Since THE DRAGON IN THE DRAIN was released a few days ago, feedback from readers has started to trickle in. One of my favourite things that has happened is that people have very kindly sent me pictures of their children reading the book, with that faraway look of deep concentration on their faces that people only get when they’re lost in the magic of a story. For obvious reasons I can’t share those pictures publicly but they’ve been fantastic for me to see as the author. Thank you so much to everyone who has shared those with me.
The other feedback I’ve been getting is from adults who’ve read the book. And some of them are just a little apologetic about it. I know it’s really a children’s book, but …
Actually, it’s just a book. It’s a “children’s book” because when people buy a book (or anything else, for that matter) they generally like to know a bit about it before parting with their hard-earned cash. So we categorise books by genre or age range to give potential readers indicators as to what kind of book they’re going to get. THE DRAGON IN THE DRAIN has young protagonists, and contains no material or subject matter that kids can’t read, so it is categorised as a children’s book. But let me tell you a secret. I wrote it because it’s the kind of thing I like to read.
Like music and visual media, the way we consume books has changed and continues to evolve. We can still buy print books from bookshops. We can buy print online. And we can buy digital versions of books too. For authors, the rise of digital has also opened up a platform that allows them to get their stories directly to readers without going through the traditional publishing system. The most exciting thing about that as an author is that no-one gets to tell you what you’re supposed to be writing or what will or won’t sell. And as a reader, that means they don’t get to tell you what you can read, either.
But then it isn’t just publishers who like to tell people what they can read. Lots of people have Opinions when it comes to books, don’t they? Not ordinary opinions that they form when they read a book and decide whether they like it or not. Lots of people have the kind of Opinions that are about which books other people should be reading. This book is terrible, that book is badly written, such and such an author’s writing style isn’t up to scratch and so and so’s book is a rubbish story that we shouldn’t enjoy. This book is for children and adults who read it are ridiculous. Funnily enough, most of these Opinions are about books that have sold by the truckload, to people who loved them and didn’t give a fig for Opinions.
The great thing about books is that you can read whichever ones you like. No-one else can tell you what to read, not even publishers these days. And the people with Opinions? Well, another great thing about digital books is that you can read them on a device that also has a headphone socket, and if you plug some headphones into it and turn on your music player, it makes Opinions much more difficult to hear. Maybe next time someone tries to tell you what to read, you should bear that in mind.