As my friends know, I’ve spent much of the past two years–but especially the past six months–lamenting the sudden shift of focus in marketing children’s literature.  Gone are the days when a children’s book was given time to find its audience, a time frame that can be several years since most children’s books are *still* sold through schools and libraries.  Now, the marketing of children’s books has followed the thin, narrow, and precipitous path of adult marketing, the thoughtless throw-it-at-the-wall-and-see-what-sticks method–Spaghetti Marketing. I have my theories as to why this change suddenly happened, but certainly the Big Box stores and a new generation of marketing techniques have aided it.

Folks, this is suicide marketing.  Children’s books sell a little bit for a long time.  They are the publishing gift that keeps on giving.  The mega hits of Cat in the Hat and Harry Potter are few and very, very far between.  For a children’s book (and I mean YA and MG here, too), to have legs, it has to find its audience with librarians and schools.  Publishing a book and sticking it on Big Box shelves for nine months is a ridiculously short-sighted strategy.  If you want to see the rapid decline of children’s publishing, keep doing that.

An interview by Alma Fullerton with long-time agent Scott Treimel lends credence to my argument:

Consumers have become the gatekeepers of children’s books, usurping the
importance of librarians and teachers; so children’s publishers now pander to booksellers the way
adult publishers do. A book today is not given the chance, as in the old days, to do the best it can.
Keen for the mega- hit, publishers will cut their loses on most titles quickly to funnel resources into
very few. This throw-it-out-and-see-what-sticks strategy puts extreme pressure on each book. And
for first-time authors. . . yikes!”

There are few mega first-time hits.  There are few mega first-time authors.  Marketing can get a book noticed, but a book must have time to find its audience. An author must have time to find her/his audience.  Where would Gary Paulsen be if his first books were published today?  Would there ever have been a HATCHET to sell millions of copies to boys who “don’t read”?

Eschew Spaghetti Marketing:  Don’t eat that pasta.

I posted this before learning that the young man lost in the NC mountains was found safely and also before reading this from his father:
“One of Michael’s favorite books when he was younger was about a boy whose plane crashes in the wilderness, and how that boy survives on his own, his father said.  “I think he’s got some of that book in his mind,” Auberry said. “In my fantasy, when they find him, he’ll be making beef jerky somewhere or something like that. He’s got a lot of resources to draw from.”

Written by : thunderchikin

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  1. idaho_laurie March 20, 2007 at 1:17 pm - Reply

    This sux! Sorry. I can’t think of anything more intelligent to say.

  2. dlgarfinkle March 20, 2007 at 1:37 pm - Reply

    It is sad. I mean, I’m glad that it’s just not librarians and teachers influencing which books will sell well, especially because I like to write about sex.

    But I don’t think it’s consumer-driven so much as marketing driven. Books that do well are often the ones that the buyers for B&N and Borders like and the ones that publishers decide to make a “lead title.” The other books often die a quick death.

    Very interesting, pretty depressing post.

  3. thunderchikin March 20, 2007 at 1:55 pm - Reply

    It was not meant to be depressing. I’m wearing my advocate hat here, and I believe that if enough voices are raised, they will be heard.

    Librarians buy books with sex in them all the time. We’re more likely to find a controversial book on the shelves of the local public library than on the shelves of the local B&N.

    The chasing of Big Box retailers like B&N and Borders is exactly what I’m talking about. Spaghetti Marketing treats books as if they are no different from cheese, shoes, or tissue paper. In ten years, no one will be ordering 200 copies of any excellent piece of cheese to share with their 8th graders.

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