Thursday, February 16, 2012

Why don't I represent children's books? by Terry Burns

I get asked that a lot. It would seem to be a natural fit for me, we've got five kids, ten grand-kids and our second great grandchild is on the way. It isn't that I don't think it is important, one of my clients, MaryAnn Diorio said this:

I believe our Lord is raising up a generation of children who will do mighty exploits in His Name.  But they must be taught the things of God.  When I browse the children’s section of secular bookstores, I am appalled and deeply grieved at what is being published for children.  One sees mostly satanic material, occultic and violent in nature.  One also sees a lot of new age influence. It all reminds me of Luke 17:2. [It were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he cast into the sea, than he should offend one of these little ones]  So I want to do whatever I can to point our children to Jesus.

I could not agree more. So, if I am naturally attuned to kids, if I strongly agree that there is a great need to put Godly products on the market for children, what's the problem?

First, let me define what a children's book is. A lot of people just have two definitions, and anything that is not for adults is for children. The publishing industry breaks that down further, however, and for them there are children's books, first readers, middle readers, and young adult. Each one is defined by a specific age range. The children's books are picture books and books intended to be read to very young children, First readers are just what the name implies, books to be read by or read to children just beginning to read. In simpliest terms middle readers correspond with middle school and young adult with high school.

I do handle middle readers and young adult but nothing younger. It isn't that I don't think they are important, but I don't do it for three very important reasons:

1. Working in any market requires a knowledge of that market and I don't have that knowledge of the children's book market. There are a number of other markets I don't know well enough either, such as sci-fi and fantasy. You can just be an expert on a limited number of things.
2. We don't sell books to publishers, we sell them to editors that we have a relationship with, know what they are looking for, and have good points of contact. I don't know these editors that are acquiring in the children's market.

3. To do well in a market you have to be able to judge all of the projects that are being presented to you and pick the ones that stand out from the crowd, projects that will really appeal to the editors it will be presented to. I'm a grandfather, they all look cute to me, and I could see myself reading all of them to the kids. Obviously I am not good at judging the merit of some projects over other projects when it comes to children's books.  

I am about to attend my first conference for children's writers specifically for this purpose, to see if I can learn some things that might cause the situation to change.


Timothy Fish said...

That's quite the charge against the publishers of children's books. Not that I would know one way or the other, since I haven't paid much attention to children's books for some time. I'm sure there's some of that, but a quick scan of what's available on for children didn't bring up the many satanic books that the statement implies. Besides, I can't help but be reminded that when I was in 6th grade, I read The Hero and the Crown, which has a rather pagan story and includes a sexually amoral scene. That's not to say we should encourage publishers to produce books like that, but I turned out okay.

Yvonne Blake said...

As a mother, grandmother, and former elementary teacher, I am also concerned with the quality of today's children's books.

As a writer, I would like to fill that need. I appreciate the honest assessment of yourself, but can you recommend someone who does represent children's books?(preferably a Christian who would understand my conservative views)

Thank you.

Terry Burns said...

I wish I could, Yvonne, but the time I spend working incoming submissions and working markets and making submissions on behalf of my clients doesn't leave me time to try and track what other agents are handling what. I do know where you can find them, however. If you write for children you should be a member of SCWBI (Society of Children's Book Writer;s and Illustrators). That's where they all hang out. I'm a member, but do just work in the older areas.

Linda Glaz said...

Sorry, Timothy, but that would be like saying, even though there is terrible alcoholism in my family, I took a drink and turned out okay. There are personalities that can deal with some topics and "things" but there are others who can't. So why expose youngsters to things they don't need to begin with when other options are available? My pastor tells a great story: one day his son comes in ranting about not being allowed to see a specific R movie that all the kids are seeing. "Dad, it's just one little scene, just one tiny thing. It can't hurt. No biggie, you're unfair." So pastor brushes it off, says time to go shovel the snow. "And by the way, when you guys come in I'll have some brownies." "Cool, Dad."
Pastor says, "BTW, bring me in a small piece of Rover's poop."
"What?" Pastor says, "Yeah, just a tiny speck on the end of a toothpick. I'm gonna put it in the brownies. After all, it's just a tiny bit, it can't hurt, right?" So I think we have to decided just when and how much poop we allow into our kids' lives. Not trying to pick on you, hope you get where I'm coming from, but I find that kind of philosophy very dangerous and misleading. But I AM glad you turned out so well and are a contributor hear to make us all think!!!

Linda Glaz said...

Here? Good grief, can I spell?

Timothy Fish said...

Linda, you make a good point with your story, but allow me to offer another. Several years ago, a couple got married at an age when they weren’t sure they could have children, but they prayed about it and eventually they had a daughter. She was a beautiful girl with blond hair. They loved her as much as any parents could, but fearing something might happen to her, they always kept her in her crib, they never let her play on the floor, and they never let her touch anything that might be unclean. In spite of all their efforts to protect her, one day, she caught a virus and died. Her immune system never had a chance to develop.

There has to be a balance.

Linda Glaz said...

Point well taken, but I'm afraid I still provided an environment that was always age appropriate as much as I could. I think balance is a much better choice when they have the emotional tools they need to make those choices. But I certainly see your point.

Cheryl said...

As a writer for the children's market, and a Christian mom, what is out there for kids nowadays scares me. I work a lot of the school book fairs too. Vampire books, books that portray parents as idiots, black covers or covers with girls wearing skirts that are a bit too short, are out there. I couldn't believe it when I saw the The Hunger Games is considered MG. My daughter and I just finished reading it together. Talk about a violent book based upon a sick concept--kids that have to fight to the death.

I'm thankful for Christian publishers who help balance the other reading material the girls might read in the classroom that I don't see.

Terry Burns said...

I've talked to a couple of editors here at the conference in Denver who want me to help them find some first readers, or chapter books. I'm thinking about it and even asked for proposals on a couple. I still won't be doing picture books or books for the very young for the above reasons but we will see if I want to reach down one level earlier.