Thursday, May 8, 2008

MINI-VIEW: HAROLD UNDERDOWN

MINI-VIEWS:
Pint-sized interviews that leave you smiling.

HAROLD UNDERDOWN is a freelance editorial consultant. He has worked at Macmillan, Orchard, and Charlesbridge, and has experience in trade and educational publishing. Among the books he has edited are Evelyn Coleman's and Daniel Minter's The Footwarmer and the Crow, Yumi Heo's One Afternoon, Larry Pringle's and Bob Marstall's An Extraordinary Life, Lisa Rowe Fraustino's Ash, Grace Lin's The Ugly Vegetables, and Sneed Collard's and Michael Rothman's The Forest in the Clouds. He is also the editor for the Young Patriots Series, published by Patria Press.

Harold enjoys teaching, and in that role wrote The Complete Idiot's Guide to Children's Book Publishing, now in its third edition. He founded and runs “The Purple Crayon,” a respected web site with information about the children’s publishing world at http://www.underdown.org/. He speaks and gives workshops at conferences, including the SCBWI's national conferences in LA and NY, and smaller conferences all over the country.

I'm so honored that Harold agreed to do an interview. And in the spirit of his never-ending generosity, he not only answered the standard three Mini-View questions, but he gave us an additional answer too.

How do you think the rising cost of fuel will affect the children's book industry?
I don't think it will have much of an impact. A family that struggles with an extra $20/week in gas costs is not a family that had a lot of money available to buy children's books before the price of gas went up. The families that buy significant numbers of children's books are relatively well off and not likely to be affected.

How is today’s economy affecting the children’s publishing business and what are the prospects for its future?
It's not clear yet how much the current economic situation is going to affect our business. People who lose jobs or are struggling with a mortgage won't be buying children's books, of course, but the real impact won't be felt until we see how state and local tax revenues are affected. If school and library spending is cut, that will have big impact on the business, in the short term.

In the long term, I'm not too worried about the children's book business. Over the past several years, we've had to adjust to reduced spending by schools on books, as they had to shift their resources to testing materials. Under a new administration, I'm hopeful that more money will be available at the federal level AND that the testing required by NCLB will be at least scaled back, meaning schools will have more money available for real books.

What is your prediction of the picture book market?
That there will continue to be one! There's been a lot of talk about the picture book market being weak compared to the demand for novels, but it never disappeared, and some companies are already talking about doing more picture books. Demographics have an impact on what's being published, but not a huge one.

What is your favorite children's joke?
Q. Why did the chicken cross the road?

A. To get to the other side.

Q. Why did the rabbit cross the road?

A. Because it was stapled to the chicken!

(I picked that because it's an example of the kind of joke I've heard my daughter tell--the kind of joke that makes kids laugh uproariously, but generates only puzzled expressions on adult faces...)

Thank you, Harold!

4 comments:

DeenaML said...

Great mini-view. Harold is so wise, his website was the first place I went when I was learning the biz, and he always makes me think! Thanks!

Alexis said...

Harold - Great industry insights, as always. Love your Purple Crayon website! Looking forward to seeing your updates in the new edition of your book. (Can we please rename it, "The Soon-to-be-Brilliant Person's Guide to Publishing Children’s Books”??)

Katia said...

Hello, Terry. Landed here via the Verla Kay blue board. Nice interview. And I must have a mind about the age of Harold's daughter, because that joke at the end made me laugh :)

Anonymous said...

Terry,

Thanks for this interview! Harold is a terrific resource - and so generous with his knowledge.

Barbara Bietz