On Monday, Victoria Strauss of Writer Beware posted on a disturbing trend that has been growing recently: The tendency of vanity presses to prey on child authors. Her post got me thinking, for two reasons:
1) Because I also started writing novels as a teenager,
2) Because I have had firsthand experiences with one of the child authors she mentioned in her post, Adora Svitak.
In regards to #1, I agree with Victoria Strauss completely when she says that some youngsters may be able to write beautifully, but most don't have the maturity to deal with the publishing industry. We're talking about an industry that can be pretty cutthroat — there is a lot of competition and a lot of rejection, whereas most children and teens are still at the point where social rejection is the end of the world. Plus, they lack both the experience needed to know the publishing industry's standards, as well as the maturity to learn and apply those standards.
Of course, as with any rule there are exceptions, but I am pretty certain I wasn't one. I wrote my first novel at age 14, and I know looking back at it that it was not and will never be publishable. My second novel was better, but it is my third novel — written when I was 15 — that I think has the most potential. However, even that one needs work — revisions and corrections that I don't think I would have seen the need for earlier in my career.
In spite of the fact that I once complained about my parents not encouraging and helping me to pursue publication, I think now that I wouldn't have it any other way. Maybe I haven't published a novel yet, but I'd rather get there on my own two feet than to have my work sell because I was some kind of child prodigy, an oddity and a fascination.
Which brings me to #2: My experiences with Adora and Joyce Svitak. I got involved almost exactly two years ago, when Adora's book, Flying Fingers, was first published. Joyce advertised looking for reviewers, and being a little naive about how the industry worked, I agreed to work with them. Perhaps unsurprisingly, I got burned.
Victoria's post about Aultbea and their child authors made me start thinking about the situation with the Svitaks for the first time in many months. It occurs to me that Adora was not the only one whose work was being exploited — by looking for writers to work for free and betraying our initial agreement regarding my review, Joyce was also taking advantage of other writers. This makes me wonder: Is it only the vanity publishers who are guilty of exploiting children's talents? Or are some of the parents equally as guilty?