This issue of BfK focuses on why some children’s titles in our crowded market become top sellers. Caroline Horn and Alex Hamilton examine the factors that appear to enable some books to surge ahead of the pack and achieve substantial sales.
Using such unscientific data as our own ‘Good Reads’ column in which young readers review books of their choice, I am always fascinated to see how up to date their choices can be – often the latest titles from such contemporary writers as Philip Pullman, Eoin Colfer, Malorie Blackman, Jacqueline Wilson, Mark Haddon, Lemony Snicket et al. Perhaps the teachers and librarians keen enough to want the young people they work with to have their writing published in BfK will, by definition, be on the ball. Or is it that these days, thanks to the opportunities afforded by the internet (author sites, the Carnegie/Greenaway shadowing scheme etc), young readers are also more easily able to inform themselves?
In our multimedia age, there are multimedia opportunities for the promotion of children’s books and, from the plethora of titles published, one way or another a new form of ‘the canon’ – a core of titles widely known and discussed – is being born. Only this time it’s often generated by huge advances (Eoin Colfer, eg, received a six figure sum for Artemis Fowl, his first book for Puffin) and promotional spends rather than by word of mouth or critical acclaim. As Caroline Horn says of the now bestselling Colfer, ‘backing winners to the hilt produced results’.
But can the climate of hype distort judgements? The air of desperation that can attend promotional campaigns for titles that turn out to be routine or mediocre suggests that it is sometimes hard for an editor not to get carried away at auction time. While children’s book reviewers never did break or make literary reputations in the way their adult counterparts did in the days before multimedia, my hope is that they can maintain the necessary distance from the hype to continue to sort, impartially, the wheat from the chaff.