A woman sits down next to me during a conference break and (surprise) starts describing her picture book idea. It had to do with a small dog, or maybe a mop. I couldn’t tell. So I ask her, “Who do you feel this book is for?”
And she says, in perfect earnestness, “Well, everyone!”
Hold it, hold it. You can’t make people laugh that hard while they’re holding hot coffee.
So I catch my breath and address the coffee stains, and then I explain to her:
There is no such thing as a book that is for everyone. No, don’t argue with me. There isn’t, dammit.
There are occasionally books that are for a lot of different people (like Scribbles), and there are even more occasionally books that are for a hell of a lot of people (like Harry Potter, or The Secret).
- You do not know that you have your hands on the next bestseller. Seriously. Let me tell you how many yahoos we get pitching us books as the next big thing. This tactic marks them as too dumb to work with, associate with, or confirm ever having spoken to. You are dead to us, Mr. “It’ll be the Cuban-American Harry Potter!” J. K. Rowling had no idea she’d written something that would take the world by storm. Her British publisher had no idea. And no, not because of stodgy publisher shortsightedness. Because you can’t predict what’s going to be big.
- And when I say “you can’t predict” I mean you, jackass, the one who hasn’t spent his entire adult life reading and thinking about children’s books and the book industry, and still thinks he’s better at picking bestsellers than publishers are. And you just happen to have written one! How convenient!
- And I also mean publishers.
- (Deep breath.) Even if you did have something with very wide appeal, there are plenty of people who do not own a copy of Harry Potter, and there is also a segment of the population who owns a copy and did not enjoy it. There is no such thing as a book for everyone.
- Finally, and most to the point, when we ask who a book is for, we do not mean “who could it apply to?” We do not mean “who could conceivably enjoy this?” We mean, “who will this definitely appeal to so strongly that they spend money on it?”
Oh, I’m sorry, is that asking you to make assumptions about an audience you have no connection to? Do you, maybe, think there’s a problem with having no connection to your audience?
If I ask you if three-year-olds would like a book and you say “I don’t know,” what you’re really saying is “I don’t know what three-year-olds like.” And that means that you don’t get to write for them.
Unfortunately, there are quite a number of people who don’t think they need to even know what continent their clue is on in order to write a book for children. Happily, they don’t really read this blog. Unhappily, that means I don’t get to cuss them out here.