So Christmas is approaching and it’s that time of year where parents and grandparents start buying presents for children, often without really knowing what to buy. A nice trip to the local bookstore, or a browse online for something and there’s a mass of exciting looking books ‘written’ by celebrity authors. They must be great right, because they’re famous. So it’s one of those or Roald Dahl, let’s not bother looking at anything else.
Please, just don’t be that person.
I know that I am not alone in being disgusted and angry at this practice. Publishers and celebrities alike can make easy money selling children’s books to unsuspecting or uninformed adults. And if you continue to buy them, then what reason have they to stop? And then what chance for genuine hard-working authors who really care about their craft and their audience? It’s hard enough as it is, please don’t make it worse.
You see, publishers don’t care about your children. All they care about is making money. So don’t for a minute think that because it’s got prime shelf space that it actually deserves it. It’s just an easy sell. But it’s worse than that – it’s actually insulting to the many authors who are desperately trying to swim against this tide. Because it’s not easy to write an excellent children’s book. It’s not something that anybody can do, regardless of whether they tell you it’s always been their dream or not. But the message being given is that it is easy. Not only that, but it can result in genuine authors being further ignored as ultimately parents/children become disappointed with the quality of modern books and return to the ‘classics’. Those classics that of course are also easy money for publishers and bookstores. It’s a self-perpetuating cycle and the publishers aren’t going to try and break it. So please, stop feeding it. Stop encouraging uninspired and sub-standard books from tennis players, TV celebrities and the like. Being good at one thing does not automatically make you good at something else. I’ll say it again, writing an excellent book is not easy. Not everyone can do it.
Before my first book was published I sent my work to many of the big publishing houses. I don’t bother any more. One personal response I got was that I was “the best unpublished author they had read” but also that the economic climate wasn’t right for taking risks at that point in time. Please think about that before you buy a children’s book without even taking the time to at least read some of it. Currently, I am forced to self-publish to get my books out there. And it’s treated as a hobby because I have to do it in my spare time. Yet my first book, Madeleine Goes to the Moon, won one award and was a finalist in the People’s Book Prize, the largest of it’s kind in the UK. But you won’t find it in Waterstones or any other high street bookstore because it isn’t published by a major publishing house. They don’t need me. But I am confident that my book is better than those written by celebrity authors and being bought en masse. I worked hard on it. Parents, teachers, and children alike ‘get it’. Here’s a section I am particularly proud of:
“Earth base this is Madeleine you're breaking up, repeat.
I cannot really hear you but my mission is complete.
The landing was successful and I've had a look around.
The moon is very pleasant but I'll soon be homeward bound.”
Out of context it might not look much, but in the story, Madeleine is pretending to be on the moon, when her dad shouts up to her to ask if she has tidied her room yet (which is what she is supposed to be doing). Madeleine is responding in character, she’s playing, so she is still on the moon and her dad is using the intercom. It doesn’t matter that the response make any sense to her dad. But she’s also moving the story on and her dad has made her realise she needs to ‘go back’ and tidy up. The use of the word ‘repeat’ on the first line isn’t a cheap rhyme, she’s using her intercom in the way that she imagines an adult would (using phrases such as repeat, over and out etc). The point here is that it wasn’t just written down, it was thought about and crafted. And the same is true of the illustrations that were created with just as much care and attention. The end result is that children are there when they have the book read to them. Madeleine is them, they feel like they are in the story. And they want to hear it again and again.
Yes I know this is bitter and I know it is a rant. But the point is that I am not alone. There are many more authors than me, much more successful ones, also disillusioned and disheartened by the current situation. And some of them may well quit. And that is not a good thing. So I ask you again, please think before you buy this Christmas. Buy something you child or grandchild will love. They might thank you for it one day.