Friday, September 25, 2009

Aaaaargh, Indeed

Whenever I stroll through my local shopping mall, it always amazes me how many poor quality children’s books have made it out there in the market place. I see rhyming books without correct meter; and picture story books with poorly written, disjointed story development and little incentive to keep turning the page. How do these people get published, when most of your dear readers spend their time revising and rewriting ad nauseum, and still don’t get a look in? Aaaaargh!

1. Some publishers have no shame. Some of us feel we owe children our best, and that products of all kinds for children should be good for children, but others of us are happy to let children play with the literary equivalent of a Choke-On-Me Elmo (now with Sharp Edges!). They publish blunt traumas to the imagination in the form of books, because they know:

2. Many members of the public have no sensitivity to the difference between good writing and bad, and will spend their money on anything colorful and cheap. Which provides certain publishers with no motivation to do anything but:

3. Pay nothing, or next to nothing, for text. A bunch of those terrible texts you see never touched the slush pile. They were banged out in-house by an overworked editor who knew NO ONE cared how bad or good the writing was, or was farmed out to a freelancer who was paid so little they seriously weren't going to spend more than an hour on it.

In a free-market economy, the good and the bad of it is: people vote with their wallets. And publishers, which are businesses, listen to those votes.


The Storylady said...

No! Tell me it isn't true! Yet I see all the time those trashy books on library and bookstore shelves. As a library "Storylady" I like to sit down and read stacks of picture books, hoping to find a new gem to share with my little ones. And constantly I'm amazed at the garbage that gets published. I guess it makes those gems so much more treasured when they do turn up.

Liesl Shurtliff said...

It's a dead-end conversation isn't it? (Though I did appreciate the professional insight.) I just posted similarly about the complaints of the quality of other books. PB's are a bit of a different scenario but in any case I find it fruitless to complain about all the poor quality. There are still a lot of wonderful PB's out there and there is room for more.

It is what it is. Carry on.

Kate said...

This is beyond depressing.

Wendy Sparrow said...

Speaking as a parent: you've just solved one of the great mysteries of life for me. There are some truly awful books out there for children. I've even found a typo in what amounted to a picture book... under one hundred words... and there was a typo. My kids are now on chapter books and that opens a whole new realm of awful because you often don't recognize its mediocrity until you're twenty pages in.

My WV is "sodepee" and even though it's nonsense... it still made me giggle immaturely. Someday I hope to grow up.

MaureenHume said...

Sadly, I think you're right, and from a new author's point of view it's crushingly disappointing. Although there are truly wonderful publishing houses around, others don't care that they have the power to make or break your career.
Maureen Hume.

Anonymous said...

I have shared these same frustrations. I was given a children's book where the author changed tenses in the middle of the sentence. Aargh!

Deirdre Mundy said...

I call those books "grandma books." Most grandparents don't really know what kids read and like. So they're just looking for something "cute". The words don't matter to them, after all, they won't be the ones READING the books 15 times a night for the next year!

Still, some of the 'written by editors' books aren't bad...

My policy is to request books by name (yay Amazon wish-lists!). And I always check them out of the Library first, to make SURE they're something I can stand to read until it falls apart.

Oh, and for the truly horrible paperback 8x8s? You'd be suprised how quickly they get 'too damaged to keep...'

Anonymous said...

Oh hell yeah. I'm a writer by nature but I like to eat so ended up working as an editor - which actually meant I got to write a lot of books. Paying a writer was something you only did in special cases.

My work went uncredited but at least I got to do what I like doing, some of the time. But it's a daft situation.

Ebony McKenna. said...

Same goes for Adam Sandler movies. If people stopped watching them, then they'd stop making them.

Clearly, there is a market for all tastes. Choice of reading is so subjective. It would be a terrible world if only the books I liked were published.

There is a 'truly awful' for any field. Books, movies, paintings, buildings, cars, television, politics etc.

Jen said...

Wow. It's like what I always suspected has been true. And I hate to be a snob because I love the dollar bin at the bookstore and I love stocking up on new books so my little one can get a thorough experience. But this post makes me want to be just a little more picky. If I throw even a dollar at one of these crappy books I guess I'm kind of feeding the crap machine. Even in a very small way, I'd rather not.

Anonymous said...

Or, it could be that the OP is just bitter they can't get published (hey, we've all been there, right?). When I'm in the dumps about not being published, every book I read seems like crap. Under normal circumstances, though, when I read a book I don't like, I just assume it wasn't meant for me.

sari said...

This is why my family chooses their books from an independent bookstore. At least I know that the bookstore buyers actually look for good children's books. That's not to say there aren't bad books there, but your chances are a lot better of finding something worthwhile.

And I agree about the "grandma book" comment - I can't tell you how many books my children have received from a well meaning grandma who never cracked them open to actually look at them. Ack.

(My solution: tell grandma about the great bookstore and send her there! ha ha).

Anonymous said...

Ug, "grandma books." My children's actual grandma (at least on my side) is more on the ball literary-merit wise than most people, but that doesn't mean everyone else (younger adults included-- not just your grandmotherly types) who buys books for my (or anyone else's) children isn't prone to Cutesy. And of course, stuff starring your favorite cartoon characters. Easy to brush off this sort of griping as unpublished-sour-grapes, and maybe I'd be guilty of that before I had children, but as a mother I am coming from somewhere else entirely! I do not MIND reading "Goodnight Moon" over and over, actually-- it's brilliant, the way it flows off the tongue! Dr. Seuss is genuinely entertaining using only a controlled vocabulary! But when my toddler son gets fixated on one of those many "grandma books" we've been given, maybe because of some packaging gimmick or the fact that it's about a character he likes,* I can hardly stand to read it once. Many times I just end up retelling the story in my own words, which, being off the top of my head, aren't that great either, but somehow it makes me feel better.

I really needed to rant about this to somebody who understands for awhile! Thanks for the opportunity!

*(I can't wait until he can sit still long enough for a non-picture-book so I can read him MILNE'S version of Winnie-the-Pooh instead of the crappy cheap Disney storybooks he keeps insisting I read him)

Melinda Szymanik said...

My picture book was avoided by the book buying parents and grandparents until it won a national children's choice award. Thank goodness the children liked it! (And schools and libraries). It can be heartbreakingly hard to reach one's target market even when you have a product they'll like.

Deirdre Mundy said...

rockin-- I found pooh actually works pretty well with toddlers... there's a picture on every page, after all! Also, "When we were very young!"

The worst are the 'grandma books' that are also super-wordy. Then they're Long AND awful. (Like some of those disney retellings that take longer to read than to watch the original movie!)

I've got 3 kids, and I'm a lot meaner than I was with one. Now if they bring me a book I hate I say "I hate that book so I'm too busy to read it. If you find a stack of books I LIKE, I'll read them ALL!" It works wonders! ;)

Life is too short to read crummy books! (If they argue, I follow it up with "When you learn to read, you can read any garbage you want. But for now I'm in charge!")

I do let them experiment a bit more with library books-- since my husband is a librarian, if I read it once and hate it I just make sure it goes back to work with him the next day!

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