So I read this article today, and I'll be honest. It made me a little angry. Not at the kids, of course - they don't know what they're doing. At the parents. Though, they probably don't really know what they're doing either, and maybe that's the problem.
Let me be clear. I’m not against these kids writing. I’m all for it, actually. We all have to start somewhere, and I was one of these bright-eyed little ones not too long ago. And I remember the feeling of pride in completing my first novel. But I also remember that feeling of unease.
Even looking down at my stack of printed pages, a hand-drawn cover slipped inside the plastic binder to make the copy I let my mother read seem more like a real book, I knew it wasn’t finished. I knew with utmost certainty, even at the age of 12 that my book wasn’t ready to be published. It needed to be edited, and probably completely rewritten. Now, at 12, I had no idea how to go about editing my own work, and I’d already spent a year writing the darn thing and wasn’t about to waste any more of my not-quite-adult attention span on rewrites. I was done. And it was time to move on and write another one.
But even knowing that, if someone had asked me if I wanted them to publish my book, would I have said yes?
More than anything in the world, I wanted to be a published author. It was a dream I’d had since I knew what a book was. And to get to tell all of my 12 year old friends that I was a published author? A real life author with a cover and a book that sold for REAL LIFE MONEY? What kid is going to turn that down?
And here’s where I take issue with this. The books I wrote at that age were… not good. To put it gently. I can ONLY IMAGINE the embarrassment I’d face today if someone had gone along and slapped a cover on them and sent them off to be sold on smashwords and amazon. Because that stuff, it never really goes away. Just today, I saw someone lamenting on Twitter about how even though they’d unpublished their book, smashwords was still distributing it. This stuff sticks, ESPECIALLY now in this digital age.
Everyone deserves the chance to hide their beloved first books in the secret compartment in the top drawer of their dresser, buried beneath their unmentionables. Sure, we hang onto them and take them out, dust them off, and poor through their poorly written pages every now and then. It’s a sentimental thing. It’s humbling. We all want to remember where we came from. But that doesn’t mean I want to show my underwear or my secret compartments to Amazon!! And these kids, they won’t realize it now, but they’ll probably feel the same way in ten years.
Writing, or I suppose any goal, requires a lot of hard work, frustration, adversity, and probably a good deal of disappointment before you can really get good at it. But that’s how it's supposed to be. It’s what makes us reach it. If it was so easy, everyone would do it, and it wouldn't be much of a goal. All of that struggle and toiling away is what makes us better. It’s a process of growing, and it’s a process that these kids are being denied.
Now, let me clarify, I have nothing against self-publishing. I think it’s great, really. I have friends that have done very well with it. But even they weren’t simply HANDED the self-published book. They had to work for it, as hard, if not harder than I’m having to work toward traditional publishing. There’s not a single grown self-published author that I know of who hasn’t faced a good deal of adversity, be it from trying the traditional route and learning that it wasn’t for them, or from small-minded people who call them “fake authors” because they didn’t go through one of the big houses. Most of them have hired editors and have had countless betas and critique partners go through their books with fine-toothed combs.
Now, I haven't read these kids’ books. I don't know if they’ve been edited or critiqued, but I somehow doubt they had more than a few pair of eyes giving them an honest read before they went to the presses. At that age, I didn’t really know anyone else who spent their free time writing. Most of my friends thought I was really weird. So finding peers to be betas would be really hard. And while the internet is great, I don’t know many parents that would want their young teens emailing back and forth with a bunch of faceless writers, prying into their kids’ innocent little heads. Stranger danger, and all that.
Yes. The books will probably be bought. Probably by the same people in Daddy's office who would have bought a box of girl scout cookies to be polite. Does this mean that the book will get read? Maybe. Maybe not. Personally, I grow to resent things that people try to force on me, things I feel obligated to read because so-and-so's cousin's daughter wrote it. And is that really how you want your child's book to be read? Out of obligation, as opposed to enjoyment?
This article makes a point about it not being much different from parents paying for their kids to go to dance lessons, or to take guitar, or join a travelling soccer team. But the thing is, they’re not paying for lessons. They’re paying for the trophies, the gold medals, having the song put on iTunes (I think we’ve all seen what that leads to. Rebecca Black, anyone?) And really, what does buying a trophy teach your kid? That your parents will buy you anything, if you want it enough?
Most towns have SOME sort of creative writing program, whether it be through the park district or a community college, so enroll your kid in one of those for heavens sake! Or I suppose, if you’re a really devoted parent, take them to a writers conference if you feel like they’re mature enough to handle it. That’s where the real learning happens. Because that’s what it’s all about, in the end. Learning. I can pretty much guarantee that these kids don’t know enough about the publishing industry to make an informed decision on which path is right for them. So don’t push them into a decision they know little about and might regret later in life. Help them learn instead.