Are We What You Want?
It’s the season for anniversaries, all right – at any rate as far as children’s book journals are concerned. Both Signal and Children’s Literature in Education have just reached their quarter century and, to our utter amazement, Books for Keeps is 15 years old this month. Why, it seems only yesterday…
In Issue No. 1 (March 1980), Pat Triggs, our founding Editor, introduced BfK thus:
‘Helpful, practical, stimulating, informative, sometimes provocative and always enjoyable to read – this is what we intend Books for Keeps to be. ‘
More than 90 issues on, it’s our intention still. Much has changed in the children’s book world during the last decade-and-a-half, though. We’ve changed, too – but not, we feel, in essence. Are we still meeting your needs? Would you like us to make some adjustments (cost permitting)? Is there any aspect of bringing books and children happily together that you think we neglect?
Now you can have your say.
With this issue comes our first-ever questionnaire, a survey of BfK readers, and their opinions, which should help smooth progress towards our own silver anniversary. Please spare us the time (no more than five minutes in our estimate) to fill it in – mostly by ticking boxes, rank ordering or suggesting how we should allocate our pages. The survey can be returned free of charge to Books for Keeps, FREEPOST, London SE12 8BR and, obviously, the bigger response we get the better. We’d still welcome a reply even if you’re reasonably satisfied with the magazine since it’s important to know this as well. After all, it would be self-defeating to move too far away from a winning formula.
Many, many thanks… whoever you are.
I say this because one of the survey’s purposes is to find out as much as we can about our readership who we suspect, judging by our mailing list, are a pretty diverse bunch. Also, we guess, pretty busy.
Our image of a representative BfK subscriber is someone browsing through the magazine between lessons, or ‘phonecalls or appointments with a rapidly cooling cup of coffee to hand. If we can catch this person’s attention sufficiently to persuade her/him to return to our pages for another, closer look later on, then we’ve done our job. Our advice to new contributors is always the same – remember you’ll be read, at least in the first instance, on the run.
Of course, we know we can’t please everybody. Not all the time, anyway. For instance, BfK was described recently in the Daily Telegraph as ‘an iconoclastic fanzine – a children’s books equivalent of football’s When Saturday Comes – where orthodoxy is likely to be given a rough ride’. Dr Peter Hunt, on the other hand, in that tentative, roundabout way by which academics hedge their bets, suggests ‘a post-modernist critic might well interpret [BfK] as being deeply conservative’. Let’s hope they’re both right. Books for Keeps, after all, is a magazine – in both senses of the word. Aside from our continuing and undiminished commitment to a personal engagement with reading, to intercultural issues, to the fictive aspects of non-fiction and so on, a variety of voice and opinion is very much our aim… and if that leads to the occasional explosion, so be it.
Our chief constraint is space. Alas, we can’t get enough of it. This is why, in the standard 24-page issue we ask you to tinker with, we include advertising. When publishers back us with this, we expand. When they don’t, we contract – and also lose our colour. So, in these tough, recession-bound times, we’re especially grateful to the companies who continue to support us… they help convert our basic, bread-and-butter format into something much more tasty.
But is it to your particular taste? Do, please, take the trouble to let us know. The second page of our questionnaire let’s you play with the range of options – reviews versus feature article, fiction versus non-fiction – which are a standard part of my juggling-act as Editor. I know what my priorities are (most of the time anyway) but do these match your priorities? Beware, though. We’ve set up the questionnaire in such a way that if you double one thing, you halve another which is exactly the sort of constraint that plagues. me every other month. For returns which ignore this real-life limitation, we’ve prepared a special file already. It’s labelled THE CHANCE WOULD BE A FINE THING…
Have fun! And thanks again.