For a while now, I’ve been thinking about community, and how it might relate to the market success of books for children and young adults.
A couple of things have brought this on: I’m currently reading (and being inspired by) Jay Walljasper’s The Great Neighborhood Book, and in the past few months I’ve been surprised by the sparse attendance at a couple of launch events for appealing books by terrific people.
I look at my own situation, and I can easily see how I might find myself with a modest stack of books that nonetheless outnumbers the crowd at a bookstore thingy of my own.
When I consider these two facts —
1) Of the people in the Austin area whom I know (fairly) well, the single biggest category would be creators of children’s books.
2) Of the blogs that I follow and interact with on a (fairly) regular basis, the single biggest category would be those related to children’s books.
— the phrase that comes to mind is “echo chamber.” When my books are finally available, will most of the people who know about them be other folks in the local or online children’s literature scene? Will the news of my publication be just one of many near-identical pieces of good news bouncing off the walls of one fairly self-contained community?
I grew up in a small town where one’s authorship of a book would have been fairly common knowledge, I think, but I don’t live in that town anymore, or even in a community like it. Occasionally, I miss it.
I live on a block with dozens of houses, and it doesn’t take me very many fingers to count how many of those homes I’ve been inside of, or how many residents’ hobbies, careers, or skills I could identify. I would like the people in my neighborhood to know about my work, just like I’d like to know which of them have a knack for woodworking or birding or canning their own salsa. I’d like to know them, and I’d like to have the kind of neighborhood where they know each other, and so I’m mulling ideas in The Great Neighborhood Book for how to help bring that about.
One of those neighbors I do know is a blogger, and through her blog (it’s not about children’s literature, and it’s much more widely and rabidly read than mine) I know that her interests overlap a good deal with the sort of audience that’s going to love one of those new books that recently drew such small launch-event crowds. I wish my neighbor had known about that bookstore event — and the book being celebrated — beforehand. If she had, who knows?
I was also struck by the large (by kidlitosphere standards) comment thread on the recent BoingBoing post, “Young adult sections in bookstore — a parallel universe of little-regarded awesomeness.” This suggests to me that — for the right book (or topic) — there are large, sympathetic blog audiences out there beyond the realm catering to us children’s literature types. And that, just like in the physical neighborhoods we all inhabit, it wouldn’t hurt to get out and about a little more often.