Saturday, August 20, 2011

Children Are Like Books

Once again it’s September and for many of us, September means the beginning of a new school year. A thought occurred to me as I mailed my latest endeavor, HANNIE RISING, to my literary agent in New York: books have a great deal in common with children.

Books and children require a great deal of effort to reach maturity, when the author/parent steps back and says, “That’s it. There’s no more I can do. From now on, you’re on your own. Parents have more difficulty reaching this point than authors and, probably, use different vocabulary, but that’s really the crux of it and, just like with books, the process happens in stages. I’ll skip the conception/plot idea which in both cases, for parents and authors, is quite pleasurable and, typically, not difficult, and begin with stage one.

Stage one begins at the onset of mandatory education: Kindergarten or, in the case of a novel, submission to agents/editors. This is where most of us learn, for the first time that our precious offspring/manuscripts are not perfect. In fact, their imperfections can be easily identified and must be worked on/edited.  This usually involves, in both cases, homework, hands-on involvement including reading, writing, studying.

Stage two for parents is junior high. For authors it is distribution. A certain amount of release is required by both parents and authors, “certain amount” being the qualifying words. At 12 and 13, children can shoulder a degree of responsibility; writing down assignments, asking questions, completing homework. However, they need supervision every bit as much as they did when they were in elementary school, for obvious reasons. Books, also, require some attention. They must be introduced or  “marketed” to distributors who will, based on the interest engendered by sales representatives and authors, place said books in bookstores, airports, convenience stores, markets, etc. Both children and books are in serious trouble without careful monitoring during this stage of exposure.

Stage 3,  for parents, is when a child leaves home for purposes of higher education, marriage or a job. This truly is the point where a parent should think, “This is it. I’m finished. I can do no more. You are my masterpiece. Go out into the world and be competent, compassionate, productive, honest and joyful but don’t forget us, your parents. Call, email and please visit. We’re here to emotionally, not financially, support you as needed. Many parents, me included, aren’t always confident that our finished products are where we hoped they would be at stage 3. Still, we no longer have the remotest shred of control, so we learn to recite the serenity prayer. 

Books, also,  must eventually stand alone, their authors finished with their stories, their prose printed for reviewers and readers, their merits critiqued and blogged about, their ratings published. But, like children, books shouldn’t be released altogether to languish on the shelves or in cyber space. Authors must support their books in the form of promotion. Books must be introduced to booksellers and readers. Although the creating part is finished, authors must tour, virtually or on the road, cultivating fans, acquiring mailing lists, hawking newsletters, gathering Facebook and Twitter fans, in the hope that their books will interest, inspire and bring joy.

I am a 6th grade teacher. I’ve had many, many successful students and some not so. Most children begin the year chomping at the bit and flying out of the gate. Some need more time to settle in and pick up speed. A few never do. I worry about them. I wonder what I could have done differently.

I am also an author. I’ve had many successful books and some not so. Some have earned awards and bestseller status and, a few, have had too few copies sold, qualifying as flops. I wonder what I could have done differently. 

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