Thursday, April 19, 2007

Are children’s books a girl’s club?

Once again, someone in my hearing has been complaining about the lack of good chapter books for boys, and spreading the idea that this is because most children’s book editors are women.

Grrrrrr.

Most children’s book editors are women; but more important is the fact that most children’s book writers are women, and most children’s book readers are girls.

Don’t make that face, it’s true. The natural response to this point is to submit that for just that reason publishers should be reaching out to boys. Maybe if there were more books for boys, we could get more boys reading.

I’m the last person you’ll find disagreeing with this hypothesis.

But publishers don’t create books, and we don’t create the market that is sometimes less gladiator-vs-gladiator and more christians-vs-lions. Most children’s book writers are women, so publishers have thinner pickings when it comes to manuscripts for boys. And because boys don’t account for as many sales, the manuscripts that we do acquire need to have really strong salability.

I do agree that there could be more chapter books for boys. But it makes me want to knee people someplace tender to hear that I might be the problem.

Let me sing the praises of How Angel Peterson Got His Name, which is a peon to the spirit and ingenuity and immortal brainlessness of boys. It is one of the funniest books ever written, and humor may be light, but it takes genius.

And what about Hoot and Flush? What about Holes and the other wonderful (and under-read) books in the Sachar oeuvre? What about No More Dead Dogs and Crash? What about Joey Pigza and Percy Jackson?

All are books about boys, written by men, and all are manuscripts that I would have cried tears of joy to find in my mail. Feel free to say there should be more books like these. Just don’t go suggesting that female editors wouldn’t recognize them in the slush.

Let me point out something that people who complain about children’s books often seem to forget—the thing that is the underlying ill of the industry, the thing that means we don’t have the gender spread we want, or the lean, mean slush piles we would kill for.

Children’s books get no respect. Because children get no respect.

What that basic truth about our society means is that an enormous part of the population doesn’t think of children’s books as real books, and they come to one of two conclusions:
1) I can do that!
2) I’m better than that!

Think about those two attitudes for a moment. It means that a bunch of people who know nothing about writing are convinced that they, too, can be published. And another bunch of people who perhaps do have some sense of the value and difficulty of literature don’t want to touch kids’ books with a ten-foot pole.

Slowly, and owing in great part to Harry Potter, children’s books’ star is rising. A few more people are thinking of them as real literature. Whether or not adults will ever start thinking of children as real people, I can’t tell.

9 comments:

krw3b said...

Just read your whole blog. Love it.

I'm gonna post your link on my LJ blog, and since you've posted on verla's boards, I expect your readership will shoot skywards.

Yeeha!

krw3b said...

Don't know why I posted on this entry rather than the most recent one. *doink* I guess I just really dug this particular entry.

Spot on.

Anonymous said...

Great post.

Anonymous said...

Of course, publishers create the market. It's disingenuous to say otherwise. You buy what you like, you print what sells, and you market directly to teachers and librarians, who are also mostly female.

Young women with Ivy league degrees who work their way into publishing don't read, don't like, don't sell, don't market books that the average teen male likes. You can name some exceptions, but I've heard your own marketing people say the exact same thing I have dozens and dozens of times.

If you really want to reach out to boys, start hiring male editors who have worked with teens. They will like the books that boys like, and you can go back to editing in denial.

Sherryl said...

Your comment that we do need more books for boys but that they don't sell as well struck a chord. Here in Australia, Penguin has a series for 10-12 year olds called Chomps. Their focus initially was on books that boys would read, but a few of them haven't sold so well. They've been on the lookout for good girl's stories for a while but can't seem to find what they want.
They are, of course, looking for particular kinds of stories with a set word length, but it was interesting to hear that feedback from an editor.

Eric said...

Anonymous at 8:36 PM is dead on.

Anonymous said...

So you think truly good boys' books must be written by men?

Hmmm . . . interesting.

Heard about you on Children's Writer's Update. Keep blogging.

Editorial Anonymous said...

Ok, I knew somebody would think I'd meant that. I most emphatically DIDN'T. Women are perfectly capable of writing great books for boys.
My Side of the Mountain?
Charlie Bone?
Twisted?
Adventures of Blue Avenger?
Harry Potter?
The Outsiders?

And men are capable of writing great books for girls.
I just wanted to list a bunch of male writers in this post for example.

Anonymous said...

Children's publishers would love to hire more male employees. The men currently in the industry are beloved for their ability to "get" what books work well for boys.

However, just as the majority of teachers and children's librarians are women, so are the young people interested in going into children's publishing. Until society changes in a way that makes working with or for children a choice that more men make, publishers' hands are tied. We can't hire people who don't exist.