What’s selling? Does anyone know?

UPDATE ON OUR WOZA WOZA POEM: Yesterday we got skunked. Not a soul advanced the Woza Woza cause after we added Sandy’s brown-clad creatures. As your host I will take it upon myself to add a 5th line to keep us on track. See what you can do with it and send me some 6th lines. Thanks!

Today I saw something I’ve never seen before,
A sea of cinnamon swirls surfing the forest floor.
Leaves you say? And well you may, but more it seemed to me,
Tiny brown-clad creatures surfed that swirling sea.

Tiny brown-clad creatures wearing leather hats

We’ve settled into a poem told in couplets with hexameter lines (six beats per line) composed in mostly iambic meter. Who wants to add the second line of the new couplet?

Hello everyone,

Let’s have a little talk about the market for books these days. This Wednesday you’ll read an article by our friend Ken Slesarik about a recent experience of his regarding the poetry market. In anticipation of Ken’s piece and the general conversation it will generate, I’ll kick things off today with some notes about picture books.

One of the sites I follow is CCBC-Net, a listserv encouraging awareness and discussion of ideas and issues critical to literature for children and young adults. CCBC-Net members explore a wide range of topics in contemporary literature for youth, including multicultural literature, translated books, outstanding, and award-winning books, equity themes and topics, the book arts and book publishing, and more.

A theme during the first half of November is: A Paucity of Picture Books. I quote: “We can see it on the shelves: fewer picture books are being published. A recent New York Times article (http://www.nytimes.com/2010/10/08/us/08picture.html?_r=1 ) says that the picture book ‘is fading,’ noting that not only are fewer being produced but also stating that fewer parents are turning to picture books, especially for school-age children. But production costs and bookstore sales can’t tell the whole picture book story. During the first half of November on CCBC-Net, we invite you to share your stories and observations about current picture book publishing and its impact on children, schools and libraries, as well as your thoughts on the importance of this singular literary form.”

Normally I read these conversations without commenting on them but now and then I venture forth with an opinion. That was the case here. This is my response.

Regarding a Paucity of Picture Books:

I think there’s more than parental pressure and price involved in the equation for the drop in picture books. There seems to be a societal shift in the nature of what sells. I noticed a change in the way children responded to their picture books between my first title in 1969 (The Boy With a Drum) and my 1980 offering, Detective Bob and the Great Ape Escape. Detective Bob was written with the television generation in mind. The missing ape, which Detective Bob would never seem to see, appeared in every scene. The story was essentially a visual joke that appealed to children raised on laugh tracks and quick solutions.

Now I think we’re suffering from the effects of computer games that demand even quicker solutions, tons of action, and a cacophony of noises. Kids don’t think they’re having fun unless their eyes and ears are being bombarded with a fast and furious stream of stimulation.

Give such children a picture book that doesn’t shout or move, the old-fashioned sort that stimulates their imagination, and I fear that many of them are quickly bored. The buzzword among editors these days is “quiet.” As in, “Loved your story but it’s a little too quiet for today’s market.”

The noisy/action factor may be changing the paradigm so that traditional stories, no matter how finely spun, are being ushered out of the market — in part because of the pressure from schools and parents to achieve at a greater rate scholastically — but also by an electronic industry, which is supported in large measure by those same parents and other adults who tend to shop elsewhere these days for recreational activities for their children.

If you have thoughts or comments of your own, I hope you will share them. Thanks in advance.


10 comments on “What’s selling? Does anyone know?

  1. Good subject David. What bits & pieces I have heard on TV is parents don’t want their children to read “baby books.” They believe their 4-6 year-olds should be reading early chapter books. Also, picture books should be illustrated in bright colors and the content should jump off the pages.

    Mary Nida

    • Good point, Mary Nida. I’m often asked by elementary students if I write chapter books. They ask about other kinds of books, too, but I’d say that chapter books stir the most interest.


  2. Interesting observations, David and Mary Nida. Jane Yolen, famous for “quiet” books, says that they are much harder to place (per recent interviews I’ve read). I’m glad to see marketing approached as a topic here. When trying to sell a book, you have to please so many people who are NOT the intended audience! The agent, the editor, the publisher’s marketing dept., the reviewers and the purchaser, who–for picture books–is rarely the child. Who buys picture books? Parents, grandparents, aunts, librarians, and teachers. Writing something to please them all is a difficult task. My librarian friends and I have looked at recent picture books and asked, “But do KIDS like it?” Some books’ texts contain humor that is above kids’ heads and contain art that does not align with what early education experts know about how the very young perceive their worlds, that is too complex for the advertised audience. Trends come and go, and the advice to write what you are called to write regardless of trends (because the trend will be over by the time what you are writing is published) is solid. If the market isn’t interested today, it may be tomorrow. I hope others will chime in on this topic.

    • Hi Jane,

      Trends do come and go. Also true that manuscripts must endure the scrutiny and critical appraisal of numerous adults that stand between the author and his or her audience, and it may well be that the choir of adult voices isn’t always singing the same tune these days. Lots of opinions about what is likely to sell!


    • Thanks, Mary Nida,

      Looks like an interesting site. I’ll check it out when I get a chance. Thanks for sharing this.


  3. Hi David,

    I got carried away with these Woza possibilities – they are taking the poem to who knows where?
    Something for you to chuckle about …
    Tiny brown-clad creatures wearing leather hats
    In all shades of fun- but weathered and flat.

    trimmed with gold feathers! Can you believe that?

    On which perched miniature rats, cats, and bats.

    Why the leather hats? wondered some startled bats.

    Re: picture books

    I cherish WARM memories of bedtime, curled in bed, reading pictures books, my young children riveted to the words and the illustrations, turning the pages, turning on their imaginations –bonding moments, unforgetable. It would be sad indeed if future generations would be without the joyful experiences ‘quiet’ picture books offer.

    • Cory, you’re on another roll! Thanks for becoming part of the Woza Woza Poem challenge. It will be interesting to see where we wind up by the end of the month!


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