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New Trend: Parents Becoming Their Kids' Publishers

When I was 13, I wrote a novel. It was about a cult of vampire nuns. It was awesome. Seriously, what could be more awesome than vampire nuns?

I still have the only copy of this manuscript. I sometimes run across it, written mostly in pencil on a series of lined notebooks, and remember the long summer afternoons I spent curled up in a corner of the stone staircase that led nowhere across the street from my house, writing feverishly. They’re good memories. I’m glad I still have those old notebooks. I’m also glad they represent the only copy of the saga of the vampire nuns.

I’d like to take a moment to thank my mother for never succumbing to the temptation to publish this novel on my behalf.

Plenty of kids these days won’t be so lucky in ten years, when their adolescent prose has been immortalized through self-publishing ventures funded by their parents.

Apparently, this is a hot new trend (according to the New York Times). Parents are taking advantage of the blossoming self-publishing services that exist to print up small runs of their kid’s first literary efforts. Writers are seeing books with their name on them in print before they hit their teens.

I promise not to do this to my kids.

What’s wrong with self-publishing your child’s book?

Well. For starters, there’s the vampire nun issue. Kids write the darnedest things. I was not a young genius with a superbly ironic twist on the classic vampire tale. I had a bad idea which I elaborated in gaudy prose. For hundreds of pages. Doing so was awesome, and at the time I felt by turns brilliant and stupid, as one does when writing. It was a good thing to do on the way to learning to write well. I’m just grateful it hasn’t been exposed to public scrutiny.

While there might be a few rare talents among the kids being published by their parents, probably most of them are printing books they won’t be proud and happy to have floating around 10 years from now.

Then there’s the question of whether or not a fast track to publishing is really the best thing for a young writer. In the NYT piece, parental publishing is likened to other forms of parental support for a child’s interests. They write:

The mothers and fathers who foot the bill say they are simply trying to encourage their children, in the same way that other parents buy gear for a promising lacrosse player or ship a Broadway aspirant off to theater camp.

But others see the blurring of the line between publishing and self-publishing as a lost opportunity to teach children about adversity and perseverance.

Put me in the latter camp. I see this more as buying your child a jersey and a trophy, rather than shuttling them to practice and buying sports equipment. If you want to support a young writer’s efforts, send her to writing workshops. Give her a laptop. Spend the money on professional editing services if you must. For that matter, you can spend no money at all and be sure your kid has a library card and an earnest reader. That goes a long way. There are many ways to let your young writer know you care and to help her succeed that don’t involve rushing an unpolished book into print.

Of course, I’m assuming these books are unpolished. I haven’t read any of them, and many of them may be quite good. But I’ve seen enough amateur writing in writing workshops and writer’s groups to know that overall, creative writing benefits from the process of being professionally edited. A book that has not gone through an editor’s hands, no matter the age of the author, has missed an opportunity to grow better.

This isn’t to totally diss on self-publishing. A lot of good writers have used it to create a following for books that were a little too off the beaten path for traditional publishers to take a chance on. That’s a fine choice for an adult who has researched and weighed the options.

I also love the idea of using a self-publishing imprint like Lulu to print up a child’s book for personal use. It’d be great to have a professionally printed and bound collection of my kids’ drawings and early writings to give out at Christmas time to family members.

But publishing and selling an older child’s or teen’s writings as a way to sidestep the struggles of the publishing process seems likely to undermine rather than help a young writer.

What do you think? Would you self-publish your kid’s first novel?

Photo: iStock

 

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