Tuesday, July 24, 2007

No, Really, I Love Board Books

I have been thinking about your comment "A funny animal sound book would also be great for (the very short kids)." and I am curious--how much harder is it really for a new writer to sell younger, board book style picture books (maybe not Click Clack Moo, but a more basic, "the cow goes Moo" style book). I have heard from other sources (I think Harold Underdown talks about it a bit) that board books are more often done with established or in house writing. I am sure that good writing and a great hook can work wonders, but is this an even more difficult proposition than normal?

Board books look cheap, don't they? They're small, they don't have a jacket, they aren't printed on any of the really nice paper (because they're going to end up in a toddler's mouth)...

So here's the thing. Thin paper is cheap—that's why they use it for newspapers. Board books are printed on cardboard, and it's not cheap. Regular paper is easy to cut at the printer—snip snip, big, one-size-fits-all blades. Cardboard must be cut with a specially made and regularly sharpened die like a cookie cutter (have you noticed those rounded corners?). Making those isn't cheap, either.

Board books are not cheap to make. Alas, they continue to look cheap, so people simply won't pay very much for them.

This means two very important things:

1. Paying somebody an advance and royalties for a board book is difficult. It makes so much more sense to convert a book you've already published in another format into a board book. Then you pay royalties, but no advance. Or you could pay the author/illustrator a flat fee. Or, best of all, you make an editor in-house knock out the text and have a designer in-house knock out some illustration. Then you don't have to pay them anything.

2. The profit margins are so small that board books only make financial sense if you can print a whole bunch of them. That means they have to have content you're sure is going to be popular. There's no gambling on content in board books. They're a gamble already.

Take my advice and don't present a manuscript as a board book just because you think it'd be cuter that way. Starting a book off as a hardcover picture book is always more profitable for the publisher, which means the acquisition pulls more weight for the editor, the book gets more attention, and it's more profitable for you.

So board books are hard, and they're not lucrative. I still wish there were more great ones.


Anonymous said...

Ah, so that's why board books consistently suck so badly! I like "Barnyard Dance", but other than that one, have stopped buying them for people who have babies. I've started getting them picture books the babes can grow into, because if there's no reason to read a book because it's so bad, why bother?

Adrian said...

Thanks EA! Very enlightening.

Anonymous said...

I know!

You could have an author that wants to break-in GIVE you the manuscript for free! And an illustrator that wants to break-in do the illustrations for FREE,

And the printer, that just wants to write it all off as a tax deduction because they made too much money charging exhorbitant amounts to print board books and CUT CORNERS, because they don't want to pay Uncle Sam all that money.

They could print them for free too!

So everybody does it for free, the publishing house charges x and makes 100% profit.

Have I mentioned MY FREE MANUSCRIPT that I would love to GIVE to you!

Brenda Sturgis

Anonymous said...

I had not considered the ins & outs of it. Thanks for the info.

As an aside Q: Would it be smart to taylor a board book to a particular publisher's pre-existing die... to perhaps cater to a shape they are already using? Thus less engineering involved, and perhaps more tempting to them?

Or would this be a waste of effort on the writer/illustrator's part?

Deirdre Mundy said...

Personally, I've always been AMAZED that board books cost less than regular books...

I mean, take Good Night Moon for example.

If we had to buy it in a traditional format, we'd go through 3 of 4 with each child...

With a board book format, we can get ONE with each new baby. (By the time the next child comes around, even the board book is destroyed.......)

BTW-- Why don't they make Pat The Bunny in a more durable format? Sure the spiral binding is "classic", but it also means "Easy to take apart and spread around the house".........

Anyway, I think perhaps publishers underestimate how much moms would be willing to pay for board books....

Jennie said...

Pat the Bunny gets so icky so quickly anyway (at least I always thought "pat the bunny" meant "suck on bunny's fur"!)

Thanks, EA, for telling me why board book versions of hardback picture books come out. I've been wondering for awhile.

Sarah Miller said...

*puts on bookseller hat*

Can I just say that there just aren't nearly enough new, ORIGINAL board books anymore? I understand that it's more cost effective to convert an existing story to the board book format, but I'm more and more often flummoxed by which books are chosen to make the switch to board. It seems like publishers lately believe shrinking the pages and printing on cardboard makes a story appropriate for a toddler -- nevermind that these same stories were formerly marketed to the 4-6 age bracket. What 18 month old really gets the humor in Olivia, for example, or will be willing to sit through Mike Mulligan?

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