Children’s Books

I haven’t been very enthusiastic

26 March 2017

I haven’t been very enthusiastic about the commercialization of children’s literature. Kids should borrow books from the library and not necessarily be buying them.

Beverly Cleary

How celebrity deals are shutting children’s authors out of their own trade

23 March 2017

From The Guardian:

Another day, another celebrity announces they are to “pen” a children’s book. Already this week, Jamie Lee Curtis has announced a “selfie-themed” tome, Chelsea Clinton a picture book about inspirational women and the Black Eyed Peas a graphic novel featuring zombies.

They join a slew of celebs cashing in on a burgeoning market. In the past month, model-turned-actor Cara Delevingne, TV presenter Dermot O’Leary and even politician and professional motormouth George Galloway have joined Frank Lampard, Danny Baker, Julian Clary and Fearne Cotton in vying to be the next JK Rowling.

Though publishers are notoriously cagey about money, industry sources say the advances paid to celebrities are considerably higher than the amounts usually doled out to children’s writers, whose contracts are won on talent rather than fame. Which explains the resentment many authors feel towards these incomers.

One prize-winning writer, who didn’t want to be named, left her last publisher after a new media star received a huge advance for a ghostwritten novel that consequently bombed. “The massive advances mean publishers put all their marketing into making these books work in order to earn back the investment,” she says. “So when they fail, not only have they taken money for publicity that could have helped the rest of us, but there is no money left.”

Link to the rest at The Guardian

But, but, curators of culture!

They know not what they say: Why a Guardian article about young readers’ appetite for print may be misleading

21 March 2017

From Melville House:

In the Guardian this week, Sian Cain opens an article called “Ebook sales continue to fall as younger generations drive appetite for print” with this assertion:

Readers committed to physical books can give a sigh of relief, as new figures reveal that ebook sales are falling while sales of paper books are growing — and the shift is being driven by younger generations.

Her numbers come from the Nielsen Corporation, whose data are generally read as closely by publishers as by those driving other media.

. . . .

While it’s true that, as a top-line revenue marker, e-books have declined over the past several years, it is not at all clear that this shift is being driven by innate preferences among younger readers, rather than factors more specific to the particular titles those young readers are buying. Take, for instance, the new Harry Potter book published last year by Scholastic, which Nielsen lists as 2016’s all-around top-seller. If you didn’t get a chance to read it, it was the script of a play, a genre ill-suited for e-books; factor in that many Potterheads probably want their own print copies as collectables, and the fact that this particular title has sold most heavily in print seems less relevant.

In fact, looking at Nielsen’s list of which kids’ books are selling well in print, we find many titles that may be ill-suited suited to electronic reading, from the scrawl-and-sketch-filled Diary of a Wimpy Kid series to the lushly illustrated The Very Hungry Caterpillar. Both are available as e-books, of course, but in both cases it seems likely that consumers are mindful of how much better the content is served by print.

. . . .

 As Andrew Nusca reported in Fortune a year and a half ago, print books are still on the decline as a trend. This doesn’t mean that there won’t be years in which the data seem to say otherwise, but rather that a larger, overall transition from print toward digital remains visible despite them. And an inquiry that excludes consideration of how a given year’s particular titles might work in varying formats is an incomplete one.

Link to the rest at Melville House

Of course, Author Earnings has shown us that traditional sources of industry information for the book business don’t include Amazon’s massive sales of ebooks. The OP from a traditional publisher is an interesting exception to this rule.

Pulling up to a higher level, anyone who has observed groups of teenagers lately will have seen an obsessive attention to their cell phones. The use of iPads and other tablets in many U.S. schools begins during the elementary years. The lack of computer screens and tablets in a school is generally regarded as a marker of a seriously under-resourced school system.

The idea that a screen-native generation will reliably believe that stories should be read on paper seems illogical. Yes, children are intrigued by colorful objects, be they books or toys, at least up to a certain age, but is that a basis for concluding that the future of printed books is anything but bleak?


How a PR man became a giant of children’s literature

3 March 2017

From The Christian Science Monitor:

Two decades before The Cat ever donned a hat, Theodor Seuss Geisel was an oil industry ad man who was also the architect of a wacky navy, named for himself – a sort of PokemonGo of the late 1930s.

On March 2nd, fans will celebrate the 113th birthday of Dr. Seuss, as Geisel is now known, but precious few will recall the Seuss Navy, Geisel’s biggest success as an ad man and the tipping point of his life as he moved from illustrator to children’s author.

It was all about drumming up publicity for a client. “Back in 1935, while working in the ad department of the Standard Oil Company, Geisel was tasked with creating a campaign to launch Esso Marine Lube for the New York International Boat Show that was coming up in 1936,” Bruce Wells, curator for the Oil and Gas Historical Society in Washington, D.C., said in an interview, ” Esso (which still exists in Europe today) was part of Standard Oil which today is part of Exxon Mobil.

Geisel and his colleagues created an interactive campaign that engaged adults in boat races, games, contests, and an annual “Seuss Navy Luncheon and Frolic.” All manner of merchandise and prizes were created by Esso, some of which still haunt eBay today.

. . . .

The pivotal point of Geisel’s PR career came with his decision to generate three, 30-page, Seuss Navy story booklets with rhyming text and his crew of characters, says collector and Seuss expert Gregg Philipson of Austin, Texas, in a phone interview. Geisel later said his experience working at Standard Oil “taught me conciseness and how to marry pictures with words.”

. . . .

So how did Seuss move from doing PR for an oil company to becoming an icon in the field of children’s books? “I would like to say I went into children’s-book work because of my great understanding of children,” Seuss quipped in the Dartmouth interview. But actually, he continued, “I went in because it wasn’t excluded by my Standard Oil contract.”

Link to the rest at The Christian Science Monitor

PG says that far too many of today’s employment contracts would have precluded Geisel from writing or publishing anything derived from his work as an employee.

New study reveals kids prefer old-fashioned books to e-readers and that the majority of children enjoy reading for fun

9 February 2017

From the Daily Mail:

Sorry Amazon, turns out kids these days are rejecting Kindles and other e-readers in favor of reading books the way their grandparents did — in old-timey print.

Sixty-five percent of kids ages 6-17 surveyed said that even though e-books are avaialble to them, they always prefer to read traditional print books, according to a revealing new study from Scholastic and YouGov.

Even out of those who’ve read an e-book in the last year, nearly half (45 percent) said they preferred print, while only 16 percent picked the digital format. The remainder had no preference.

. . . .

 The study also found that most kids enjoy recreational reading, with 58 percent of kids surveyed saying they either loved reading for fun or ‘liked it a lot’ — down just two percent from a 2010 report.

. . . .

Other survey results showed a wide gap between the number of children’s books at home among different income levels.

Households of those earning more than $100,000 averaged 127 books, nearly double those homes where income was under $35,000.

Link to the rest at Daily Mail

Confronting Death with an 8-year-old through Harry Potter

8 February 2017

From LitHub:

Like many eight-year-olds, my son Griff is deeply obsessed with the Harry Potter series. Each night before bed, we used to read about 20 pages of one of the books, and then we would spend a fair amount of time the next day talking about characters and plotlines. Griff spoke of the characters with great affection, made guesses as to what he thought would happen next, and it was nice to have something to talk about other than Pokemon Go.

His first literary crush was Hermione, which I realized only after Viktor Krum takes her to the Yule Ball in The Goblet of Fire. That same night, in the dark, Griff said to me, “Dad, I don’t really like Viktor.”

“Oh, no?” I asked, realizing what was happening.

“I don’t think he’s good enough for Hermione.”

“I guess I don’t think so either,” I told him.

These emotions died down after he became fascinated by Luna Lovegood.

For Halloween, Griff was Neville Longbottom, his favorite character, the person to whom he feels most closely connected. Incidentally, Neville is also my favorite character in the books.

Recently, however, while we were reading the opening pages of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Griff had a meltdown that caused me to question whether we could continue.

. . . .

And so Griff and I started the first book. I immediately remembered something that had up to that point seemed like a minor issue. Harry’s parents were dead. Right from the start, they were stone-cold dead. As parents do when reading books, I edited on the fly. A few pages in, I read, “The rumor is that Lily and James Potter are—are—that they’re . . . missing.”

“They’re missing?” Griff asked.

“Yes,” I told him. “I guess Harry’s parents went missing.”

“Will he find them?”

“I guess we’ll need to read and find out.”

I wish I had not done this. I wish I had talked to Griff about it and tried to decide if he wanted to keep reading. Or, maybe, I wish I had waited until he was older to read the books. But he was interested now, wanted to know how this was all going to turn out. So we moved forward. It took some doing, but I managed to get a few hundred pages into the book with only some creative editing.

One night, Griff stopped me in the middle of some random sentence and asked, “Are Harry’s parents dead?”

“What’s that?” I asked.

“Are they dead?” he asked again.

“Well . . . they are. Yeah, they died.”

“Voldemort killed them?” he asked.


I watched him process this. As a parent, you feel like a failure more often than you feel like a success.

“Okay,” he said.

“Why did you think about that?” I asked him.

“Some kids at school told me.” Several of his friends had seen the movies or were also reading the books.

“Do you want me to keep reading?” I asked him.

“Yes,” he said, though I could tell that he was still processing this new information, trying to work back through the book to figure out what he’d missed, what I’d kept from him.

Link to the rest at LitHub

As celebrity books boom, professional authors are driven out of full-time work

7 February 2017

From The Guardian:

Despite scoring three bestsellers in five years and a clutch of awards, The Spinning Heart author Donal Ryan has been forced to return to his day job in the Irish civil service in order to pay his mortgage.

Ryan has become the latest casualty of tumbling incomes for writers. Despite receiving advances and signing a deal to write three more books with his publisher, the Irish novelist said he had found it impossible to earn a living wage as a full-time writer.

. . . .

Saying his earnings amounted to about 40 cents per copy sold, he told the newspaper he had taken a job in the Workplace Relations Commission.

. . . .

Ryan’s decision came as children’s authors hit out at celebrity children’s books. Tales of Terror author Chris Priestley told the Bookseller that professional authors were finding it hard to compete for advances and shelf space. “It’s a tricky time in publishing at the moment,” he said. “I met a lot of writers last year who were having a hard time and in negotiations they were finding it harder to get the advances they got a couple of years ago.”

Priestley said that while the market was tough for all writers, celebrities were at an advantage competing for book deals. “It seems as though if you’re a celebrity you can just express the idea you would like to do a book – like [radio DJ] Christian O’Connell did on Twitter – and you will get a deal. I still have to pitch my books.”

In the last two years comedians and YouTubers have rushed into the market, some signing six-figure deals, while professional authors’ advances slipped to as low as three and four figures. Adding “children’s author” to their CV are the likes of David Walliams, Russell Brand, Danny Baker, Frank Lampard and Pharrell Williams.

CJ Daugherty, who writes thrillers for young adults, claimed ghostwritten children’s books risked undermining readers’ trust. “We can tell ourselves that readers must know a C-List celebrity, famous for opening makeup boxes on YouTube, isn’t capable of writing an 80,000-word novel,” she told the Bookseller. “But the whole system seems designed to fool people into thinking they are.”

Author and children’s book critic Amanda Craig told the trade magazine: “It’s distasteful [that] celebrities and their agents seem to think publishing a novel is a way to use their brand to make more money and, with the exception of David Walliams, they’re not very good.”

Link to the rest at The Guardian and thanks to Dave for the tip.

Micro-Publishing: An Inside Look at Goosebottom Books

23 January 2017

From Digital Book World:

You’ve probably heard of indie publishers, but have you heard of micro-publishers? Author Shirin Bridges, owner of Goosebottom Books, calls her company a micro-publisher: a professional publishing organization that brings together a flexible workforce to produce a small number of highly targeted books.

Because of the nature of micro-publishers as small, custom organizations, no two are alike. This in-depth look at Goosebottom’s structure and goals can offer insights into the benefits of this new highly flexible option for energetic authors and entrepreneurs looking to reach niche audiences.

. . . .

Goosebottom was created with the goal of producing books for children about females who have found a way to effect change in their communities.

“We run Goosebottom like a co-op,” said Bridges.

The organization does not employ full-time staff members. Instead, trusted professional members come together on an as-needed basis. Bridges noted that she doesn’t pay herself, but the other members of the team receive standard compensation. Authors get advances and royalties, illustrators get either a flat fee or a royalty, and all copy editors and designers get a flat fee.

. . . .

“Micro-publishers can’t compete in the realm of general fiction.” said Bridges. “They have to know their narrow niche.”

Bridges defines the brand as the thinking girls’ series that boys are interested in, too.

The stories produced at Goosebottom Books span various times in history, and the stories come from all over the globe. For example, one series is about real-world princesses, including Hatshesput of Egypt and Sorghaghtani of Mongolia. Another series, called “Dastardly Dames,” includes biographies of iconic women such as Cleopatra and Njinga, “The Warrior Queen.”

. . . .

“There’s recognition out there,” said Bridges. “People see me at conferences and say they recognize the logo.”

. . . .

Goosebottom Books, like publishers of any size, is inundated with queries.

“We get two to three manuscripts a day,” said Bridges. “Though they’d be hard-pressed to know how to find us.”

Link to the rest at Digital Book World

PG knows nothing about Goosebottom Books, its personnel or financial backing.

However, the first thing that popped into his mind when he read the OP was All Romance E-Books.

Goosebottom struck PG (perhaps wrongly) as a hobby, albeit a serious hobby, for most of its participants. There is nothing inherently bad about that type of organization, but is Goosebottom and its books only a hobby for the authors it publishes?

PG quickly scanned the website and couldn’t find anything about the contracts Goosebottom wants authors to sign. He checked out the publisher’s Terms of Use and they were standard boilerplate legalese.

If the same attorneys who wrote the TOU wrote Goosebottom’s publishing contracts, PG would expect the usual (unfortunately) term-of-copyright, all ancillary rights language that most publishers include in their contracts.

This type of language is dangerous enough for authors publishing through well-established traditional publishers. In PG’s astonishingly humble opinion, such provisions definitely should not be in the publishing contracts of small publishers, some of whom will definitely go out of business in either an organized or unorganized fashion before their authors’ copyrights expire.

For small publishers who may read this, what are PG’s alternatives?

  1. The publishing contract lasts for a specified term – three years, five years, seven years, ten years max. At the end of the contract term, the parties can renew the agreement if everybody’s still happy.
  2. The publishing contract is for printed books and ebooks only.
  3. For any other rights associated with the book (games, toys, movies, etc.), the author agrees to negotiate with the publisher if the publisher wants to do something with those rights, but is not required to grant those rights to the publisher.
  4. If any payment of royalties and/or royalty statement is more than 30 days late, the author may immediately terminate the contract on written notice to the publisher and all rights to the author’s books immediately revert to the author.

If an author is writing as a hobby, perhaps he/she may knowingly take the risk of giving his/her stories to a publisher on a wing and a prayer. However, if an author is working towards a career in writing, the author and any publishers with which he/she associates should engage in sound business practices.

Lemony Snicket Spends ‘Unfortunate Events’ Mocking Netflix

22 January 2017

From Inverse:

When author Daniel Handler spoke to Inverse about the inherent difficulty in adapting his Lemony Snicket novels to television, he said “a commitment to literature is always a challenge.” Is the culture of binging streaming TV philosophically opposed to reading books? Because if so, Netflix’s A Series of Unfortunate Events is the first highly bingeable streaming TV show with a very vocal and guilty conscience.

At the beginning of every single episode, Neil Patrick Harris sings directly to the audience and tells them to “look away.” This joke is a direct tribute to the way meta-author Lemony Snicket advised readers to stop reading each of the original novels. In the books, with false earnestness, Snicket would recommend you read a different book, which now has been modified for the medium of streaming television. In the seventh episode of the Netflix series, Lemony Snicket (Patrick Warburton) gets probably his best warning: “If you like stories about children who enjoy pleasant rides in truck beds on their way to colorful destinations where they finally solve the curious mysteries plaguing their lives, that story is streaming elsewhere.”

. . . .

 Still, streaming subscription services like Netflix generally want people to consume more of their product. And that ussually relies on keeping certain plot details a secret. In the third episode, Neil Patrick Harris’s opening song tells the viewer, “Spoiler alert, a villain comes to plot and steal and murder, so if I were you, I wouldn’t even watch one minute further.” The medium of streaming TV is being mocked for sure, but the true target here is the way people talk about shows. Because the entire plot of a show’s season is available more quickly in the streaming model, worries about spoilers have become almost fanatical to the point of absurdity. But, in a move worthy of Kurt Vonnegut, A Series of Unfortunate Events just “ruins” the plot for you, and then dares you to keep on watching.

Link to the rest at Inverse

Never Grow Up

15 January 2017

From Slate:

Why has Margaret Wise Brown’s picture book Goodnight Moon sold upward of 48 million copies? To the adult eye, it’s appealingly illustrated but oddly written, with rhymes that seem improvised and a meter that turns itself off and on. It has none of the virtuoso wit, rigor, or invention of, say, Dr. Seuss. But generations of parents can attest to this little book’s soothing powers. Like most of the hundreds of children’s books, poems, and songs Brown wrote during her short life, Goodnight Moon is less a story than an incantation. It summons a cocoon around reader and listener, a sensation of being pulled out of the hurly-burly of the world into a pocket of charmed tranquility. Amy Gary’s new biography, In the Great Green Room: The Brilliant and Bold Life of Margaret Wise Brown, replicates this spell for adult readers.

Brown was unconventional. The daughter of a well-off importer from a distinguished family (her grandfather was a senator and candidate for vice president), she never married or had children of her own, choosing a free-spirited career in Greenwich Village during the 1930s and conducting a decadelong relationship with a flamboyant society woman who had once been married to John Barrymore. She lived part of every year in the only house she ever purchased, an abandoned quarry master’s shack without running water or electricity, on an island in Maine. Although most of her books feature small furry animals as their heroes, Brown was herself a joyful hunter. One of her favorite activities was “beagling,” in which people, dressed much like traditional fox hunters but without the horses, run through the countryside after packs of dogs chasing down a rabbit.

. . . .

Gary has written the book as an intimate, immersive narrative, closely following the chronological unfolding of Brown’s life and focusing almost entirely on how Brown experienced the events described. Marcus’ book, by contrast, is all context, explaining where Brown fits in the evolution of children’s literature, a field dominated in her day by strong personalities like Anne Carroll Moore, head of the New York Public Library’s children’s department, and Lucy Sprague Mitchell, founder of the innovative Bank Street College of Education, where Brown worked during the ’30s.

At that time, most children’s librarians believed that fantasy, in the form of classic fairy and folk tales, made the best reading for kids. Mitchell and other progressive educators strongly disagreed, arguing for an approach called “Here-and-Now” that represented the world children actually live in. Brown’s own books don’t quite fit the formula of her mentor, but she worked with Mitchell on writing and compiling textbooks and other materials, and wrote and edited titles for a Bank Street–affiliated publishing company.”

Link to the rest at Slate and thanks to Matthew for the tip.

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