We Are All Astrologers
That is, those of us who write and edit nonfiction for young readers live by the stars. Not only do we yearn to get those glittering nods of approval but we interpret them — if a book is racking up the stars, we hope it means award committees will take notice. So a star is both a specific pat on the back and a sign, a cabalistic omen of the future. But, as you all know, there are just a very few publications that regularly review our books and hand out stars. And while we all gaze expectantly at SLJ and Booklist, and Kirkus, and the Horn Book, and BCCB, and VOYA, (PW has essentially stopped reviewing nonfiction for kids) the overwhelming majority of potential book buyers — whether parents, or teachers, or certainly kids — have never even heard of these magazines. I wonder then how they learn about our books?
The adult book world has been taking it on the chin, in part because newspapers are shutting down their stand-alone book review sections. Washington Post’s Book World was the most recent loss, after the L.A. Times. Outside of the New York Times, how many newspapers still have a distinct book review section? More than a decade ago I suggested to the then editor of the Times Book Review that he expand his coverage of YA books by running online reviews. He didn’t think that was a good idea, as it suggested a two-tier system, with some books/reviews "deserving" to be in print, and some online. But today some of those papers that have dropped their stand alone sections promise more coverage online. That could be great — if it happens. Nonfiction, it seems to me, would be an ideal candidate for online reviewing, especially since teachers and parents could then add comments on how they have used books with kids.
The blogsphere, whether in aggregators like Good Reads, or the many individual blogs devoted to books, kids books, nonfiction, adds another layer, another means of getting the word out. But, at least to me, it seems diffuse — there are so many separate voices and none have distinct authority. There are many flickering comets, but no stars.
So friends, how do you, how does the vast American public, learn about new nonfiction? Any ideas?