Bad, bad books

Recently, I read The Joys of Slightly Subversive children’s Books, a blog post by CBI’s Laura Backes.  Within the blog, she comments that as long as there is a large enough audience to keep a book in print, there are no bad books.

Maybe I was just sleep deprived when I read this, but the phrase bad books immediately brought to mind an image — books jumping off the furniture, books swinging on the ceiling fan, books just generally being naughty.

Once I got that out of my head, I started thinking about Laura’s statement and was surprised to realize that I disagree.

Because, a book may sell and sell very well but still be boring and preachy where the child audience is concerned.  It sells, because the adult buyer loves the lesson it teaches and teaches oh so well.  Adults may very well recommend such a book to each other for various reasons, but that doesn’t mean that the message ever reaches the bored senseless audience.

Fortunately, editors are gatekeepers for a reason and they keep many malevolent manuscripts from becoming bad books.  Here are some signs that you may be creating a malevolent manuscript:

  • More important than the plot or the characters is the message.  Yes, you can teach a lesson through theme and consequences, but if you feel the need to state the message at the end of the book, you probably need to focus more on story.
  • Your adult characters become mouth pieces and spend lines and lines of dialog discussing the dangers of alcohol, sex and fast driving.  I’m not saying these things are good, but again work the lesson into the story.  Let your main character find it out for him or her self.
  • At the end of the story, your main character realizes that mom and dad are 100% correct.  Yes, it may be true but these goody, goody characters are really hard for young readers to identify with.

If you are in doubt about your manuscript, find a critique group.  Pay for a paid critique at a conference.  Read bagfuls of books published in the last two years.  You’ll learn how to work a lesson into the story so that your reader doesn’t have to swallow this great big bitter pill.  You’ll learn to write stories that guide even as readers beg for time to read one more page.

You can do it.  I know you can.

–SueBE