28 April 2016

Is My Children's Book a Reader?



Writers of juvenile fiction sometimes wonder whether or not to brand and market their book as "a reader". That is, a book with a certain recommendation for the reading level of the child. Books without this kind of careful planning and crafting (during writing, editing and design) are usually considered picture books or chapter books. In traditional publishing, your publisher will take care of this for you, but what should you do when you are self-publishing?

Your book may not officially be "a reader" but does it actually matter? This is a question for you and your book publicist. There's a very fine line between a chapter book and a reader. The following questions may help you realise whether or not to include the term "reader" for your book.

  1. Do you have adequate academic qualifications, as the author, to decide whether the book is for a certain reading level, according to the current Australian educational curriculum?
  2. Does your editor or publisher have the adequate knowledge? And if so, would they recommend any changes to the book to accommodate the reading level claim?
  3. Does the publisher have an existing procedure and system for designing and setting out readers? If so, would you want your book to be part of that, or have more creative freedom to explore other layout and design options?
  4. Would it really be advantageous for your book to be labelled for a specific reading level, or would you prefer to let the market decide? Writing 'Reading level 10' on your book, and then failing to distribute and market it exactly to that niche, may cause the book to fail for other age groups or reading levels who dismiss it.

Unless there's some kind of academic qualification behind the declaration of being a level XYZ reader, then the book is not officially a reader.

Whether a book is or is not "a reader" is a bit of a semantic issue. Educational publishers manage this very carefully, of course, and they will use their own gauges and levels to signify what level the reader is. If you really want to make your book work as "a reader" make sure you have adequate qualifications behind the claim, adequate publishing consultation and management, correctly targeted marketing and distribution. This is extremely difficult in self-publishing and you might be better off approaching an academic publisher with your work rather than trying to go it alone.

There's nothing to stop you from calling your self-published book "a reader", or recommending it for "level 8 readers", for example, but will it help you or hinder you? You may need to seek out an academic editor or publisher to advise on this.

Teachers can be a great resource for coal-face opinions about reading levels, but they don't have the sort of experience that an academic publisher has. Teachers may be able to suggest what reading level the book is, and point out any words that are inadvisable for the age group, but this is still an unofficial guide. You could then use this in your marketing of the book, but unless you have an official endorsement from a recognised academic, our advice is not to state the reading level on your cover.

There is a website where you can get a rough idea of reading level or age, but this is not Australian so it is not up-to-date with our educational curriculum. See http://www.webpagefx.com/tools/read-able/.

In self-publishing it becomes complex, difficult, and essentially pointless to drill into too much specificity on the reading level of your juvenile fiction book. The simple fact is that a self-published book is not a book published by an educational or academic publisher, and nobody buying this book is going to think that it is. Librarians, booksellers and teachers know the brands of these publishers, and they will buy "readers" from them because they know they've been carefully crafted and written from the outset by experienced academics who know all about reading level. It isn't a sticker that is slapped on later.

The layout and formatting of readers is careful, but there is not one set of hard and fast rules. It is up to each publisher and the academics they have on staff. These publishers will build upon their knowledge of the curriculum in any given year, their publishing experience, and the trends in the educational book marketplace. They will have access to guidelines on reading level and best practice in the industry.

We like to support authors’ attempts to be as professional as possible, even when they are self-publishing, not going through a publisher. So just bear in mind that readers can be black and white or full colour. They can include images or not. They can be A5 or similar sizes, portrait or landscape. There is a wide variety of choices.

If you want an official stamp in relation to the reading level, there may be places you can go to obtain this. You could start by asking the Children's Book Council or the Australian Society of Authors or your local writers centre.

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