It’s two weeks until the official release date for GEEKS, GIRLS, AND SECRET IDENTITIES. The deal-to-debut journey has been…let’s just say it hasn’t been short. However, it’s also been incredibly eventful, and full of people whose presence in my life I’ve grown to treasure. I’ve shepherded my book into the hands of a whole slew of different communities – my critique partners, a gaggle of agents with varying levels of interest, MY agent, the stellar people of Arthur A. Levine Books, and finally, at long last, readers.
Actual readers! Holy cow! They are the whole point of the endeavor, after all. They’re also the ones who finally and irrevocably take the book all the way out of our hands, because after all these years of writing and revising and rewriting and editing and promoting and gnashing our teeth, our readers will be the first people to experience our books in a way that we, the authors and illustrators, have no active involvement in.
All of we debut authors are dealing with reviews, sales numbers, event attendance, marketing, publicity, and so on and so forth. Believe me, I’m thinking about those things as much as anyone else – I want this to go well. I want a commercially viable career, and I’m willing to do everything within my means to up the odds of having one. However, I don’t want to lose sight of the fact that all the business-oriented stuff is, in a very real way, secondary to the true endgame: that moment when a child picks up my book, opens the cover, and starts reading it.
Readers who aren’t children are vitally important too, of course. Parents owe it to their children to be informed about their reading choices. Teachers and librarians deserve our gratitude and praise every single day for getting books into the hands of their students and patrons. Booksellers are indispensable partners in building sustainable literary careers. And according to this recent article in Publisher’s Weekly, YA authors continue to reap the benefits of a vast influx of adult book buyers and readers.
I write middle-grade, however, so I feel no ambiguity about my audience. My core readers are kids. 9-12 is the industry-defined age range, but there’ll be some younger, and some older. Some of them, like 11-year-old Curious Cup Bookstore reviewer Eli or 11-year-old Porter Square Books reviewer Tony, will like the book, and even say so publicly. Others, like Kari Anne Holt’s son, will dismiss the book outright. And I really don’t expect many kids to do book reviews about GEEKS, but then again, Cynthia Olomolu’s son is! So you never know.
With any luck there’ll be a plethora of other kids too, kids who love love love it, kids who think it’s okay but not as good as WIMPY KID, kids who think it’s stupid, kids who find it so boring that they drop it on the floor after the first page…the reactions will be all over the map. But all of those reactions will be valid, you know?
If I ever hear about a child who reads my book and dislikes it, well, I probably won’t ENJOY hearing it, but I’ll defend that kid’s right to her own opinion with my dying breath. She’ll be the one who genuinely closes the circle on my journey to publication. That doesn’t happen when the release date arrives, or we throw launch parties (as fun as that is), or we first see our book on the shelf of our local indie bookstore or library. The circle closes when a girl or boy decides to read the flipping book. THAT is the moment we’re all truly waiting for.
I kinda want us all to go outside, raise our arms to the sky, and shout out our gratitude for all the amazing children out there who read books. At the 2012 SCBWI Summer Conference, legendary author Gary Schmidt said that we are called to service, and I couldn’t agree more. As the creators of children’s literature, our role is to cherish the children who read our work.
How lucky are we to have the opportunity to fill that role? We’re so lucky! Despite all the issues we face with literacy and education, despite how cruelly difficult this industry can be for its practitioners, we get to create work that ultimately ends up in the hands of readers!