Monday, April 02, 2012

Self-publishing your kid's work

My mother sent me a link to a piece in the New York Times about parents employing self-publishing companies to print books of their children's work ("Young Writers Dazzle Publisher (Mom and Dad)"). Plenty of people are self-publishing these days to sidestep the gatekeepers of publishing houses, and it makes sense that some of these people are under age 18. As the article notes, parents think that this is a great way to reward creativity and encourage persistence. If your child has taken the time to crank out a 50,000 word novel, why not publish it? Kids can play amateur lacrosse and get recognized for it. Why not amateur literature?

Of course, as the article notes, these young authors then often try to get publicity for their books (all authors do! oh, do we try), and newspapers or TV news segments pick up on the "published author at age 14" part of it. But there is a major difference in achievement between having a commercial publisher pick up your work, and having parents who can pay $250-$2500 (depending on the package) publish your musings.

As my mother asked, "Should we have published your early writings? Actually, you were published without our doing it." Which is true. I entered short story contests, won them, and sometimes sent in my work to different places. I had a story published in a children's literary journal at one point in there. I had a ghost story read on the radio. Looking back on my own middle school and high school years, there were other projects that, if my parents and I had been more savvy people, could have made for better college application material. I wrote a "book" of a dozen-plus short stories in 10th grade. I also wrote a lot of different sonnets. That could have made for an interesting book of poems in iambic pentameter.

But I got into college anyway, and I think one thing that's helped me in my writing career is that much of it has been self-motivated. I was also pondering the other day that I'm grateful that the Internet didn't really come into power until I was pretty much writing professionally. My early stuff isn't out there. While some is good or at least salvageable, much of it suffers from the usual problems of early writing. There are very few literary wunderkinds. The older I get, looking back at some novels stuck in a drawer, I realize that one has a better understanding of the human condition the more you live as an actual, you know, human. You can't wait forever to write your opus. We get better the more we write, and one way to get better is to get your stuff out there and get it criticized. But it helps to go through gatekeepers too. Sometimes they're there for a reason.

One middle ground the article suggested is to pay to have your kid's work put through the wringer by a professional editor. Now that is an idea I like.

Would you self-publish your children's writings? Jasper shows a lot of interest in writing. If he starts writing stories, should I pay to publish them?

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

If I could get my son to write, I wouldn't worry about whether or not he publishes.

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Calee said...

I found it very interesting that the NY Times article only focused on children writing longish works of fiction and the parents who pay to have it published in book form. I would offer the case of Rachel Yu as a counter example-- at 15, she and her father began using ebook publishing for her picture books and graphic novels. Alledgedly, her earnings are going straight to her college fund and I'm pretty sure she's made enough already for a 4-year private school education.
Should every high school student write a memoir? Of course not. But-- I wish the world of fan fiction had existed when I was a teenager. The book-centric communities available to kids these days is fantastic, and I think that publishing is only part of the pie. I hope families that can't afford the printing costs don't think of it as a ticket to riches and I would advise pen names, but in many, many ways I'm thankful that the avenues exist to bypass the traditional gatekeepers.

Sarah Robbins said...

Is it fair to say that ALL authors seek publicity? Perhaps an answer can be found in The Everything Parent's Guide to Raising a Gifted Child.

Jokes aside, my initial reaction is that I would probably be hesitant to encourage such an exercise in vanity. Instead, I would think an e-book in the Amazon store would be a good, low-cost alternative. This would still give him a motivation to produce material and an opportunity to get some experience on the business side of the industry. If she's successful at creating something of public interest and marketing it well, she'll get to experience the joy of having someone other than her parents pay for her work. If not, it's cheap and easy to try again for something meaningful.

Gwyn Ridenhour said...

I say absolutely self-publish your children's work! I am committed to this practice as I have seen first-hand how wonderful it can transform a child's life. I started this with my daughter Eva when she was 6.

You can read her story here: http://theinnovativeeducator.blogspot.com/2011/09/education-reform-lessons-from-8-year.html

Self-publishing has boosted her confidence overall and as an author. It has made her want to write more, always working towards her next book. It has given her public speaking experience, and has inspired her to encourage other kids to write. At 8, she's produced short instructional videos that are now being used all over the world; she also guest-speaks in classrooms, always with the same message: "you can do it too."

And you can do this with no upfront costs. Using online sites like lulu.com costs us nothing. The author gets a small profit from every book ordered online, and if you want to order some to have stock, you get the author's discount; these costs are quickly made up through sales.

You can see Eva's work and videos on her website: www.evaridenhour.com.

Thanks for letting me share her story!

Rusty Biesele said...

I think there is a lot of misinformation about the gatekeepers of publishing representing quality. Really, they represent a judgement of commercial viability at a particular moment in time. The true judge of writing is whether or not the story is written in an interesting way and expressed well. There is a valuable lesson to be learned in self publishing your child's work if the right message goes along with it. The main messages is that they can find a community. Even though as a gifted person their point of view may seem odd or unique, there are many others out there who share their experience. They just may not be close by. And if they refine their writing and learn to express themselves well, they will form a deep connection with that community. Along with that is finding a professional editor or at least a writing mentor who can critique or edit the writing before it is self published. One of the valuable lessons and training a child writer can receive is the understanding that the mind inside the skulls of most people is very different person to person. A person editing their work can help them understand how their words are perceived so that what they write communicates what they intended to. Learning how big the difference in how each person's mind is structured and how to communicate with those differences are the real treasures of early writing. And if you are able to afford a professional edit for your child's work, be sure to chose the comprehensive edit package so they actually get the editor's comments back on how effective that communication is and the suggestions for improving it.

hschinske said...

Rudyard Kipling's parents self-published some of his early work under the rather excruciating title Schoolboy Lyrics. He wasn't very happy about it IIRC.

Anonymous said...

My (16 year old) daughter absolutely forbade me from self-publishing any of her novels (she's written like 6 at this point, I think). She is determined to go about it the traditional way, finding an agent and then signing with a publisher. She thinks if I publish a book for her (and really, I just wanted to get one copy printed, for the fun of seeing her book "in print") it cheapens her writing somehow, or maybe belittles it. But then, she is off-the-charts in the gifted intensities, so her reactions don't tend to be the same as other kids.

-Christina