Tuesday, February 21, 2006

One of the toughest markets in the industry

Top 10 List: Why Kids' Bookselling Is Tough - 2/20/2006 - Publishers Weekly

I lost count long ago the number of times that people have said to me, "Oh, you write for children? I've always thought that would be fun to do!" Short deadlines, tight word counts, cranky editors, shrinking market -- yeah, loads of fun.

Writers, of course, write what they love to read, and I do like children's literature, well enough to buy it and read it and keep on buying and reading it even though my son outgrew picture books over a decade ago.

However, one has to be realistic about the market. Books are just one form of entertainment in a child's world that is filled with many more dazzling choices than ever before. Kids seem to arrive in the world these days with their eyes glued to an LCD screen, a cell phone in one hand, and a game controller in the other. Where do books fit in? Bookish parents may instill the love of literature in their kids, but for kids whose tiny vocabularies are compiled entirely from computer games, a medium even more limiting than television, is there any hope that a love of reading will develop?

Kids are only one factor in shaping the children's book market. As the article above spells out, the market is busy shaping itself in the image if Big, Big Business. Chain stores dominate, and what the chain stores don't order soon disappears from publishers' catalogs, even if the independents would like to carry some of the quirkier titles. Some distributors are seeking exclusive contracts with schools, shutting out publishers that they don't carry. Discount stores put the squeeze on small bookstores when they can sell popular books for prices lower than the bookstores pay for wholesale. And with the resurgence of series in the children's market, what is there to tempt a child who is bored with the popular series?

It's a tough market. The realities of business are sometimes nearly enough to make writers forget why they're even trying -- until you remember your favorite picture books, or the looks of your own child's face lit up with pride at reading a book alone for the first time. That's why we keep on toughing it out.


Anonymous said...

"The realities of business are sometimes nearly enough to make writers forget why they're even trying..."

Even though I have been writing for decades...even though I've been published...even though I teach writing, it's still easy (in those moments of creative paralysis) to remember why it is we write. Thanks for the reminder!

Anonymous said...

Too true! Of course, the real reason that most writers write is because we can't imagine NOT writing. It's just what we do.