept and helping turn it into a great book – this involves finding the right illustrator, supporting any freelancers we are working with and making sure that the end result is a book we all believe in. And it's not all books – I'm often working on sales material, posters, bookmarks or even shop window displays! Our core team is tiny (there are just three of us) so our roles often overlap.


What do you like most about your role?

Even though we're a tiny publisher (or maybe because we are a tiny publisher!), our days are pretty fast paced and involve a lot of juggling. One minute I can be drawing dinosaur poop and the next I'm being called into a busy Zoom with a key US customer. I'll then move on to preparing a detailed brief for a new illustrator or providing feedback on roughs or new title concepts.


Which new projects or titles are you working on at the moment?

Right now, we are adding new titles to our bestselling STEM collection – the next one will be on astronomy! We're also getting ready to promote a couple of excellent non-fiction titles out later this year, one on sharks and another on bodies. Even though we're recently back from Bologna, I'm already preparing the Frankfurt sales material and helping our publisher put together the programme for late 2024 and even early 2025!


What skills do you need for your role?

Design is one of those functions that you don't notice if it's done well. That's why I feel it's often overlooked in the publishing process. You're essentially translating the expectations of the author, editor, publisher and sales teams into something that the consumer/reader will be drawn to and will instinctively understand how to use. Whether that's fiction, non-fiction, picture books or readers – each book has a specific job to do and I have to bear that in mind throughout the process. I've placed that text in a certain way or chosen that friendly blue for a reason! You need good time-management skills, a knowledge of the production process and insight into the market. It's also important to be approachable when working with authors, illustrators and designers – they might be new to the process and need a bit of handholding, or they might be experienced and want to make sure you're hearing what they have to say.


What advice would you give to those looking to work in the industry? 

Having a passion for children's books and design in general is a must. To help convert that into a role at a publisher, I would say it's beneficial to start out with a role as an in-house designer somewhere, if you can. The skills I learned in the first few days of my first in-house job are still skills that I rely on 16 years later in my current role! And don't assume you know how things work – make sure to learn from the people around you.