Saturday, July 21, 2012

The Future for Caribbean Children's Books. Part 1.

This is Part 1. Other posts on this matter will come after Olympics, I should think. Pure excitement and fretting, eh. Will he or won’t he? What a something!

You will soon see that this post is about my situation, however it has implications for the wider Caribbean. I have been thinking and thinking  what to do with my children’s books. Here is my situation.
1. A great number of my books were written for the Ministry of Education - some 30 books/stories. They hold the copyright since it was work for hire in the 1980's; they do not sell books, so only the children in the primary schools, to whom they give books free, ever see these books. Of course, they cannot afford to reprint them, or all of them, as often as they would like. So much of what I’ve done is locked up. The solution would be for the Ministry to print them and sell them, as well as providing the free copies as usual to the government primary schools;  perhaps  seek bids from commercial publishers to do this. There is a precedent for this; it was done in the 1970’s/1980’s.
2.Then some of my books, three,  were sponsored or printed through the Children’s Writers Circle, which is no longer active, and to which I have the copyright. Two others were done by publishers who have gone out of business or cannot afford to reprint them and so the copyright has reverted to me.
3. I have some other books which were for Cricket World Cup, published by a publisher in the UK. This was also  work for hire and was sponsored by a businessman in one of the other islands. They are not available here. I’m trying to see what I can find out about them being available here, even though I make no money on them.
4. I have one self published book.
5. More recently I have been published by Carlong, two books. And they, of course, will keep those in print as part of their Sand Pebbles Series (children's book series; they are traditionally textbook publishers). 
So in the fiftieth year of Independence:
1.       I thought that I should at least reprint one of my books (at first it was at least three. LOL! Or for Jamaicans, DWL). The funds for this would come from money saved from the sale of previous books, saved little, little, over hundreds of years. LOL. (Mild hysteria setting in). That’s why it’s down to one book.

2.        Also I thought I should write at least one book/story. Well  I’ve actually done that, and revised it - perhaps another revision or two needed. It’s  a children’s picture book. But now I’m in despair and cannot finish it because of what  the facts seem to be.
The facts:
1.So I thought I  should reprint Cordelia  Finds Fame and Fortune. It is, after all, one of my best known books. I took it to the Miami Book Fair School Outreach Programme and there was an American edition. I have already paid to have it digitally formatted.
Here are more facts: to print 500 books (because I cannot afford to reprint more, nor can I warehouse them – I’m now in an apartment.) would be $ X. The selling price, would be $ Y. A distributor will take 200 on consignment for half the selling price.  This affords me some J$ 60 profit on each book (sixty Jamaican dollars – can’t even buy a slice of chocolate cake). If they sell all of the books I will earn J$ 12,000 (which could  almost buy 3  chocolate cakes). Yes that’s true. Bet you can't believe  that. Why am I doing equivalency measures in chocolate? My mind just goes to chocolate at times like these.  If I sell the rest (300)  to the retail trade at 30% discount (over what period of time? three years? by which time some of the staples will have rusted? They take little by little, 12 copies, little by little)  I may make back the printing cost. No, I cannot increase the retail price. The market cannot bear it. So obviously this is totally impractical, even though I really think this would be a lovely book to have out this year.
 By the way, this is not negativity. This is ‘facts’ from experience. How have we done books  in  previous years? Well for me and others, when there has been a big project, we submit books for consideration, and if they are selected we then go to press if we do not  have stock. No big projects in sight. Everybody in the world bruk!
Yes, the variables could be find a sponsor, increase the print run, and on and on we go. However that is not the way to print/publish books on a sustainable basis.
This is a clear case for print on demand? I’m investigating. My information so far is print on demand is  a by page cost and it’s expensive, more suited for academic books which are not price sensitive as far as the market is concerned.
Right! So obviously this is a clarion call for turning it into an e-book. However from what I’ve read, the challenge for picture books is that since e-readers have the capacity for text to be enlarged or made smaller there is no guarantee that the illustrations will stay  in the position in which they were first located  so as to relate to the text. Also researching this further, because this must be the way forward for my unfinished picture book and perhaps for all future children’s books.
And how do we resolve the challenge of access, the fact that the majority of our people/ children will not have e-book readers any time soon?
So please make your suggestions, share information you may have. Is the Caribbean going to  always be a region of children’s book samples (and is long time we been working at this, man) or is there a way forward?


  1. Lots of challenges here! For all of us writers for children in the Caribbean. The cost factor is perhaps the main reason why the picture book part of the genre is least developed here.

  2. Diane, you set me thinking. My 2 main suggestions are sponsorship and e-books. You can read more details on my blog post on the topic which you inspired.

  3. Thanks for your comment, Helen, to which I replied on your blog. Lots to consider.