Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The Curse of Knowledge

We all enjoy writing and illustrating for the sake of the art, but we have to accept that this is a business, too. Knowing your audience is key, as discussed in this post from Editorial Anonymous. The awareness that the adults in a child's life are generally the purchasers of books is what I refer to as "the curse of knowledge." This concept can muddle our instincts and take the focus off of the real judges- the children. As someone who works with children and books every single day, what appeals to them is what ends up appealing to me to buy. What's more, once they become capable of independent reading, they may insist on reading things that defy what appeals to an adult.

At the core, the stories that resonate often defy age limits because they contain universal truths. Kids must be able to relate to our stories and it is our job to listen to what they want or need as writers. If you write in a way that's going to try and please adults, you will probably miss the mark completely. You risk creating a story that appears didactic or old-fashioned. And what child do you know that likes to be told what to do or how to think?

Now, Martina and I have been having a conversation lately about how this same concept applies to a YA versus an adult book. We both spend a lot of our reading time in the world of YA, but we agree that Stephanie Meyer's The Host was much more enjoyable for us than the Twilight series. Little did we know until Martina did a little digging that The Host is considered an adult novel, and of course, Twilight is YA. As YA lovers, we were a little surprised at this discovery.

The point is, call it what you want to call it, but categorizing books or speculating why someone may purchase a book shouldn't drive your story. A fabulous book will  be picked up for being just that. Labels certainly help a purchaser to locate a book, but I think we can safely say readers know there is a gray area that defies categorization. Besides, word of mouth is the most powerful force behind the proliferation of a really good read.

Be informed and educate yourself on what's out there before you write or illustrate. But, don't forget to tell a good story. Above all, write for children (hence, children's publishing). I think if you stay balanced, you won't go wrong.

We'd love to hear your thoughts on this. Post to comments!



  1. "A fabulous book will be picked up for just being that." I like that. Good to keep in mind when the business side of publishing starts messing with our creativity.

  2. You're right-- I read across the labels and look for fabulous stories. I find them in picture books, middle-grade fiction, and in various genres, because beauty, creativity, wonder and mystery can't be confined. I write what I want to read, because I'm sure I'm not the only one who loves that particular blend of elements. The muse must outweigh the market!

  3. Sheri and Janice, I absolutely agree with you both. While we can't ignore there is a business element in writing, you can't let it hamper your creativity. We're trying to inspire children to become lifelong readers and to figure things out for themselves after all. Thanks for such terrific comments!


  4. when JK Rowling was first trying to sell her Harry Potter MS wizards were not in fashion.
    I suppose a story that hooks the reader will sell no matter what

  5. Excellent point, Ee Leen Lee. It just goes to show that we may think we know what will be a success or failure, and may be proven wrong!


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