I’ve been downsizing/cleaning in preparation for our eventual move to the Funny Farm across the road from our current house. I dove into the publishing files last night and ran across my first book contract. And look, today marks its 26th anniversary!
Pussycat Ate the Dumplings, Cat Rhymes From Mother Goose is actually still in print, via uTales – eBooks for Kids!. But back when it was originally published, the children’s book industry was not even called an *industry.* It was about editors and authors/illustrators. It was about flourishing bookstores that specialized in children’s books, schools with huge book budgets, and libraries with community support.
Pussycat, published by the two editors who made up the children’s book imprint for Dodd, Mead, and Co., was featured on their catalog cover. They made a poster for it and sent it everywhere. They invited me to ALA in San Francisco. They subsequently contracted two more books, This Old Man and Dinosaur Dream (my first authored book, though er, it was wordless).
And then it started. In 1988 the swallowing began. Putnam bought out Dodd Mead’s children’s book list and the rest of the company was disseminated. I’m not that well versed in the entire history, but I think this was the beginning of the change. What was the change? Well, *somebody* noticed that children’s books were generating money. A lot of money. And next thing we knew, editors had to scramble to somehow prove to the somebodies that a book the editors believed in was going to make the somebodies a ton of money, leaving the editors less time to do what they were originally hired to do – acquire and edit books. More big houses ate up smaller independents and editors started losing their jobs.
My editors went from Dodd Mead to Putnam, then were shown the door. Happily, E.P. Dutton gave them their own imprint. I published nine more books with them before their imprint was squashed when another merger occurred in 1994. Hundreds of authors and illustrators like me, called “mid-listers” because our books only sold 5-10,000 copies, started finding it more and more difficult to stay published because we didn’t earn enough and the number of published titles decreased. And meanwhile, we know what happened to the children’s bookstore and library market.
Twenty-six years later, it’s still tough but not impossible to get published by a traditional publisher, but when I found that old contract last night, it made me miss the good old days. I was indeed lucky to have caught the wave! Now I’m just hangin’ on.