>Tell Us What to Do

>After enduring my second round with the dentist with an audiobook about a serial killer who removed his (or her, I haven’t managed to finish it yet) victims’ teeth, I decided for my third date with Dr. Guen to try some chicklit (chiclets, heh) again and began listening to Sally Koslow’s Little Pink Slips, the roman a clef about Rosie O’Donnell’s takeover of McCalls. I’m enjoying it enormously: the writing is several cuts above Sophie Kinsella’s, and leagues from Plum Sykes or the Prada and Nanny girls. When the book begins, our heroine, the editor in chief, who is soon to be usurped (or something, I’m only an hour in) by the Rosie character, has just come up with a radical re-visioning of her magazine (helped by a hunky but as-yet sexually ambiguous designer) only to be outfoxed by her “frenemy,” the publisher character, who has come up with her own plan to brand the magazine with the Rosie character’s imprimatur.

The book’s discussions’ about the future of the fictitious Lady magazine made me think: What could the Horn Book Magazine do better, or more of, or more interestingly? I always have this question running around in my mind (this is not necessarily a sign of dedication; it stems as much from my default anxiety as anything else) and I’ve come up with plenty of ideas that usually involve money we don’t have. Like becoming a monthly, or printing in color, for example. Some ideas don’t cost anything, but they do collide with Tradition: changing the logo, say, or making the magazine a standard size (which would actually save money).

And while book reviews remain the number one reason people subscribe to us, more and more of our readers access them electronically, either through our own hornbookguide.com or via our licenses to the various wholesalers who sell books to schools and libraries, who provide their customers with ancillary databases of reviews and bibliographic information. So I think print book reviews, ours and everyone else’s, will become less and less important to the school-and-library audience that is our mainstay.

So what should the Horn Book–the print Horn Book–do? My enthusiasm for The Invention of Hugo Cabret in great part stems from how it’s so necessarily a book. It needs ink on paper to do what it does; it needs to have page-turns to convey the story. There’s plenty that the Horn Book, Inc. can and does do electronically to “blow the horn for fine books for boys and girls,” (our sturdy mission statement since the 1920s) but what will keep our print-self necessary? What can we do with the Magazine we can’t do online? Who can we reach, and what would they want us to tell them? Yes, they pay me to answer these questions but they pay me to ask them, too. So, I’m asking.

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Roger Sutton About Roger Sutton

Roger Sutton has been the editor in chief of The Horn Book, Inc, since 1996. He was previously editor of The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books and a children's and young adult librarian. He received his M.A. in library science from the University of Chicago in 1982 and a B.A. from Pitzer College in 1978. Follow him on Twitter: @RogerReads.

Comments

  1. Melinda says:

    >Me, I’d rather read a print magazine than an online version. The internet, for me, is Procrastination City. And I don’t have to turn on the computer to peruse back issues.

    I’d definitely go for more book reviews. It’s the reason I signed up for the Horn (hee!) in the first place.

    Naturally I like the articles on the writer’s craft, too.

    $100 bills tucked into the pages would be a nice touch.

    And maybe print it every month. I always perk up when I see my HB in the mailbox, but there’s such a big gap between these perks.

  2. Jordan Sonnenblick says:

    >Wow, I love the concept of “default anxiety”! Sadly, I suffer from that malady, too.

    Regarding physical changes to the magazine, I think pop-ups would be a cool feature. Or maybe specially-printed bonus reviews that could only be seen with 3-D glasses.

    OK, I’m kidding. BUT I am a big fan of the paper medium just because for a lot of us, there’s just an innate physical satisfaction to holding a book in one’s hands.

    By the way, I just read a huge piece in the NY Times which talked, in part, about how publishers don’t do nearly enough market research, and I think it’s great that you are engaging your readers in honest dialogue about your product.

  3. Rachael says:

    >No color, no glossy please! I love the black and white. And please keep the slightly snarky tone. And don’t ever change the name of the “Hunt Breakfast” section.

    I’d love to see more chatty literary articles, such as the one about Harriet the Spy’s gay subtext, or the one about Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes.

  4. GraceAnne LadyHawk says:

    >I live and work online, mostly. I was once called a militant cyberfeminist (in print). But I so love the print version of The Horn Book.

    I love its paper and its font. I love how it feels in the hand. I could live with a change in its size, if that made it cheaper for you, so long as the nonglossy paper and legible fonts remain. I wish it came out monthly.

    Sigh. I sound so of a certain age, don’t I?

    As for the dentist, I just had a decades-old cap replaced. The new cap is actually the right size and shape, so I am not aware of it any more. After twenty-odd years of tiny annoyance, this is bliss. I wish it for you.

  5. GraceAnne LadyHawk says:

    >Oh, and Roger? I absolutely love this blog. I love being able to chat with you as if we were having tea, or something stronger, any time you are trying out the shape of a thought.

    Thank you.

  6. >I’m with GraceAnne on loving both the print versions of the Horn Book and the blog here. And I also loved Katy Horning’s “Harriet the Spy” article, which was so fascinating and eye-opening. . . . Thinking about that, and about other HB articles that have stuck in my mind, I always love those kinds of critical pieces in the Horn Book, investigating or revisiting one classic work of children’s literature by a contemporary writer who has recently investigated the same themes; or a writer’s whole body of work, if it’s time for that kind of appraisal. Jameela Lares said once on child_lit, “The pleasure of good criticism is someone telling you exactly what it is you like,” and I adore those kinds of articles — someone directing the critical conversation about a writer, in a way we don’t have time or depth to do online.

    Or you could go in a more journalistic, New Yorker-y direction and talk more about process (which always hooks in writers). Do profiles of contemporary children’s writers and illustrators, their development, careers, and working methods. Or ask great writers to list their ten rules for writing.
    Or go to a publisher’s office and wade through the slush one month and see what that says about modern children’s writing and publishing. Or you hook up with an author and editor and trace the life of a book from ms. to contract to editorial letter to bound book, printing all the original documents you can (an excerpt of the ms., the editorial letter, an excerpt of the revision, etc.) issue by issue until the book comes out (culminating, of course, with your review).

    Finally, the Onion A.V. Club has two consistently interesting, funny features that might be amusingly adapted to children’s books: “Commentary Tracks of the Damned,” which could be applied to bad writing you hate (http://www.avclub.com/content/node/61318); and “Random Rules” (http://www.avclub.com/content/randomrules), where you could go to someone’s bookshelves and pick off every sixteenth book from the right, in place of using the Shuffle . . .

    Sorry for the long post, and good luck!

  7. Mitali Perkins says:

    >I’d focus on asking the under-thirty crowd who are your future readership. We fogeys like to read the Horn Book while swinging in a hammock and sipping an icy lemonade.

  8. b. Johansen Newman says:

    >While I much prefer the printed word, as opposed to reading on a screen, I can still enjoy both. And I do. Often. In fact, too damn much.

    But the one thing that you just can’t enjoy as much on line is seeing the illustrations. Yes, you can get an idea, but 72 dpi just doesn’t capture the art like hard copies. Nor, I hate to say it, like coated stock.

    So the Horn Book could think about actually showing some more of the art in the books, and in larger, clearer images. And a format not unlike the New Yorker, would work very well.

  9. Anonymous says:

    >I like the size and would hate to see it change. The Horn Book stands alone! Which means I can put it on a bookshelf and it doesn’t flop. I’m sorry it costs more, but anyone can tell you what a pain in the neck stacks of old New Yorkers are.

  10. >How about audiofiles? I know this goes back to digital content but… I love listening to a good essay or editorial. The magazine sits on my desk like a delicious treat I have to work up to (the size and paper quality add to the treat-like quality) … but at work I just rarely find the time to sit concentrately enough to read an entire article through. I’m good at listening and multi-tasking. I can just picture playing your monthly editorial, or one of the longer articles, while I plow through my staff expenditures spreadsheet, sign timesheets, delete spam… I think in fact that it would encourage me to make the time to dip into the silky-lovely print magazine to relish the words again.

  11. Elaine Magliaro says:

    >Roger,

    I read blog reviews–but I still subscribe to The Horn Book Magazine, Horn Book Guide, Booklist, and School Library Journal. I can’t imagine reading only online reviews. I sometimes like to sit down, relax with a cup of coffee or some other libation, and read through review journals. I check the books I’d like to buy and cross off the books I’ve already purchased.

    I can’t imagine living without my “print” journals. I think the journals review many more books than bloggers and other online review venues. In addition, I can return to a specific issue easily.

    One more thing: I really appreciate the way The Horn Book Magazine organizes its reviews into different categories–including poetry and folklore. I found that very helpful when I was working on collection development when I was an elementary school librarian.

    I’m a “sixty-something”–not a “thirty-something”…so maybe my opinion doesn’t count for much.

  12. Anonymous says:

    >What print always has going for it is the curling-up factor; I can take the magazine to bed, to the beach, to the bathroom, and access the physical pleasures of reading familiar since childhood.

    So the Horn Book’s got to have lots of stuff that one reads at length and for pleasure — quirky articles, letters from readers, maybe short stories. Actually short stories would be my first choice. I can’t think of any other publication that prints only really quality short literature for young people.

    Oh, and a bigger, more comfortable font.

  13. >Please! The Horn Book does not need self-improvement advice from The New Yorker.

    It’s already:

    1) the perfect size: i.e. you can read it and eat lunch at the same time. It tucks into your purse, or backpack. And it copies two pages at a time, which is marvelously efficient when you want to save great articles to your files.

    Which brings me to:
    2) Articles that impress you long after the first read. Example: “Blood From a Stone” by Jennifer Armstrong (which is online, too…thank you!) Or more recently, “The Pottymouth Paradox,” which begins with the compelling first line: “Yesterday, I googled the f-word.”

    3) Themed issues. “What Makes a Great Book?” Religion. Poetry. History. MORE of this, please. Have you done a music issue? Or one on book evangelism? (I’d call it promotion, but that’s way too narrow…I’m thinking about all the interesting ways a book virus spreads.)

    4) Best covers anywhere. Line drawings throughout. If you had to spend money, this is where I’d want it: splurge on a few color illustrations inside. Not all, a few.

    5) MORE from booksellers, librarians, and editors. Profile an unsung hero. Or villain.

    6) I repeat: Do not mess with the size. Don’t you realize the Horn Book can even be read ONE-HANDED?? On a bus??

  14. Roger Sutton says:

    >Wow, the Horn Book as a one-hander. When I was a boy . . .

    Okay, now seriously, you guys are GREAT and helpful. I wish we could introduce color into the inside pages, which would really help with discussion of picture books, obviously. As it is, we try to use illustrations that are useful to an article or review, conveying some aspect of a book that is hard to get into words.

    I’m thinking we could do more for writers, articles that would be useful and/or inspirational but also of interest to our audience of mostly readers. We do have a column called “The Writer’s Page”: submit, submit! We have also been tossing around the idea of publishing short fiction, but I’m still trying to figure out the parameters so we don’t get deluged with misguided submissions.

    And, Nina, we have several audio-only features currently in production that will be available from the website (for free). Last week, for example, I recorded an interview with avid movie-goer Lois Lowry about the differences and similarities between movies and books, both in their production and consumption. Kitty Flynn and Lolly Robinson are busily engineering those files into what will be the Horn Book podcast, coming later this summer.

    More, more, more!

  15. >Roger, you know I only read The Horn Book for the articles.

    OK, OK, I look at the letters too. You got me there.

    And I was going to suggest a full-color center insert, but now I see that would be folly. Utter folly.

    Let’s just talk about that short fiction…

  16. Anonymous says:

    >This is mean, and thus you might dismiss it. I wish I could say it inoffensively and more persuasively. Perhaps someone else can. The Horn Book is a thinking person’s window on Children’s books. It is not populist. It is highbrow. But it is not exclusive, or exclusionary. You do not publish acadamic-ese that is self-referential and impossible to read. You publish articles by really smart people who really write well. Elizabeth Bird’s friendly, chatty, informal blather about blogs is a notable exception. Not because it was about blogs, but because, well, because there was no thinking going on there. I do not wish to be unkind to Ms. Bird, but I have to say, since you asked, that I don’t want you to go in the direction of chatty informal clubby insider chit chat, for example –about authors and illustrators and how they work, or what their studios look like, as someone above suggested. I want you to publish more articles that are thoughtful considerations of the product of their work. The article on Harriet the Spy is what I want to read. Not what John Green has for lunch.

    very anonymously yours,
    Anon.

  17. Faith Williams says:

    >Book reviews, good ones, like those in Horn Book, are so helpful for anyone picking books. Follett prints some of them, and perhaps Baker & Taylor does too. Ideally Amazon would. Is there a way to get these people to support the Horn Book?

    Faith

  18. Roger Sutton says:

    >I think Betsy Bird (Fuse #8) has one of the best children’s-book blogs out there, and, in her Horn Book article, gave us a good idea of what such blogs are like. That was the plan, man. One reason we started a blog here at Horn Book was to have a place for observations and idea-try-outs that didn’t have the heft for print.

    I prefer breakfast alone, so you’ll get no news from me about what authors eat. I DO know a male children’s bookseller who keeps threatening to submit his masterpiece, “Famous Children’s Book Authors I Have Peed Next To,” but you probably won’t see that in the Magazine either. Or here.

  19. Barbara O'Connor says:

    >As an author, I’d love to see more editor/author type articles about a book’s journey to publication. I also enjoy interviews with editors.

    Monthly Horn Book would be heaven. I love the day I open my mailbox and there it is.

  20. Anonymous says:

    >I love surprise articles like the one in the current issue written by Daniell J. Ford- What Makes a Good Dinosaur Book? Beyond Barney. I just sent the article to a certain author/illustrator mentioned in the article who has been in Greece all spring and just recently returned to home to London.

    I also love the “Themed Issues” and would like to see an entire Issue dedicated to Non Fiction or Biographies!!!

    I laughed at the post about Famous Auhors I have peed next-Too! I can go one more- How about Famous Caldecott Medalists I have peed next-Too?! Ha!!!

    Please don’t change the size of the Horn Book!!! I have always heard that size matters!!!!

    MORE reviews please!!!!

  21. Anonymous says:

    >The funny thing is that novelty feels like its going the other way now. Since I get so much information from online sources a magazine not only seems like even more of a treat then before, but its standard features can seem like brilliant innovations compared to what now has become typical information getting. If I want to save something, I don’t need to copy, paste, open a file or print it out. Like, wow, its ALREADY printed! And…stapled too! And it fits on my bookshelf!

    In terms of content, I too would agree with more articles like the Harriet the Spy one, and an issue that I loved in particular recently was the special issue when you had many different people write about what makes a good book. I’d like to add that while I skim most internet content these days, I never fail to read the Horn Book from cover to cover. I get publishing news from online sources, but from your magazine I appreciate the reflective coverage of bigger issues. I don’t at all mind the b&w and the non glossy stock, I think the logo is great as is, and am sorry to hear you’d actually save money by printing bigger. I too like it small!

    p.s. – Another thing that is great about your way-out small non-electric format is that I can even read in the tub without mortal fear. And speaking of danger, big glossy magazines on the floor can be like stepping on banana peels.

  22. >Literary magazine editors talk about this a lot too, the print issue. I’m scared (as someone who loves the feel of paper) of the answer… but in any case I’m glad to find your blog!

    xoLaurel Snyder
    http://kidliterary.blogspot.com/

  23. Mitali Perkins says:

    >After a bit more thought, here’s what I get in a one-hand-on magazine that I can’t get on-line:

    I like perusing the ads in the print issue. Is that strange or what? I want to see publishers buying full pages touting books with starred reviews, noting which titles they feel deserve the expenditure, etc.

    I like the tasteful beauty of the whole package — the cover art, the illustrations, the fonts, the feel of the pages, the design, and the words. Can’t get that via PDF.

    As for content, I like that the prose I get in print in a monthly or quarterly magazine has taken some time before coming my way. It can be thoughtfully edited and fine-tuned, pass through several drafts, and receive input from many eyes/ears before going to press. As readers, we get time to respond equally thoughtfully.

    I like what I see emerging — a partnership between a trustworthy, beautifully-designed, thoughtful, well-written magazine and a timely, trendy, accessible, on-line blog/site that supports instead of displaces what’s happening in print. You’re breaking new ground in the writer/reader dialectic, at least in the world of children’s literature, so please keep going.

  24. Anonymous says:

    >I agree that Betsy Bird’s blog is one of the best out there and that she showed us just what blogs are like in her article.

  25. Barbara O'Connor says:

    >Mitali summed it up beautifully! AND – I love the ads, too – so maybe we’re both strange. (Except I drink something harder than lemonade while in my hammock.)

  26. >I love the size also. The Hornbook fits in the outside pocket of my “healthy back bag,” so I can take it along just in case: I don’t take my laptop along just in case I have some down time. And Hornbook is a magazine I want to read, not one that I feel I ought to read (or ought to want to read) so I do take it along, and I do read it. The articles are just the right length.

  27. Anonymous says:

    >I’d like to see articles that think about the career arcs of some authors who’ve been around for some time (longer than 10 years?) and that discuss how their work has grown and changed (or not) over time. What’s different about the new Chris Crutcher — what has he learned since RUNNING LOOSE? Like that. Some authors do grow and change, but others don’t seem to… why or why not? That kind of thing.

  28. Roger Sutton says:

    >Hey publishers: listen to your readers! Keep them happy! Support the Horn Book! BUY ADS.

    I bet J.D. will give a discount to anyone who places an ad after reading my groveling here.

  29. Anonymous says:

    >Does anybody *really* like the paperback reissue column or lists?

  30. >Speaking as one of the “under 30″ crowd. I love Horn Book online and in print.

    Specific to Horn Book, I like the size and feel of the magazine (and ooo… real paper…) and the font. I love the articles. I like the non-news stuff. I can get “this is the next big trend” in the other publications but “The Casson Family really isn’t that dysfunctional” is something that you really only get in Horn Book.

    As one who reads a lot of online content, “next big trend” is old news by the time it hits the newsstands. Casson Family is timeless.

    As far as print vs. online in general, I like the browsing factor in print– when I read online, I tend to only click on the stuff that looks interesting. When I read print, I’ll start reading almost everything– thus finding things that I would not have clicked on had it been online.

  31. Roger Sutton says:

    >The “recommended paperbacks” column went website-only a couple of years ago, so pick up a newer issue, Anon! ;-)

    We’re just proofreading the designed pages for the July/August (Newbery/Caldecott/Wilder) issue and I must say it makes my heart glad. There’s an article about Venezuela’s Banco del Libro (winner of the megabucks Astrid Lindgren Prize this year) illustrated with lots of photos, and Lolly’s done such a great design for it that it makes you think this internets stuff is just a passing fad.

  32. Anonymous says:

    >Hi Roger,

    Er… I believe the proper title for the article was “Six Degrees of Urination.” (!)

    You know I had to post as anonymous for this one… and apologies for bringing bringing your discussion down to this level!

  33. Roger Sutton says:

    >Just let go and let fly, Anon.!

  34. david elzey says:

    >To answer the question “Who can we reach?” I’d like to second Mitali’s suggestion of hitting the up-and-coming younger generations, but also add that you might want to look at parents. Recognition of the Horn Book by adults I talk to is next to nothing, but all of these adults have children and are constantly looking for good, solid information about children’s books.

    I don’t suggest aiming the magazine at a more general readership but some awareness wouldn’t hurt. People I’ve met know the Boston Globe/Horn Book Award but don’t know what Horn Book Magazine is.

    I don’t think the internet will replace print any more than movies replaced theatre (though television did replace radio). Maybe it would be interesting to speculate what you might do if Horn Book suddenly received the same kind of grant that Poetry Foundation did a while back and ask “What would we do with all that money?” and then use that as a guide.

  35. Anonymous says:

    >perhaps it’s a mistake to be linked with the GLOBE? People tend to think HORNBOOK is a local New England publication. Maybe you WANT to limit your readership to the Boston brahmin audience? (It’s classier!)

  36. rindawriter says:

    >I like the Hornbook printed just as it is whenever I can get my greedy paws on any printed copy in any condition…though I will read online, on the computer system when necessary to get at what I need.

    I wish it came out every month, too.

    A tad few more articles in each issue would be the extra cherries on top of the banana splits.

    I secretly wish for colored stars in glittery colors but since words have colors for me anyway I imagine that I can manage without.

    I like best the issues articles, the hotter the better, and the articles about how writers and illustrators work in their creative spaces. I like it when new facts and research pressure articles with new insights on nonfiction books and historical fiction, for example, too.

    I know this last suggestion is way, WAY, way out in outer space, but…have you ever, ever considered letting in an article or review now and again by an articulate, well-read CHILD? Or young adult? Perhaps this might be a way too to attract and entrap a younger-age readership.

  37. Anonymous says:

    >I like bimonthly – more is NOT better. The Horn book is one of the few publications that I receive that I actually read from cover to cover.

    I like the size but could live with bigger if it would help the mag.

  38. Saipan Writer says:

    >I subscribe. I like the small size when I’m reading the Horn Book, but then I dislike it when I’m shelving it. So I could live with a larger format easily.

    I read the Horn Book for the reviews. I’d like them to be longer, more detailed. I’d like more of them.

    I, too, like the ads. They have a spark of fun and that greedy push of enterprise, which is a nice counterpoint to the cerebral quality of the rest of the publication. I would not want the ads to overtake the magazine, though.

    I think teachers are a natural audience for the Horn Book. Many don’t have money to spare on subscriptions, but EVERY school in America should be receiving your publication. (Do you give discounts to schools? If so you should promote it more.)

    And I like a few pictures thrown in. You mention THE INVENTION OF HUGO CABRET, which is wonderful proof that black and white can be very visually attractive.

    A big thanks for all you do at Horn Book and on this blog.

  39. >I’d like to echo the “thinking person’s window on children’s books” comment. The length of the articles allows for a more in depth consideration of the topic but I appreciate the lack of academic language and trappings.
    The size is, indeed, perfect for carrying about and for shelving at home. I look forward to every issue, read it as soon as I can (in the hammock if possible) and keep each one for years.
    I don’t mind having the illustrations in black and white although I wonder if you could have them in color on the web?
    I really like having a selection of articles and reviews available on the web where I can send other readers including my children’s lit students.
    Finally, I think the mix of more-or-less traditional magazine and more modern website (with the blog but without bells and whistles and scripts I have to give permission to run) works well. I appreciate the openness of your website.

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