My friend Jamila sent me a New York Times article the other day that made my head just about explode. It was about self-publishing. Or, more specifically, it was about kids self-publishing their work, and their parents footing the bill.
WHY did it make my head almost explode? Well, the gist of this article was that young people publishing books was somehow a bad thing… because their parents were just humoring them, really, and there was no way their work could possibly be good enough to warrant publication… and having published a book would just make their heads swell up like balloons anyway, and really, they should leave publishing to the professionals.
Seriously? I mean, really? These kids… these 12-15 year olds… are sitting down and writing ENTIRE books, and this is the reaction they get? How mean! But, then again, I shouldn’t be so surprised. We live in a society where people seem to like to radiate meanness and find fault with things at every turn. It’s kind of a wonder anyone has the guts to be creative anymore. Which is why, whenever they do, it reminds me of this:
A brave and beautiful little flower, pushing itself up through a crack in the pavement, against all odds. Would you step on this flower? Please tell me you wouldn’t! Good. I didn’t think so… but some people would. From the New York Times article, I quote:
“What’s next?” asked the novelist Tom Robbins. “Kiddie architects, juvenile dentists, 11-year-old rocket scientists? Any parent who thinks that the crafting of engrossing, meaningful, publishable fiction requires less talent and experience than designing a house, extracting a wisdom tooth, or supervising a lunar probe is, frankly, delusional.”
First of all, I can tell you from experience that writing a book does NOT require the same skill level as supervising the landing a lunar probe. (Not that I’ve ever landed a lunar probe… but I have enough trouble parallel parking my car, so I’m pretty sure nobody would even let me try). And, if you ask me, that’s one of the greatest things about writing. Last time I checked, there was no lunar probe landing license required. Anybody–or, at least, anybody with basic literacy skills–can try their hand at it. And because anybody can try their hand at it, I truly believe that anybody can get good at it if they work hard enough and find their own unique way of telling a story.
But hey, why let kids enjoy the process of writing and experience a sense of success when we can tear them down instead? From the same article:
“Alan Rinzler, a publishing industry veteran who now works with writers as an editorial consultant, suggested that parents hire a professional editor like him to work with their child to tear a manuscript apart and help make it better. “That sort of puts a reality check on it,” he said.”
Sigh. Okay, now that my head is mostly finished exploding, let me say this: of course, writing and publishing are two very different things. One is very private, the other is very public. Would I have personally been ready for publication at age 12? God no!
When you put your work out there for the world to see, you open yourself up to all kinds of criticism and feedback you may not (even as an adult) be quite ready for. And from that perspective–and that perspective only–I can see why parents and kids should give some serious thought to the matter before self-publishing at such a young age.
But, that said, if someone (kid or adult) writes an ENTIRE book, and they are proud of it, and they want to share it, couldn’t we all agree to at least congratulate them on their efforts, and look forward to seeing how their writing will evolve in the years to come? Would it kill us to offer each other–and especially children–a little support?
Personally, I can’t see how the fact that these parents are investing in their children in this way, and demonstrating their pride in their work, is anything but beautiful and promising. Because without that kind of encouragement, there’s not much chance a seed can blossom into a big, beautiful flower, especially in a creative climate like ours.
And, given the right growing conditions, I, for one, can’t wait to see what these dedicated kids will be working on 5, 10 or even 20 years from now.