Writing Trials

First published in "Pass It On" (a free weekly e-newsletter for those involved in the writing industry)

I do have to smile at the authors’/illustrators’ rates of remuneration. Yes, they are abysmal for the amount of work which goes into both writing and illustrating – I know that well.

However my own book is in another genre, even worse paid than children’s authors and illustrators – the academic book. My book Stories, Pictures and Reality: Two Children Tell is due to be issued in November. I am getting 5% of the publisher’s takings. They would not say what these are likely to be, but if I clear $2000 I’ll be well off. And even that won’t be “clear” because I have had to pay quite large amounts for permission to use illustrators’ work, and also for the cover art (or I may have to – two artist friends have offered to make a submission – but if there is payment, well the publishers have “no budget” for cover art of course.) And if my lovely husband weren’t doing the index, this is the author’s cost too. Because I want a launch for fun too, I’m not expecting to make any profit at all. 2006-Baby_reading.jpg - 8822 Bytes

Even the ASA admitted that you can’t expect any real money from publishing this type of work (not quite in those words). The reason is that usually the author has a full time university lecturing job, and to keep that job, they have to keep up their publications – so they can’t be picky, but on the other hand, they are earning a salary - quite a good one – while they write. So they are just relieved to get published. And of course from the publishers’ point of view, it will be a small market, selling mainly to universities, so they only publish 1100, for the first edition. (I’m hoping for more myself, as it will have general interest.)

So why do it? Rather than the six months (or yes, Ron Brooks, four years on Fox) illustrators are likely to take on a picture book, I have spent – well it depends on how you count it. Collecting the data took seven years without a salary, and another seven (at least) with one. Then writing the PhD (some salaried, some without) took about six years, then the book itself has taken the best part of a year to write (even though it’s the PhD thesis cut down, it turns out to be much harder than it looks). I am now effectively a freelancer (can you freelance for yourself?) and if I’m not working for the little business Create a Kids’ Book, it’s not bringing in money for myself and the freelancers who do assessments for me, so I have not been able to earn as much all of the time I have been working on the book.

But after all this time, I want to see it in print, so I had to take what I could get. Yes, even if it does turn out to be a success I won’t get much money out of it, but I guess I’ll get “fame” and acknowledgement of all that work.

2006-reading_x_on_floor.jpg - 16255 Bytes It is not just the writing either. I have spent almost as long chasing the copyright holders of the picture book illustrations which I need to include. All the illustrators I have been able to contact personally have been very generous and given me use of their illustrations, usually in exchange for a copy of the book itself. But when I have had to go through agents or publishers, the cost has usually been at least $150 a picture (200 euros in one case). And even that is not the worst. Many of the illustrations have taken six or nine months of hard work to track down the copyright owners (and a couple I have not at managed at all). I am such small fry to the publisher’s permissions department that I languish in the bottom of someone’s in-tray. I’m very grateful to the one in America who took the price from US$150 to US$25 when I said it was a bit steep – maybe I could have bargained with them all, if I’d realised - but do the actual illustrators ever see this? I doubt it, or only a minute proportion of it. But this has taken hours and hours of time – emails, faxes, snail mail, even phone calls to America (in the middle of the night), and keeping track of all the paperwork as well.

The book is based on a reading diary I kept of my two when they were kids. I tried to record all the book related comments and exchanges, and all the actual readings, until they were reading at their interest level (about eight), then notes on their reading from then on. When I did my PhD I used this huge mass of data to study their understanding of the reality status of the stories and illustrations (i.e. when they understand that the book was created by one or two people, when they say “But animals can’t speak” and when they ask “Is it a real story?” for instance). 2006-reading_with_mum.jpg - 16590 Bytes

Everyone interested in children’s literature, in children actually reading, and in children’s responses to books, will be interested. It will be expensive here (because it is published in England and because it is an academic title) but I know it will be enjoyed by everyone who delights in young children – parents, kinder and primary teachers for a start.

You should be able to get it through your library. It is due out in November.

Virginia's book Stories, Pictures and Reality: Two Children Tell will be published by Routledge (London) in November, 2006. You can order a copy from Virginia.


Pass It On - email Jackie Hosking on This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.