As children’s publishing becomes more and more dominated by character publishing, television tie-ins, branded series and by the need to constantly subscribe new titles to the trade, the decimation of publishers’ backlists and overpublication of frontlists inevitably continue to the detriment of the industry and of young readers.
The consequences of this situation are particularly bizarre for quality fiction and picture books for whom a long and profitable shelf life might have been predicted – indeed must have been predicted when the inhouse prepublication costings were done.
For publishers it makes little economic sense, after all, not recoup their investment in a particular author or book. Yet the building of a reputation (which takes time and a steady publishing nerve) is nowadays a rare event. Many titles do not make it to reprint let alone paperback publication if originally published in hardback.
For authors and illustrators, this is devastating – by the time their book has been reviewed (and it can take several months for a couple of measly column inches to appear – if they are lucky) it is often out of print. The author/illustrator has no recourse since the publisher can then cite poor sales performance as justification. (Some publishers even have to rush to reprint out of print titles which turn up on the shortlists of the Carnegie and Greenaway Medals.)
Is there a correlation between the general lack of knowledge about children’s books/authors and illustrators amongst book buyers and I mean trade buyers as much as parents, teachers (many of them) and some librarians? When books are so often not reviewed and not discussed, there is no possibility for a shared body of opinion to form – a critical consensus about excellent writing and illustration that may ensure that more titles make it to the backlist and more and new authors and illustrators establish reputations. It can be done – the astonishing success of J K Rowling’s Harry Potter titles is proof of that.
Advice about children’s books has many elements to take into account – age range and reading ability, for example, quite apart from particular passions of the moment and developmental interests. Writers and illustrators also deserve informed critical feedback about their work if they are to continue to develop and grow creatively. At Books for Keeps (which reviews over a 1,000 new books every year) we know that each issue of the magazine is used by many of our readers as a buying guide. We see its role in furthering the critical debate about children’s books and building a shared body of opinion as equally important.