Dear Writer,… Love, Your Bookseller
Friday, November 14, 2014
In addition to being a writer myself, I am also a children's bookseller. I can't even explain how wonderful it is to help a parent or child find just the right book. I find the opportunity to consult with customers about something so dear to my heart to be terrifically fulfilling. I've also learned a great deal about being a writer from working in a bookstore. I hope to share some of those insights.
DON'T JUDGE A BOOK BY IT'S THICKNESS
Here's a typical scenario in the bookstore. A kid picks up a book and without glancing at the cover, the blurb or jacket-flap, and definitely not opening the book; they flip the book horizontal. What are they looking for? They are trying to determine how thick the book is. 90% of those making such an evaluation are looking for a "thin" book. I kid you not, this is how they decide if it's something they want to read.
They pay no attention to the size of the print, the amount of dialogue/white-space, illustrations, etc. They simply want to know how thick it is. If it's too thick they won't even consider it. Now this isn't all kids by any means and there are the 10% who do the same, and say the book is too thin. I just think it's amusing that many kids use this as their benchmark for book selection.
As a writer though, it make me realize that every word and every page counts. If there's anything unnecessary in the book that will make it "fatter," it could cost me a sale. To me the sweet spot for Middle Grade is 120-240 pages. Any less, and a teacher might not accept the book for required reading. Any more and the thickness is going to turn away potential readers.
An author who does a great job at this is Lauren Tarshis with her "I Survived" series. These books are wildly popular with Middle Grade readers. Both boys and girls are equally interested, but it's an awesome series for reluctant boy readers. The question of whether or not a person could survive a hostile situation is transcendent. That's why we're obsessed with shows from Survivor to Doomsday Preppers, and why disaster films, and post-apocalyptic fiction are so popular.
But what Lauren has done is to tell her stories in a riveting and concise manner. They are short and quick to read, yet powerful and resonant. Never mind the bonus that the reader learns something about an important part of history. Kids read one, and then come back for more a few days later.
However, I'm convinced that if she had yimmer-yammered on for twice as many pages, they would not attract kids attention nearly as well. They wouldn't pass the "thickness test." Before a kid can get hooked, they have to give the book a try.
Writers- how do you think your books would do in the "thickness test?" Booksellers/Librarians/Teachers- Have you had any similar experience?