Saturday, February 28, 2009

In response to Laurie's suggestion

In her comment to my post last week, Laurie suggested that someone draft a letter to Congress, so people who wanted to could send it to their representatives. So, here's my attempt for anyone who wants to do that -- or use mine as a taking-off point for her own letter: it's usually easier to rewrite something than to start from scratch. Or maybe we could we all edit and rewrite it using the blog's Comments....I already sent this draft to my Congressman, Joe Courtney, who, I'm proud to say, was one of the only people in Congress who voted against Bush's bail-out to the bankers.

Anyway: here's the letter I sent him. I can always rewrite it according to the Comments and resend it.

Dear Joe:
First, thank you for being our representative in Congresss. I voted for you and I think you're doing a good job.

I am a children's book author, writing to you about how the publishing industry is suffering and how Congress could help, without spending a dime. If you believe that good books are important to children, and that the publishing industry is worth saving, this is important. [EVERYONE: This sentence is clunky, I know...rewrites extra welcome here!]

Once, publishers made most of their money from "mid-list" books: books that sold "only" a few hundred or thousand copies a year. These books provided a steady income for publishers until, in the late 1970s, Congress passed a law saying that publishers had to pay taxes on their inventory.

This meant that these mid-list books were no longer as profitable. At around the same time, small, independent bookstores were being replaced by big chains, and publishing houses were merging and becoming bigger and more corporate.

All of these things -- but especially, having to pay taxes on the backlist -- led publishers to concentrate their resources on "big books," books they hoped would become best sellers. Simple arithmetic shows how this meant fewer books: where once, a publisher would have paid 25 authors advances of $10,000 each, they are now much more likely to pay one author an advance of $250,000.

The publishers' assumptions about what might become a "big" book have also limited what's published. They've stopped publishing, or limited, certain kinds of books. There are fewer books for children aged 8-11 (books for "young adults" sell better). Children's books that are considered "quiet" (no big exciting events) aren't as common -- would SWALLWS AND AMAZONS be published today? Genres that aren't in (like realistic fiction) are harder to get published, even though some children love realistic fiction. In general, the whole trend of children's publishing today is towards fewer books that SOME children might love -- because lots of children might not like them. Children's books are becoming more like TV: trying to appeal to the lowest common denominator.

Could Congress repeal the law about having to pay taxes on unsold books -- "existing inventory"? And clarify the provisions of the Child Safety Act so books don't have to undergo needless and expensive testing? And -- though this one would cost money - give subsidies to schools and libraries not for new buildings but to BUY GOOD BOOKS?

This would support both the arts and education -- and what could be more worthwhile than encouraging children to read by making books that they'd fall in love with readily available to them?

I would be happy to volunteer my time to help this cause and I bet lots of other authors would, too.

Yours sincerely,
Libby Koponen


Carol Baicker-McKee said...

This is an excellent letter, and I will tweak it and send it to my congressmen. But part of me feels hopeless these days about the willingness of Congress to pay attention to "quiet" issues. I've been writing and calling my congressmen (and others as well) for weeks now about the CPSIA (that's the child safety law you refer to) with only 3 boilerplate replies that appear to completely misunderstand my position on the law (they imply I support it and just needed some help finding more information). My first letters were informative and sweet in tone like yours and when that got no useful response, they got firmer and more direct -- but also to no effect. I fear we are seen as midlist books in a Big Book world - the bailouts, the health insurance crisis, the stimulus are all sexier than we are.

But that thing with feathers still flutters in me, so I'll send my letter and urge the rest of you out there to do so as well. But maybe it's time to think of something more, something that will get us noticed next to the "Celebrity or Fart Book" issues

Laurie said...

Thanks! I'll mail mine off tomorrow :-)

BTW- I just finished and LOVED "Blow Out the Moon."

Libby Koponen said...

Oh my goodness thank you both!

Laurie, I am so glad you read and loved BOTM, thank you for reading it and for telling me. And also thank you for encouraging me to write the letter. I wouldn't have done it if you hadn't suggested it. And it's cool that all 3 of us are writing....though Carol, I'm afraid you're right about the willingness of Congress to pay attention to "quiet book" issues. I love the phrasing of that and of your whole letter. That thing with feathers still flutters in me, too. And I will keep writing letters. If YOU think of something more, something that will get us noticed, tell us! Even if only the 3 of us do it, that's better than no one doing it.

Thank you both!