Wednesday, September 21, 2005

A Word About the Children's Book Industry

As a big fan of children's books from childhood, I was saddened to discover that many publishers seem not to have met any actual children.

It's a strange phenomenon that I've heard about from friends who were forced into writing for grown-ups. After all, this audience has the distinct advantage of having books selected for them by people their own age.

The rumors of a generation gap seemed disturbingly supported by my short stint as a picture-book writer. A few years ago, I drafted a few manuscripts for my own pleasure and for that of some children I know who liked increasing numbers of stories before bed. Their parents couldn't keep up with the demand, so I thought I'd pitch in.

Clearly, this is a field for professionals only.

"Rhyming books don't sell," said one editor. I wondered if I'd missed the backlash against Dr. Seuss by the kindergarten set when I didn't read the morning paper.

"Children don't like dragons," said another editor. This, too, was a fact of which both I, and many young friends of mine were quite unaware.

I was less distressed that my stories wouldn't be widely available than I was concerned about the people making decisions about what kids have a chance to read.

My favorite picture books -- those by Ron Barrett -- have long been out of print excepting the two about the land of Chew and Swallow. Ron's books are playful and full of puns, visually and verbally, and are a huge hit with both parents and kids for whom I can secure used copies through the internet. I was starting to understand why they had disappeared.

Not all publishers were polite enough to give a reason for rejecting the books, and indeed, I even had one taker. An executive at Scholastic, not in the editorial department, I might add, enthusiastically passed one on to someone who is.

The Scholastic editor informed me, however, that there is nothing really new in it.

See if you agree by reading the story -- and if you don't, please feel free to read it to any kids you happen to know, regardless of age.

For a very different take on the same sort of problems with children's book niche marketing, please see my colleague Richard Gilder's via facilis.

1 comment:

Raoul said...

So true, I have been looking at the children books market and it seems that it is quite a neglected one by publishers. My early guess is that part of the problem has to do with parents not experimenting a lot when it comes to reading with children and 'sticking with the classics'?