Why do some [books] become “classics” while others which are just as good or maybe better never even heard of, or in some cases never even published?
Classics become so because:
- they impress an editor/publisher as something that will appeal to a lot of people
- they actually get published
- they are marketed or promoted in a way that catches the attention of key people—like book sellers, reviewers, librarians, teachers, Oprah—who then recommend the book to others
- people start reading the book and then tell all their friends and neighbors about it
- the book speaks to universal themes in a way that touches a wide variety of people,
- as word spreads about the book and people read it, the majority of those readers respond positively
A book must meet all of these criteria or it won’t become a classic.
I have a sister-in-law who has written several children’s books and has yet to get any published, and they’re good. I’ve read some of them, and they’re a lot better than a lot of the junk I’ve seen in libraries and bookstores. It makes no sense, really. How do such dumb books manage to get published and other really good ones don’t?
I’ve asked myself that question many times. The answer is: the publisher thinks they can sell it. Period. Either the author has name recognition, or there’s a marketing hook, or it fills a niche the publisher is looking for. It also comes down to timing.
Let’s say a publisher is looking for a St. Patrick’s day picture book. They look through the submissions on that topic and pick the one they think will sell the most copies. Maybe they’ve got a good mss by a new writer and a not as good but still okay mss by an established author who routinely sells hundreds of thousands of copies of each title. Financially speaking, the better bet is the established author. Hopefully then, the next publisher the new author submits to will not have any other St. Pat’s mss in their slush pile.
Another scenario is, the publisher has looked for six months and finally has a decent St. Pat’s manuscript turned in. It’s not the best, but library contacts keep telling them they get lots of requests for St. Pat’s books in March, and there are only one or two out there. So the publisher crosses his fingers and goes into production on the mss he has. Then, six months later, he gets a phenomenal St. Pat’s mss—but he can’t publish it because he already has one at the press. And even though the demand is great in March, there is NO demand the rest of the year, so he only needs one St. Pat’s title. Regretfully, he passes.
Now. Some publishers refuse to publish mediocre stories and would rather wait for quality. But if they wait too long, they’re out of business. Other publishers would choose the better story over the well-known author, but their expenses on the new author’s book are going to be twice as much. If they don’t find ways to lower their expenses, they won’t stay competitive.
Rock and hard place.
I know this is more in reference to novels, but what do you know about publishing children’s books?
I don’t work with children’s books and haven’t for some time. However I do know that children’s books are more expensive to publish and harder to sell than adult books.
Picture books are very expensive to print because they are full color on every page, or every other page. Good artists are very expensive. Picture books sell based on the quality or cuteness of the illustration.
Chapter books and middle readers cost as much as an adult book to print, even though they have fewer pages. However, you usually can’t sell as many of these books as you can adult books because most adults will buy books for themselves, but use the library for their children.