Print World versus E-world - by Emma Barnes

In the middle of the night
Miss Clavel turned on the light
And said “something is not right!”

That was me last night. Like Madeleine’s long-suffering guardian, in Ludwig Bettelsman’s classic books, I was suddenly aware that all was not well – only fortunately for me, it was not acute appendicitis.

No, I had forgotten to write this blog. After a few minutes thought I knew why. Over the last few weeks, my planned e-book, The City, has been pushed to the back of my mind. The reason: I have been preoccupied with the print–and-paper kind instead, my new book How (not) To Make Bad Children Good.

The story of a naughty child, Martha, and the grumpy Guardian Agent who is sent to sort her out, it’s very different to my prospective e-book, for much younger readers of 6-10 years.
It’s been a very different process from e-publishing, and the joys and stresses are different too.

The Joys

  1. Seeing the book. All the thrill of handling it, exclaiming over the illustrations by wonderful artist Emma Chichester Clark, and handing it round to be admired. In my case, all this happened in the Edinburgh Festival Children’s Bookshop Tent. The book-sellers smiled at me indulgently, and a Spanish couple passing by bought a copy on the spot.
  2. Working closely with my publisher, Strident. That’s been a total joy. They commissioned the wonderful illustrations and cover, did an immaculate job on the editing and were supportive and lovely throughout - as was my agent, Lucy Juckes. For the e-book, I’m now very aware that I’m tackling it alone.
The Stresses

  1. Reaching readers. With so few bookshops, and library closures, how does a new children’s book get a chance to reach the reader? Especially as established titles are often heavily discounted. Why should people try a new book when they can buy My Naughty Little Sister or Horrid Henry instead?
  2. Organising events. Because it is hard to reach readers, I have been spending a lot of time setting up ways I can meet my child readers face-to-face – the Wigtown and Ilkley Literature festivals, Waterstones signings, and visits to schools. The events themselves will be great fun, but there’s no doubt they are also hard work.
  3. The internet. Nobody really knows how much difference blogs, social media etc make to the books in this age-group – I’ll rephrase that, I don’t know how much difference they make – so the result is you can’t – or shouldn’t - neglect this side either. So I’ve already been posting on blogs like ABBA and Vulpes Libris.
For my e-book, it is all very different. No physical book. No publishing team. No school visits and literary festivals. Less rushing about, perhaps, but complete responsibility for the finished product and its success – everything from choosing the cover to marketing - which is undeniably intimidating. But exciting too.

Will How(not) will ever appear as an e-book? I think this age-group are most likely to remain with paper books. Especially when the beautiful cover and illustrations are an essential part of the experience. However, who knows? Things are changing so fast, maybe a year from now every child will have an e-reader.

Whatever happens, for writers the main challenges will still remain the same. Producing work we love, and helping it find readers who love it too.

Emma Barnes's web-site.
How (not) To Make Bad Children Good out now
A new edition of Jessica Haggerthwaite: Witch Dispatcher also out now


Joan Lennon said…
Love the photo of you at the Edinburgh Book Festival! It would be a crime to put those covers in greyscale.
Emma, my brother is a teacher and he says more and more kids are turning up at his school with Kindles. That's a secondary school, though, so you might be right about younger children preferring paper - or at least their grandparents, who buy most of their books!

Though who's to say schools won't soon be handing out e-readers of some kind at the beginning of term... I think we need to watch this carefully, since that'll be the e-reader of the future.
Emma Barnes said…
Good point, Katherine. I think if the prices of e-readers come down, parents might quite quickly start buying them for children of younger and younger ages. I don't think child readers themselves are opposed to reading off e-readers - quite the contrary! But if you are a parent you hesitate to spend that much money on something that a younger child might easily lose, break, drop etc etc.

People are using things like apps on i-phones and i-pads more and more to entertain their kids. So reading children's books from a screen is going to seem more and more natural.

Having said that, while pictures remain so much more important to most children's reading, the print-and-paper book will surely retain a big advantage.

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