“I just wish so much that it could all be real.”
My eleven-year-old said this to me as I tucked her in last night, a quiet ache in her voice. Just moments before, we’d finished reading the last book in a long fantasy series — a series that held her spellbound, off-and-on, for the better part of two years.
For me, it was just another book — a really good book, but one among many. For her, it was the end of an imaginative era, a plunge out of the clouds and a sharp thud back down to earth, where none of it turned out to be real — but oh! What if it could be?
It’s a strange and wonderful thing to publish books for children. They seem to read in a different way than do most adults: with minds open, hearts wide, and imaginations — not to mention giggles and tears — always at the ready.
At home, I’m keenly aware of this.
At work, oddly enough, it can be harder to remember.
This, I suppose, is part of what puts the strange in “strange and wonderful.” In my job as marketing director for Eerdmans’s adult books, my goal is to reach out to people who will buy, read, and enjoy those books. Children, however, generally do not buy their own books. So in my job as marketing director for our children’s books, I must often bear in mind an audience of buyers who are not children: parents, grandparents, teachers, librarians, booksellers, and all the other big-hearted, caring grown-ups whose calling it is to choose and buy the books that will end up in the hands of their young readers.
Can you imagine a similar project? Creating a product with one person in mind, all the while knowing that the person you’re thinking of will only ever receive the product if another person — a person with very different goals and tastes, who is at a very different stage in life — sees the product, appreciates it, and finally shares it with the person you’ve been hoping would get it the whole time?
The only professional experience I’ve had that remotely parallels this came during an internship I did in the communications department at a major pharmaceutical company. The scientists there faced the same kind of curious dilemma we face in children’s publishing: creating a product that would only ever make its way to an end user (the patient) if a designated gatekeeper (the physician) discovered it, saw value in it, and prescribed it.
But who wants to make medicine for a doctor?
To help keep morale and motivation high, the company would do everything they could to keep their employees’ eyes not on the gatekeeper doctors but on the patients beyond them. They’d bring in people suffering from various ailments to share their stories with pathologists and pharmacologists, in the hope that those scientists would go back to their labs energized to know that somewhere out there, there were real patients in desperate need of the pharmaceuticals they were developing.
“The patient is waiting,” they told each other. It helped them remember why they did what they did, and for whom.
I often find myself saying something similar: “The reader is waiting.”
Somewhere out there, there’s a child ready to discover the magic of George MacDonald; a child eager for a book that will turn bedtime on its head; a child troubled by rumors about wars and refugees who needs an invitation to talk about it all; a child who, at the end of a long day, just wants a good laugh.
Those child readers will never show up on a publisher’s sales report, but like my daughter — trailing clouds of fantasy and searching for something new to enchant her — they’re out there. Waiting.
About Rachel in Review:
Life for this kid lit enthusiast and working mother of four can be messy. Confusing. Painful. Funny. Breathtakingly beautiful.
Enter the Eerdmans books. So, so many of our books, whether they’re bedtime books for babies or coming-of-age novels for young adults, seem to have a single uncannily common quality about them: they just fit. These wise, wonderful books somehow manage to tie into — and by so doing, help me sort out — the knotty complexities of life as I actually experience them.