Quite a lot of buzz in the author blogosphere has centered around the New York Times article about books that parents have paid to have published for their children so that they can become authors. In that story, authors weighed in on how inappropriate this action was, as kids are still learning, and false expectations of both success and what it means to be an author were damaging.
Maureen Johnson also weighed in on this, separating the act of writing from publishing. Writing was good. Going public was not.
On the forums I participate in, both public and private, the overwhelming sense has been that these parents were dead wrong, that publishing is a business meant for experienced and seasoned writers, and kids should stay within the printed-and-stapled variety of book production.
I tended to stay out of the threads, because goodness knows I had done this very thing myself. And the backlash among authors was pretty hard to bear.
Yes, I published my daughters’ book. I had started a little publishing company and done all the paperwork, the filing fees, the accounts. And couldn’t do the book I planned to because it was full color and the overseas run was just too expensive for me right after my divorce. I had a company and no books. I was going to chuck the whole idea.
And that summer, the girls got a book idea. It was something we could do together, a picture book where we’d use my photography rather than drawings. When I checked for similiar titles on the subject on Amazon I was shocked to see there were NONE aimed at children. (A couple have come out since.)
My friend had just gotten her masters in publishing and was willing to design the book for us to have a sample (the world was smiling on us.) We all spent about eight weeks producing the title. I had no expertise whatsoever in the subject matter, so I really had to rely on the girls. They dictated; I typed. I ran changes by them. I did help make sure the sentences were consistent, especially for the part my seven-year-old did.
The book now pays much of the overhead of my small press two years later. It’s sold thousands of copies. The girls had an event at Barnes and Noble, by invitation. We look at each invitation to do an event, or talk to a classroom, and decide if they want to do it or not. We turn down most things, as they want to go on with their normal kid lives. The book has gotten some criticism, which I talked to them about and they realized–hey, good points! But they had their reasons and still stood by their ideas. These were all teachable moments, to learn about the personalities of people online. As long as I was there to introduce it, to remind them—whew, people can be mean! It became an excellent conversation on how people act online (before either of them got exposed to it WITHOUT me being there to give them perspective.)
It’s been an incredible experience, and I think even if this hadn’t happened, if we had sold ten copies to grandparents and gone on, that wouldn’t have mattered either. It was something we did together, and a project we’re proud of. We didn’t expect fame or fortune—it started out as just something to put through my press because I had nothing else. The fact that the girls have money in accounts to go toward college and that I had seed money to put out the book I dreamed of is just—well, life smiling on us.
I think anything any parent does can go well or go badly. Maybe it’s publishing a book, maybe it’s forcing them to try out for commercials, maybe it’s never encouraging them or taking their artistic sensibilities seriously. There are a thousand ways we can err, but only the parents and child within any given situation can really know if a path they’ve chosen was a good one, or something that can do harm.