Wednesday, May 21, 2008

A Rising Tide

by Hannah Roveto

A short article in the Wall Street Journal last week caught my eye: Penguin Hires Pair to Lift Children's Unit. Don Weisberg, former president of Random House Sales, was named president of Penguin Young Readers Group. Barbara Marcus, former president of children's book publishing and distribution at Random House, was named Strategic Advisor. Ms. Marcus merely was the person who oversaw U.S. publication of the first six books written by some British woman -- the one about a boy wizard -- anyone recall the title?!

"Children's book publishing has always been strong," said the article, adding it has gained significance in recent years due to the strength of backlists. Hardcover sales are up. The story struck me, because when writers get together, there is concerned discussion about people not reading; about whether work is literary or commercial, where is the line and how much is on what side of the line; what will the electronic book do to print sales; how many titles are out there and how hard it is to be found among the masses; literacy among children and the power of the computer to draw them away from books. All worthy topics. Yet I have gone back to this story day after day, ripped from my newspaper, because it signals a rising tide.

As we all know, no company puts that kind of effort into a strategy unless they're confident it will generate money. In this case, money from books you can weigh in your hand, flip pages, smell the paper and ink. Money from new readers, repeat readers, readers who believe in storytelling that feeds and fires the imagination in a way only a book can deliver. In this case, we are talking about young readers, who will go through those hit titles Mr. Weisberg and Ms. Marcus will find, support and market, and want more the next month, the next year, into their teens and on into hood.

Children who know books love books; children who love books want good books. If there is a good book at hand, they will actually choose to read, even if there is a computer in the house. I promise you this. Maybe they don't spend every spare moment with noses in books, but a good book will be read, its sequel requested, books like it researched, the author followed even if he or she switches genres.

Like us, to be truthful, children have limited reading time, which creates a challenge. They want something worth their investment: a good story, told well. Like us, too, they want something different each time, not the same plots over and over. Soemthing that fits their moods, their interests, their views of the world, their dreams. (As a side note, check out 1001 Books for Every Mood by Hallie Ephron if you're stuck for some good titles, for grown-ups and children.)

This means only good things for writers, no matter whether we write children's or YA or literary or commercial or something in-between. The book is not , it was riding a receding tide and now is making a resurgence. The next generation has found, through comparison, that no matter how interactive and cool the graphics are on a wide screen, a book delivers a unique experience, and a good book delivers one that is unparalleled. So never fear, you there in front of your computer, with your typewriter, keyboard or notebook at hand -- your audience awaits.


Lisa said...

I think, given a choice children very often do prefer a book to the drone of the television, but the love of books has to be instilled early on. This is good news because it makes me believe that more people must be reading to their children. And that makes me smile.

Lynne Griffin and Amy MacKinnon said...

There is a marketing campaign by some energy company where children go online to "get their own polar bear." It is their friend, and to keep it healthy, they need to learn to use certain lightbulbs, use less water, turn lights off when leaving the room, etc. I thought, brilliant! Go straight to the next generation, teach them what they should do in a fun way, and get them to bug any parents who don't listen to all the other marketing messages. Penguin has much the same opportunity to lay a foundation for the future.


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