"You can be anything you want, just don't become a writer." I tell my kids this all the time, semi-jokingly of course. If either of them decided to pick up the pen (or Word Processor), I'd be insanely proud. So, why would I tell them not to? Because I know how tough it is with a possibility of no reward beyond a sense of accomplishment.
Yesterday an article from the New York Times about self-publishing circulated through all my on-line writing groups. I know, an article about self-pubbing, big deal, but this one was different. This particular article was about parents publishing their kids work via self-publishing outlets.
I read the article, read Maureen Johnson's response, talked to my husband and other writer friends and thought about my feelings on it. Would I rush out to publish my kid's work, even if I thought he was the next Mark Twain, Shakespeare or Stephanie Meyers? Is publishing their work like this going to help them down the road or hurt them?
My husband's take on this when I told him was it wouldn't matter. From a reader's point-of-view, there's so many self-published 'junk' out there, it would only add to the heap. His thoughts made me think of how other self-publishers feel about this. Yes, anyone has access to publishing now and the stigma, while somewhat fading, is still attached to those who choose this route.
I know many self-published authors who put in the time and energy to write something worth reading and spend the money to make sure it looks professional. When the market gets flooded by parents publishing their kids' books, the image these other self-pubbers have worked to achieve gets further tarnished.
Every writer knows the process is long and full of heart-break. Rejection from publishers and agents, rewrites and restructuring are something we all face. Self-publishing without going through rewrites and editing is taking the easy way, something that is true for adults as well as kids. It shows a lack of trying and laziness, things that will show in the overall story.
Something else these parents aren't thinking about is the criticism their kids will now face as 'published' authors. No one author is loved by every reader, no matter how fantastic they are. Having our work torn apart is all part of what being a writer is about. They think they're helping with their kids' self-esteem, but what happens when the negative reviews and comments start showing up on their book pages?
I'm completely for kids writing. I encourage my children to make up stories and will type or write them down so they can illustrate them. In elementary school we did a collection of poems which the teacher 'bound' and we all received a copy of. Many younger kids participate in Young Authors through schools and libraries. My own mom bought one of those binder machines when I was little because she wanted to 'publish' my work. (I wouldn't let her.)
The point of my post isn't to discourage or stop young, aspiring writers, it's to make their parents think before they push that 'publish' button. Instead of self-publishing and throwing your kid out into the public, unprepared, sign them up for writing classes or clubs. Let them learn about the craft, as well as how to handle criticism and rejection, before they try for the big time.
While they're learning to write, maybe the parents should acquaint themselves with the publishing industry and find out what their kids are really up against.