>Championed by Children

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Mitali Perkins has up a great letter sent on her behalf by a group of second-graders to Barnes and Noble: “we were surprised when we figured out that most of your bookstores in Massachusetts don’t carry her books. Why do you not carry Mitali Perkins’ books in your bookstore?!”

Who knows if they will get an answer? And who knows if they will get a straight answer? One that runs along the lines of “we stock the books that the largest number of our customers expect us to carry. We have no staff to tell people about books, especially books that weren’t published this month and are not backed by co-op dollars from publishers. Tell Mitali to write My Indian Grandmother Loves Me as Much as My Other Grandmother Does and get back to us.”

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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. >I love it that they make it relentlessly clear that they do not just want, but expect her books to be available.
    There's nothing quite like 2nd grade outrage at perceived unfairness. Great job by their teacher in channeling it in a useful direction.

  2. J. L. Bell says:

    >Explaining market forces to second graders? Explaining market forces to children's book authors? Almost equally difficult.

  3. Mitali Perkins says:

    >I understand market forces enough to know that I'm entirely in debt to libraries and indie booksellers.

    I'll let you know if they hear back, Roger, and if the answer is anything like the one you imagine.

  4. Anonymous says:

    >I have bought books by Jhumpa Lahiri and Rohinton Mistry at Barnes and Noble.

  5. Roger Sutton says:

    >I think Anon and J.L. are missing the point from two different directions. The reason Mitali's books aren't widely (if at all; I don't know) sold in the chains is that she doesn't write big commercial books and hasn't (yet!) won a big prize, not because she's Indian. And while an understanding of market forces might be lost on second-graders (and, by the way, seems frequently lost on retailers and publishers as well), they do seem to understand that one way to affect the market is to make your desires known.

  6. J. L. Bell says:

    >The best way to affect the market, or a large, publicly traded corporation dependent on it, is to act on one’s desires with money. Alas, that’s what the system is set up to measure.

    Making one’s desires or expectations known in a letter, or an internet petition, or even a bunch of letters from cute kids (which should indeed be hard to ignore completely) won't produce better sales. Indeed, it could have a negative effect if the corporation acts on that expressed desire by stocking books and doesn’t see sell-through. Unlike second-graders and children's-book writers, a large corporation doesn't care about “unfairness.”

    I agree that Mitali Perkins's Bamboo People, about a war in Myanmar that most Americans have never heard of, isn't a "commercial" book. More's the pity; I've seen that book grow over about ten years, and it deserves a hefty audience.

    But what about Mitali's "First Daughter" books, commissioned by Random House with an eye on the mass market?

  7. Roger Sutton says:

    >J.L is right that unless those cute appeals result in sales, it won't make any difference and could make things worse for the next campaigners. (He's also right that internet petitions are stupid.) But isn't it possible that the second-graders' plea could prove mediagenic enough to spur more interest in Mitali's books, and perhaps more sales?

    Mitali, I remember you blogging about your disappointment in First Daughter sales despite some incredible coverage (including pre-scandal Elizabeth Edwards, right?) I'm guessing that is because the competition in the mass market is completely cutthroat and random, too, with too many publishers releasing too many books too often to too fickle an audience.

  8. Mitali Perkins says:

    >Yes, Roger, I did blog about it, and yes, Elizabeth Edwards put the books in the limelight as did the Romney boys, but it didn't result in sales. They weren't in the chains at all.

    I know the books didn't get any co-op advertising and barely any in-house market support because of some crazy personnel turnover. I was also not as social media savvy as I am now. I learned a lot of hard lessons with those books that will serve me well through the years.

    The good news is that the FIRST DAUGHTER books are finding a new audience in India, thanks to HarperCollins India's release this month. Yay for international markets!

  9. >I saw Mitali speak at a school recently and she mentioned that a publisher told her something along the lines of "American kids don't want to read about kids in India" on why they didn't want to publish one of her books. (I think maybe Rickshaw Girl). My thought was, how do they know if they are only exposed to the same characters over and over?

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