Monday, 18 October 2010

Advice To Aspiring Children's Authors:
(1) The Morris Minor Trap

One of the mistakes aspiring children’s authors sometimes make is that they try to write books like the ones they read and loved when they were children. But publishing, like everything else, is affected by cultural changes and in the course of one person’s lifetime those changes can be very considerable.

This is particularly true of anything to do with children. The whole idea of childhood has been radically overhauled since I was a boy. And a good thing too, in my opinion. The version of childhood that I lived through had some serious design-faults of the seen-and-not-heard variety. Not to mention the physical violence variety. However, that’s another story.

Publishing is also susceptible to minor fluctuations, trends and fads. Children’s publishing in particular is affected by developments in education. If the educational sector suddenly gets in a panic about boys’ achievement and starts looking around for resources to throw at the problem, for example, then books targeted more specifically at boys start appearing in the marketplace. If a celebrity decides they like a certain kind of book, or a certain kind of author, then books of that kind or by that kind of author start appearing prominently in bookshop windows.

You can’t hope to second-guess all this, of course, but you can try not to get hopelessly left behind. Consider the analogy of the Morris Minor.

When I was a child I would go on holiday to Ireland every Summer and my Auntie Bella used to meet me at Sligo station in hers. It was a solidly-built car and it suited my Auntie Bella down to the ground. But then Auntie Bella seldom got out of second gear. An electric window would probably have given her a heart attack.

Now imagine if I were to take it into my head that I could design a new automobile and I went to an automobile manufacturer with the blueprint of the Morris Minor and offered them my services as a designer. Do you think they would snap me up and offer me large sums of money? Probably not.

So if you’re trying to be a children’s writer, it’s a good idea to avoid the Morris Minor trap and the way to do it is to read lots and lots of the latest children’s books. Not the classics. They have their place, of course. They defined the genre. But to gain an understanding of the cutting edge of contemporary children’s books, there’s nothing like reading some.


Elin said...

Ha, I was offered a job in my local bookshop the other day after my pal, one of the assistants there, saw me yet again raiding the new releases in the children's section. He's more into ..I dunno...stained glass or something, so when a girl came in looking for spooky stories he sought me out to help her instead. Do I get commission, Brian, for managing to flog a copy of Nathaniel to her???

Brian Keaney said...

You get my sincere gratitude, Elin. But since my take from a single copy is a mere 60 pence, and since 9 pence out of that 60 goes to my agent, I hope you will forgive me for offering only thanks.
Good news about the job. I review children's books for the same reason. So that I can get to read lots of them.

Elin said...

Funnily enough, not sure I'm going to take the job. I was offered a post as organist up in a wee country church on the very same day, and decided to go for that instead! Also, the bookshop job might make visits for pleasure less fun. I'll keep going up and sticking my oar in now and then though...

Derek said...

Brian, do you think the adage about writing the kind of book you'd want to read also applies in part to the children's / YA market?

Brian Keaney said...

Not entirely, Derek. I would say, imagine reading your book to a group of children in your target age range. Write the kind of book you would like to be able to read to them.