Monday, April 2, 2012

Vanity Press For Kids A Bad Idea

Welcome back! I took last week off to visit with some family, but I'm back and ready to go. (Hope you all missed me-a lot!)

Anyway, I started my morning the usual way, scanning the headlines for news stories relevant to the writing industry, when I happened across an interesting blog post from the New York Times, talking about a recent story concerning the surge in the number of parents who choose to self-publish their children's book using a vanity press service. To be clear, these are not books the adults wrote for children, but books written by their own children. And a vanity press service is one which charges a hefty fee to bind and print your finished manuscript so you have a complete book which you can wave in front of your friend's faces and say, "Look, I'm an author!"

Only in this case the published author is actually a child and the 'book' is akin to using your desktop printer, only fancier.


Yet again I am dismayed at the belief that writing is merely a lesson in compiling sentences. Put some words together, some page numbers, maybe some chapter headings and presto! you have a book. This is exactly why I don't care very much for NaNoWriMo. It tends to give people the impression that becoming an author has more to do with the word count than the substance of the words themselves.

This is ass-backwards, in my opinion. If you think compiling words has any similarity to being an author, then you must also mistake a pile of bricks and wood for a finished building.

The art of being a writer is one which is carefully honed, either through time or experience. It is important that you have a good grasp of spelling, grammar and punctuation, but there are a number of famous literary works which are based on the very opposite of this belief (A Clockwork Orange immediately comes to mind, but there are others.)

If you self-publish your child's 'novel' you are sending the message that being a writer is just a matter of putting your name on something and paying someone to make copies of it. This diminishes all writers, including the young writer you are trying to help.

If you believe your child has written a decent book do what all writers do and start submitting it to publishers. Let your child experience a few rejection letters; learn about re-writes and edits; get a better understanding of just how difficult it is to get a book published. Help them understand that being an author is not just a matter of printing up some copies and convincing your friends and family to buy one. Most importantly, teach your child that nothing in life is easy; Everything takes time, hard work and dedication.

Perhaps most especially, being a writer.


Sue Bursztynski said...

I do agree, and yet... Christopher Paolini's Eragon started life as self-published before being discovered by Carl Hiaassen, or so I've read. Who knows what might happen if a parent is proud enough of your work? :-)

I'm speaking as someone who has never gone for either vanity press or so-called "independent" publishing. I agree you need to learn your trade. I learned mine step by painful step, with enough rejection slips to wallpaper a room! In any case, kids are tech- savvy these days. They can publish on- line if they want, without help from Mum and Dad. ;-)

Don Odom said...

There's a line between encouraging your child and over-doing it, although I'm not sure how "thin" the line is! Think of the parents who go to extremes to make their child "number 1" in whatever activity they (or the parents) are interested in. The hyper-competitive worlds of gymnastics and figure skating leap to the mind. So it's really no wonder that parental competitiveness might drift over into writing. What better way to say your child is "best" than by showing off the child's latest "book". If the motive, however, is to produce a keepsake for future generations or simply to encourage the child in his/her creative writing endeavors, there's certainly nothing wrong with that. Looking back I cannot tell you how much I would love to have a book done by my father (who died when I was four years old) when he was a child or my mother (who died when I was 17), to say nothing of earlier generations of my family. Digital innovations provide the possibility for historical snapshots of human existence to continue far into the future, as long as bits and bytes exist - a kind of immortality. Maybe that's what some parents are seeking for their children when they "publish" their child's "book". Or, then again, maybe not.