Back in the days when I worked as a children’s publisher I had the not uncommon experience, when asked at dinner parties and such like what I did for a living, of seeing fellow guests look horrified. One man even went on the attack, asking how I could bear to publish books about ‘Dinky, Twinky and Winky’ and why couldn’t I find a more intellectually demanding job. Colleagues in the children’s books industry, both publishers and writers, reported variants of the following: Q: ‘What work do you do?’ A: ‘I am a children’s publisher/writer.’ Q: ‘If you get good at that, will you be able to move on and publish/write adult books?’ A: (unprintable).
Experimentation revealed that if one said simply that one worked in publishing/was a writer, leaving out the children’s bit, polite interest and respect would be forthcoming. While such attitudes to children’s books were perhaps indicative of our culture’s difficulty in understanding and valuing childhood, does the astonishing success of J K Rowling’s Harry Potter mean that writing for children in general is now more valued and children’s writers better rewarded?
Ms Rowling, according to The Sunday Times, is now c £500 million. With her latest book Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, selling 2,009,574 copies within 24 hours of publication, children’s writers and publishers are perhaps less likely to find fellow guests at social events looking around desperately to find someone more ‘intellectual’ to talk to. The Rowling phenomenon had done much to inspire general public interest in and awareness of writing for children as an activity, at the very least, capable of making a few of its creators very rich.
But while this is all very nice, a survey of 127 children’s writers from the society of Authors reveals that an average author salary is £19,180 with 42 respondents earning less than the minimum wage of £8,827. No wonder there is increasing bitterness amongst children’s writers at the level of discounts demanded by book clubs and supermarkets. Tesco, for example, has been selling Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince below half price. As Mary Hoffman, Chair of the Society of Authors Writers and Illustrators Group, says: ‘…J K Rowling can afford to be paid less. The same is not true for most people.’
Rosemary Stones, Editor