Sunday, May 20, 2007

Sunday picture book rambling (when I should be painting)

A new Borders recently opened near our neighborhood, and yesterday, the family and I went to check it out. We love the idea of having a bookstore so close to our home. Thing is, picture books are what draw me to bookstores, primarily. Sad thing is, picture books seem to be disappearing. The children's book section isn't what it used to be.

I remember, back in the late 80s, and all through the 90s, children's book sections sprawled out to cover a large part of a bookstore. In addition to large display of new titles, older titles could be found on shelves, row after row. I'd spend hours studying the art of illustrators such as David Kirk, Floyd Cooper, Brian and Jerry Pinkney – dreaming of the day I'd get my work published.

But things have changed since the days when Miss Spider and David Kirk were making the front pages of the Wall Street Journal (For the picture books, not the cartoon series). YA seems to be doing great. But I got into this business out of love of words and pictures.

Most of the books on display at our our new Borders were classics, titles like Where the Wild Things Are, and The Hungary Caterpillar. Don't get me wrong, these are some of my favorites. But I have these books already. I wanted to see some new titles.

Lots of mass market books were on display. Books featuring Dora the Explorer overflowed. There were celebrity books galore, gimmicky novelty books and Caldecott winners. Lots of paperbacks.

There were very few new hardcover titles. And only one or two that featured a person of color.

Years ago in the trade business, 'mass market' seemed to be a dirty a term, same as 'self published.' During the years I did have a literary agent, she didn't touch mass market. She was all about the trade. I had to negotiate mass market deals on my own. In today's climate, with trade picture books on the downslide, I have to wonder if she's changed that policy.

Today's trade picture books must have wide commercial appeal. They're no longer limited to bookstores. They're at your Walmart. Super Target. Your grocery store. Sounds mass market to me. Makes me wonder when mass market and trade won't be one in the same, if it already isn't.

Many agents and editors are now looking for books that have movie or TV appeal. Books with a hook. Writing a good story isn't enough anymore, now I gotta write something with potential Happy Meal tie-ins.

Shane W. Evans and Jean Marzollo's Shanna's books are now a Disney cartoon series. Jarrett J. Krosoczka’s popular Punk Farm is soon to be an animated DreamWorks feature. Brian Selznick's The Invention of Hugo Cabaret is set for film. These are fantastic opportunities for authors and artists. But I just want to write and illustrate a good book. Period. I don't want to think about which Hollywood celebrity — Eddy Murphy, Queen Latifa —might make the best voice-over for my main character.

Maybe I'm exaggerating a bit. Then again, maybe I'm not. I'm definitely rambling.

1 comment:

rindawriter said...

The sparks of hope for me in all of this ARE the small presses. They are still alive and benefitting now from the online technology and cheaper printing, etc. Also in the librarians and small indepedent booksellers who are really fighting the fight, you might say. What I hope to see is more opportunity for diversity but that diversity won't be reflected in the major stores or chains. People are going online more for that. BUT. It's still very disheartening to go to a big bookstore and see what's there and what should be there but is not.