Looking through tables of books at the school book fair I was taken back by how many decent, or great, or at least good looking picture books there are. Wow. And then of course, there are the books by celebrities.
I must be in the wrong business because if it makes financial sense for Jeff Foxworthy and Madonna to put out picture books, I am doing something way wrong…I mean, can’t she fill a stadium with people who want to see and hear her? That’s gotta be a better return than on a picture book. Right? Right?? – sniffle-
It’s already hard enough to sell a book. Now my book will be on a table next to Madonna and Glen Beck and people who have TV shows. Because, you know, writing a picture book is easy compared to all that other stuff, right?
Recently in a conversation someone mentioned that there is no shortage of good stories; but there are few well written, good stories. I hadn’t thought of it that way. That as self publishing blooms and there is more media available then ever before what we lose is the big-enchilada. That is; stories that are good and are well executed.
Of course the market decides what is well written, right? Only well written books sell. Just like only great films make 4 billion at the box office. At least that’s what I’ve been told.
The old issue of art and commerce comes right back at you. The market does not select by quality, but then again most of us don’t either. Sometimes it all synchs up. A great story, that’s well written sells a gazillion copies. But often the market is attracted to something unique. Something that is just different enough to feel part of its time. The craft has to be just good enough I suppose.
Picture books fasciate me because they contradict a lot of writerly common sense. They are more poem than novel. And of course what makes a picture book resonate with an audience has changed through the years. They are part of the world after all, not an academic exercise.
Crafting a good story that is well executed in a picture book appropriate form is no easy task. The best ones don’t always sell, in fact, sometimes the ones I think are exceptional don’t find a place in my heart like some that are clearly not as well done. So what makes a great one? Heck if I will tell you! After all, in the immortal words of William Goldman, “Nobody knows anything.” Including me.
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