Reviews, Views and Adventures in Content Creation

Monday, April 2, 2012

Don't Ridicule Kids Who Connect

Elissa Gootman’s article in this Sunday's (March 31, 2012) New York Times, “Young Writers Dazzle Publisher (Mom and Dad)” explores the phenomena of young children - pre-teens, in some cases - publishing their own books using the numerous tools now available for DIY, or do-it-yourself publishing - which today can include print-on-demand services, in which books are printed and shipped on order.   Some young authors are actually selling hundreds or even thousands of copies.

Parents and children, of course, find value in the experience - but the article notes that without the traditional gatekeepers (i.e. publishing houses) some see “the blurring of the line between publishing and self-publishing as a lost opportunity to teach children about adversity and perseverance.”
Naturally, the “old school” scoffs at self-publishing.  The article quotes, among others, novelist Tim Robbins, “What’s next?  Kiddie architects, juvenile dentists, 11 year-old rocket scientists?”  He dismisses parents who think their children might have the skill to write a book, calling them “delusional.”

To be fair, it takes time and experience to be a true master at any craft.  A twelve year old author might write engaging books that earn her a loyal following - but that doesn’t mean she’s at the top of her game.  She’ll grow and develop - and learn not only from teachers and mentors - but directly from her audience to an extent impossible to young writers of previous generations.  

While attitudes toward do-it-yourself publishing - whether writing, music or online video - are changing - there’s still a determined arrogance amongst media professionals - and an astonishing lack of empathy toward young or struggling artists that finally have a pathway to the world
A young writer who sells thousands of books is connecting with his audience.  A young YouTuber with thousands of subscribers is connecting with her audience.  A musician living far from the mainstream can connect with fans around the world.   

By using and succeeding at self-publishing and do-it-yourself technology (and sometimes skillfully using social media to promote their work), they are trailblazers.  Ironically, they’re providing professional artists with infinitely wider opportunities as we enter a decidedly entrepreneurial future.
Traditional media, on the other hand, may still have a bit of a blind spot:  oddly,  this New York Times article ignored the greater revolution in self-publishing: the e-book.  


  1. This subject is actually complex in some ways. I would never ridicule a child for trying to do anything-how encouraging is that? The truth, as you say Rich, is art forms of all types take years of study, cultivation, discipline and development. It is audacious in some ways to assume you can gain acclaim without the years of deliberate practice. Life experience speaks, but prodigy also happens. What harm is there? No one is equating the teen writer with someone who has taken years to hone his or her craft. Think of where this person can go with education and development? Talent and artistry are obvious, even in a young person. You can’t hide the real thing.

    I must admit there is a part of me that identifies with the NY Times (I have yet to read it--sitting on my table right now). I tend toward perfectionism and resent in some ways people presenting "art" after not putting in their time and paying their dues, etc. I studied and practiced daily for many years to get to a level of being able to say what I had to say. Perhaps I envy someone who can do this with aplomb and no inhibitions.

    The world is different now. Communication and creative expression have many forms. You Tube, self-publishing and the like have changed the way we can express ourselves forever. The discipline needed to develop an art form the old fashioned way is still there. Now we have new ways to use our creativity. We need to get with it and give up some of the old conventions. It seems to me (although guilty) to be elitist.

  2. I think you've touched on one of the great challenges of trying to bridge these two worlds together. I've found that many of my associaties in traditional media are puzzled and therefore suspicious of the concept that "anybody" can create and push their work out to an audience. Those who succeed, however, beyond perhaps a brief flicker, are those with true talent and passion for their craft.

    The top YouTubers today that are still creating five years from now will be those that not only have talent, but a passion to learn and develop their craft. The young writers in the NY Times article may develop their craft and career, or simply enjoy a great early life experience.

  3. Good point, Rich that true great art must stand the test of time. That fact unfortunately doesn't help too much for the here and now. Think of all the music that you loved 20 years ago--where is it now? Some of that pop music has made a come back, becoming iconic in some ways, some not so much. The "short but glorious" route has a place I suppose in which artists fade away into oblivion. The road to excellence is not always the same, but I think it is safe to say there is always hard work involved, even given talent, although all things are not created equal in the world of artistic output. It is very important for young people to understand that the opportunity to do and create is great, but young artists should learn that this is still a process and almost no one reaches their artistic pinnacle in their teens.

    1. Agreed. The fact is that most kids that attempt this will ultimately - sooner or later - find their commitment and determination tested. It's inevitable, I think, that they will learn that art is a process. At some point, the illusion ends....but in the meantime, what a great way for a kid to realize a dream!

  4. Allowing kids to self-publish is a "lost opportunity to teach children about adversity and perseverance"??? How about allowing kids to self-publish is a found opportunity to teach children about entrepreneurship and self-assurance?

    And Tom Robbins ... well, in the full quote in the article, he calls the parents of these kids "delusional" and then says compares the study and practice necessary to crafting publishable fiction to that needed to launch a lunar probe. Sorry, Tom, but while all art takes practice, it's literally not rocket science. It's also been quite a few years since Robbins' fiction has been relevant (or popular).

    Best quote in the article is where one of the parents says their aspirations "weren't to knock Harry Potter off the list," but "to get that good feeling inside that you've done something."

    Who could want to knock that or take that away?

    1. Who? People who are scared of change, apparently....or their inability to adapt...

  5. I've read the article a few times and I'm still not sure the writer (or Tom Robbins, for that matter) had their guns aimed properly.

    They are, in short, targeting children who are self-publishing their books (largely through older self-publishing routes -- you pay a certain amount of $$ and receive a limited number of copies). These kids are no threat to Robbins and his ilk; most of the parents and kids quoted see it as a way to distribute their work to family and friends, not abruptly go global.

    I *suspect* Robbins is sore about e-publishing in general and how easy Amazon has made it for anyone to get their ebook out there. He's just lashing out at kids because the reporter called him for a quote about this story.

  6. I really dislike when "adults" poo poo a child's natural curiosity and ability to learn through play. In this case being hands on and trying to do something they are interested in, if fostered can lead to a wonderful career. I think that a child's interest should be nurtured so they can blossom. Let's face it what they like today, they may not like tomorrow. However, we shouldn't hinder them from trying anything they want to.

    All adults hone in on their craft through practice and being given a break. Best thing about kids that adults can learn from is how they have no fear or inhibitions holding them back. For kids it's not about being "successful" it's about doing what they are interested in.

    Anyway, that's my perspective on this. He sounds like a prude :)

    1. Excellent comments - with two artistic kids, you know what you're talking about. It's really sad, I think, how few people appreciate this persepctive - even though I think it's critical to a kid's success, at the very least, as a person.

    2. So true because what ever they end up wanting to pursue as adults they can't have any fear or inhibitions holding them back. They need confidence in themselves. Who knows I could have a budding Entomologists or Marine Biologists or an Engineer... As long as you let them explore they will find their path :)