Kid-Sizing the New Custom Publishing

November 12, 2009 at 8:31 pm Leave a comment

Two young authors showing off their published books

Self-publishing companies like Blurb, Lulu and ibook have experienced strong growth in the past few years, providing one of the few bright spots in the consumer economy.  There are a few reasons for this growth: software platforms are more user-friendly; variable printing technologies have advanced so that a single hardcover books can be produced at a cost previously available only to large publishing houses doing 10,000 copy runs; and consumers have gotten used to the idea that they can go online and create their own photobook or cookbook or offer their unpublished novel for sale to the general public.  

As Eileen Gittins, CEO of  Blurb pointed out in her recent blog entry on Huffingtonpost , we  are all storytelling creatures.  Since cave paintings we have wanted to describe, explain and put our own personal spin on the world around us in words and pictures.  Self-publishing is growing because people need to construct our stories and share them with the world. 

And none of us enjoy making up a story more than a kid does.   From the moment she can scribble with a crayon on the back of a menu a child tells stories.  I spent a lot of my time at my progressive New York City grade school writing books on construction paper, illustrating them and binding them with thread and remnant cloth covers.  My 5 year old son right now is drawing very complex monsters with huge backstories related to garbage trucks.  The last book he created was an almanac of monsters. 

When I founded Scribble Press (www.scribblepress.com) with Darcy Pollack two years ago, we wanted to make it fun and easy for kids to do what they are already doing – writing and drawing – and turn their stories into professionally bound books.  Scribble Press is a retail concept store where kids write and illustrate books that are “published” while you wait.  Kids can drop in to do it, or take classes or have parties – all focused on making books. We have taken a really low tech approach to creating books – they are written and illustrated by hand with markers and pencils.  The high-tech piece comes with the bookbinding – we create covers with actual author photos and typeset title blocks, and bind the books with a proprietary “board book” method that gives the pages a satisfying weight. 

 We think this lower-tech system is the right approach because it reflects the way kids like to create stories.  Most kids who sit down at Scribble Press to write a book don’t know what story they are going to write until they start drawing, and the story comes out of the drawing.   The tactile aspect seems to be key to the creative process, and so we purposely have no computers in our studio – just art supplies.  It’s a sort of MyGym for the mind, or a Color Me Mine for the book loving set. 

Some kids create books with two pages that take 15 minutes to write, and we’ve had kids come back as many as five or six times and spend upwards of ten hours creating a book.  But whether they spend a lot of time or a little, the sense of accomplishment is the same.  Seeing the pride and joy on the face of a child being handed her first professionally published creation is incredibly rewarding. 

In addition to the sense of confidence and accomplishment that self-publishing give to kids, there is a strong educational rationale for making self-publishing kid-friendly.  Leadership consultants like Stephen Denning (www.stevedenning.com) actually offer storytelling workshops for CEOs; being able to communicate a good story is a key leadership quality.   Daniel Pink (www.danpink.com), in his bestselling book A Whole New Mind, argues that the key skills of the 21st century are right-brain skills such as brainstorming and storytelling, rather than left-brain skills such as retaining information and solving math problems.  

Writing is also a great way to encourage reading.  There is a stack of books my 5 year old likes to read to me every night.  The same six books – all books that he “wrote” and illustrated himself in his kindergarten class.  The connection a child has to a book that he or she made really makes the words come to life. 

These creative muscles benefit from exercise.  Getting kids in the habit of writing their own stories from the time they can draw a stick figure is one of the greatest educational gifts we can give them.   Many elementary schools – such as my son’s LAUSD classroom – are beginning to include bookmaking as a central way to deliver curriculum.  To support book publishing in the school system, in 2010 we are launching a major philanthropic initiative to give every 3rd grade student in the Los Angeles Unified elementary school system access to Scribble Press publishing. 

Hotel for Dogs by a kid author

This 6 year old writer has published 5 books already

We ought to be working as a society to harness new emerging creative technologies for educational benefit, and Scribble Press aims to be a leader in that arena for kids personal publishing.

– Anna Barber, co-founder and CEO, Scribble Press

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Dr. Cara Natterson Book Signing – November 6 Gadgetless creativity, who would guess?

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