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Monday News: Publishing’s $550 Million Franchise; Appeal of the Bad; Flexible...

Kids love him and Kinney is an appealing writer. Part of Greg’s appeal is likely in that he loses as often as he succeeds but there aren’t any meaningful lessons being taught in the Diary books. They aren’t elevating civilization. They are not particularly thoughtful. Yet, episodes in these books permeate our children’s vocabulary and experience. I doubt that there is a kid in the Diary demographic that does not know what “Cheese Touch” means.

In any event, the Diary empire is worth $550 million, twice as much as EL James’ 50 Shades. Fortune Management

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Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com

24 Comments

  1. Carolyne
    Dec 03, 2012 @ 07:36:27

    My thought on Wimpy Kid is that young readers can recognise Greg as an honest character in that he’s realistically imperfect, petty, and clueless–they can see when he’s being mean or rude, and can see how he doesn’t necessarily come out on top for being, well, kind of a jerk. Or, of it isn’t immediately apparent to the reader, the reality of it is still in the stories. His parents don’t let him get away with being mean to his friend and try to push him in a more civilised direction. I’m not sure he’s any worse than any other classic naughty-kid character, though lacking the underlying tragic current of an Eloise. Calvin may have been slightly ahead of Greg on the saint-o-meter, but he was a naughty kid too. I bet I come up with other examples as soon as I head off for work, but all I have at the moment are Dennis the Menace and Courtney Crumrin :)

    I’m not a big fan of the series, but I’m enormously glad to see it outsell 50, since it’s more intelligently written.

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  2. Lori
    Dec 03, 2012 @ 08:27:05

    My daughter loved the Junie B Jones series and now Wimpy Kids (as well as Sisters Grimm). Both Junie and Greg are are badly behaving children and I think my daughter, a well behaved child, can live a little of the bad side reading about them without having to do anything bad herself. Also, their lies get them caught and always have consequences.

    And we do indeed say “Zoo-ey Mama’ around our house.

    (And really Jane: tootsie rolls. My fan girl crush dropped a notch with that.)

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  3. Jody W.
    Dec 03, 2012 @ 08:45:18

    DH reads the Wimpy Kids books to the girls at night. They all laugh when Greg does NOT get away with shit. They laugh as he gets himself into trouble because they know, unlike real life, the person being a terd (Greg) is going to lose. The bad behavior doesn’t garner him a huge reward. My original response to the books was similar to yours. But because of their reaction to it, and me watching them as they all enjoy it together, Greg’s poor character ceased to be an issue.

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  4. Jane
    Dec 03, 2012 @ 09:11:14

    My point about the Diary books is that there is nothing particularly socially redeeming about this series. However the success of the franchise written by mail author, featuring a male protagonist, simply does not garner the same critical response as Twilight or 50 Shades.

    I understand that the diary series is very popular and I don’t have any problem with kids who enjoy it.

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  5. Ellen
    Dec 03, 2012 @ 09:46:12

    I know more people who have read the Diary Books than the EL James books, or I know more people who will admit to it, not sure which.

    I think if EL James were just a NY bestselling author and the subject matter of her books wasn’t so “titillating,” no one would know her, either.
    But don’t sell the Wimpy Kid short. There is a certain demographic, the demographic the author is going for, that knows WK above all the counterparts.

    I detest the Junie B books. I read them to my daughter with a clinched jaw.
    I don’t think my daughter appreciated when I corrected Junie’s grammar and pronunciation.
    I introduced my daughter to Ramona and Beezus and we never looked back. So very happy with that. I try to be thankful I have a child who reads and loves it, but sometimes I want to scream “IT IS CRAP.” But I think back to what I read as a kid and bite my tongue and leave the room.

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  6. Darlynne
    Dec 03, 2012 @ 09:48:27

    One of my sister’s kid’s loves the Diary series–I haven’t read them myself–and his reaction to them is as Carolyne, Lori and Jody W expressed. The How Do Dinosaurs picture books by Jane Yolen or Amy Krouse Rosenthal’s Bite Size Lessons for younger children do the same thing: they allow children to see questionable behavior, recognize it and its possible consequences, and give them a chance to model more appropriate actions, with laughter and empathy.

    OTOH–and this is NOT a criticism–my mother used the exact same words you did, Jane–”nothing particularly socially redeeming”–in response to the Nancy Drew books I consumed like air. A full-body shiver went through me right then because you were channeling her in HD and Dolby. How did you do that?

    And in FSoG news, have you seen this? em>Fifty Shades of Chicken: A Parody in a Cookbook. I don’t know how to do links, but OMGOMGOMG.

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  7. Cady
    Dec 03, 2012 @ 10:13:53

    How many times have I heard that about way too many books – they are not socially redeeming. If that was the basis for why we should read books, I think we would all have to relook at our bookshelves. Feel like you missed the mark on that one.

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  8. Jane
    Dec 03, 2012 @ 10:17:34

    @Cady: The point I was trying to make, albeit obviously ineptly, is that 50 Shades’ monetary success is met with “publishing is dying” “culture is at its end” etc etc. Yet, a series that is twice as successful is Diary of a Wimpy Kid and it’s success is celebrated. It is not met with the same disdain. I don’t see that series as adding to culture or contributing anything more socially valuable than 50 Shades.

    The varying responses to the series’ success is what I am trying to get at; not the books themselves. There are plenty of books that I read and enjoy tremendously that have little social value.

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  9. Jackie Barbosa
    Dec 03, 2012 @ 10:59:58

    @Jane: My point about the Diary books is that there is nothing particularly socially redeeming about this series.

    As Jody pointed out, Greg usually reaps the rewards of his bad behavior–that is, the outcome is not to his benefit. How is that *not* a “socially redeeming” message?

    Moreover, the Wimpy Kid series is original in both conception and execution. While I would never suggest that all books need to be socially redeeming to be worthy of publication, I think the outcry against Fifty has considerably more to do with its relentless lack of originality than its lack of a socially redeeming message.

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  10. Emily
    Dec 03, 2012 @ 11:13:53

    I think it’s more the fact that he writes children’s books rather than he is a male writer. After Harry Potter spent too many weeks on the NYT Bestseller list, they made a separate list for children’s books so the adult books wouldn’t feel bad. As Roger Ebert pointed out, they didn’t make a separate for any other genre- crime, mystery, and romance are intermingled with literary fiction. I recently heard an interview with R. L. Stein on public radio, and he seemed to have a relatively low-key life despite being the writer of a widely successful series (Gooosebumps- As he pointed out yes he is a real person one person who writes All those books)

    Anyway my understanding of the whimpy kids book is that hero is a Charlie Brown type hero, who isn’t partiularly good at anything. I think a lot of kids connect with that, especially as the pressure to be wildly successful is ever-increasing. I also think that childhood tends to be very overglorified, while in the real world many kids hate childhood or have mediocre lives. The series probably represents that.

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  11. Jane
    Dec 03, 2012 @ 11:18:36

    @Jackie Barbosa – And 50 Shades has led more woman to feel comfortable talking about sexuality and more proactive in the bedroom. It has been referred to positively as increasing intimacy between couples. So it sounds like the social value of both series may be on par with each other. As for the “originality” issue, I don’t see that cited by commenters as the downfall of publishing and how could it be? Did Pride, Prejudice and Zombies signal the end of publishing or culture?

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  12. Jane
    Dec 03, 2012 @ 11:20:00

    @Emily – It’s not about the books themselves. It is the reaction to the books. Does the fact that the Diary series is worth $550 million make any one think that publishing is coming to an end even though Diary may have a bigger impact on a generation than any other book published during that time period?

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  13. Michelle
    Dec 03, 2012 @ 11:23:45

    I think a lot of the disdain for the 50 Shades books is that they started out as fan fiction, the author tried to imply that the are original. Also having the nerve to rip off the Twilight world why going after anyone using the 5o Shades as copyright infringement is kind of tacky.

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  14. Jackie Barbosa
    Dec 03, 2012 @ 11:47:41

    @Jane: Did Pride, Prejudice and Zombies signal the end of publishing or culture?

    Oh, I think there are plenty of people who thought it did (and made great hay and fun of the spate of bad mash-ups that were published in its wake). Thankfully, that fad appears to have passed.

    IMO, there are three things that have made people question the future of publishing when it comes to Fifty. The first is the fact that it began as fan fiction (the originality problem). The second is that the books are not well-written (even most of its fans are willing to admit to this and is the source of the “culture is dying” cries). But the third and most problematic is that mainstream publishing only “discovered” Fifty after it had become a commercial success. That has to make publishing wonder whether it can survive, since it clearly doesn’t really know what people want until they’ve already voted in large numbers with their wallets.

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  15. Jill Sorenson
    Dec 03, 2012 @ 12:02:47

    Are the Wimpy Kid books NY published? I think 50 Shades is seen as more threatening because it came out of nowhere from a very small publisher. I haven’t heard any editors say that they liked the book or would have accepted it. This, and the runaway success of many other unpolished, self-published works, suggests to me that the public no longer wants or needs editors/publishers to control standards. Maybe that will change as more and more poorly written books flood the market.

    I can’t speak to the quality of 50 Shades, but I wouldn’t call it unoriginal despite its twific origins. It sounds very different from any bdsm romance I’ve read. Ana isn’t a natural submissive and never becomes one. The format (a long trilogy with same couple in a contemporary with no mystery or paranormal?) and genre (new adult erotic?) are also unusual.

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  16. AlexaB
    Dec 03, 2012 @ 12:37:11

    I agree with Jackie.

    The outcry against FSoG is not because it was written by someone in possession of ovaries.

    The outcry against FSoG is based on:

    1) It violated the unwritten rule of fanfiction that one does not profit from one’s use of others’ characters;
    2) EL James and her team tried to hide that origin by attempting to scrub the internet and then proclaiming “Nuh-uh” when called on the serial number filing;
    3) It’s based on a work of dubious literary merit in the first place. There are plenty of people who were already convinced Twilight was the nadir of publishing before FSoG came along to dig a deeper hole;
    4) The ‘deathknell of publishing’ is usually in reference to a Big Six (or it is Five or Four now?) publisher picking up a fanfiction for seven figures. If this is the business course publishers must take to survive – using self-publishing and fanfiction as the new slush piles and cherry picking those works that achieved monetary success – then it is a sea change in the industry.

    While I agree gender bias is a very real thing, I think that in this case comparing “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” to FSoG is comparing apples to kumquats.

    According to Forbes, Harry Potter is worth $1 billion (or almost twice that of Wimpy Kid and four times that of FSoG.) Hunger Games and Twilight are worth more, too. While Twilight has received its share of “Oh noes the literary sky is falling!!” IMO that is more in reference to Meyers’s writing ability than Meyers’s double X chromosomes.

    Certainly when I was a kid, Sidney Sheldon’s novels such as “The Other Side of Midnight” were considered the end of American literature as we knew it. They were silly trashy potboilers designed to titillate bored housewives, doncha know, despite Sheldon’s testosterone. And Dan Brown got his share of “there goes the literary neighborhood” brickbats. Even Stephen King wasn’t STEPHEN KING until years into his career (horror being low on most critics’ literary value scales.) When King was given the National Book Foundation Medal of Distinguished Contribution to American Letters in 2003, Boston Globe literary critic Harold Bloom wrote, “The decision to give the National Book Foundation’s annual award for ‘distinguished contribution’ to Stephen King is extraordinary, another low in the shocking process of dumbing down our cultural life. I’ve described King in the past as a writer of penny dreadfuls, but perhaps even that is too kind. He shares nothing with Edgar Allan Poe. What he is is an immensely inadequate writer on a sentence-by-sentence, paragraph-by-paragraph, book-by-book basis.”

    Success will always have its detractors. I’m sure there are plenty in the children’s literature world who hate “Wimpy Kid” for its hold on kids’ loyalty with the same level of vitriol as some in the adult book community hate FSoG. But then in the ’90s, “Goosebumps” was viewed by some as a horseman of the apocalypse in quality children’s literature, just as “Sweet Valley High” was in the ’80s.

    “Pride, Prejudice and Zombies” never tried to pass itself off as anything but what it is: a (surprisingly well-written, IMO) satire/mash-up. Seth Grahame didn’t file Austen’s name off his book; she shares co-author credit.

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  17. Patricia
    Dec 03, 2012 @ 12:37:19

    Diary of a Wimpy Kid is published by a Hachette subsidiary, I believe. It is the kind of runaway best seller that the traditional publishers gave long relied on to fill their coffers. Of course they are not going to attack it as signaling the end of publishing. They want to see more properties like that, not fewer, as long as they start and remain under the traditional publishing umbrella.

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  18. Carolyne
    Dec 03, 2012 @ 13:02:52

    @Patricia: Wimpy Kid is published by Abrams, specifically through its Amulet line of kids books, and was championed into print by the now-Editorial Director of the graphic novel division Abrams ComicArts. Abrams is owned by a big French publishing group, but I always knew it as a sort of quirky, artsy kind of publisher, known for a quality reputation, not a cynical one. And although the adult line has its share of “celebrity” books they tend to be quirkier celebrities.

    Their kids’ series Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales may be the most perfect graphic novels I’ve ever seen. I have a major crush on those books, both the content and the design. The unconditional love may wear off in time, but for now I just want to pick them up and hug them whenever I see one.

    I was not paid for this endorsement :)

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  19. Carolyne
    Dec 03, 2012 @ 13:08:37

    @Patricia: Which is not to say I disagree with your underlying sentiment, that publishers want runaway hits like Wimpy Kid, which can put a company on the map, support less commercial projects, keep the lights on, etc. etc. Even when I heard the large and mid-size publishers decrying Harry Potter as poorly written and inexplicable, they rushed to fill the gaps between books with something that would attract the same readership. Sometimes with unabashedly similar covers and character names.

    (I’d have edited my previous comment to add that, but my browser seems to have lost its mind.)

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  20. Sunita
    Dec 03, 2012 @ 13:10:29

    @Jackie Barbosa:

    Oh, I think there are plenty of people who thought it did (and made great hay and fun of the spate of bad mash-ups that were published in its wake). Thankfully, that fad appears to have passed.

    Passed? Transitioned from zombies to erotica, rather. Or did you miss this new series?

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  21. Jennifer Armintrout
    Dec 03, 2012 @ 13:37:03

    I think a lot of the “publishing/civilization is doomed” that is rooted in gender politics has less to do with the genders of the authors and more to do with the genders and ages of the intended audiences.

    Oh, but I do agree that a lot of the doom crying has to do with the origin of 50 Shades as fanfic, as well. Gender definitely plays into it, but so does the ethical aspect, whether or not it’s morally okay to profit on a living authors under-copyright works etc. I’m not sure Wimpy Kid is operating under the same conditions as 50 Shades is, in that respect.

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  22. Ren
    Dec 03, 2012 @ 15:32:18

    Diary of a Wimpy Kid is an ongoing seller that provides consistent numbers year after year.

    Fifty Shades is one of those phenomena that spike one year’s margins, 12 months later resulting in “Woe! Sales are down 17,000% from the same quarter last year! Doom!”

    Hence the semiannual clearance sale on “death of publishing” T-shirts and commemorative plates.

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  23. DS
    Dec 03, 2012 @ 15:43:06

    @AlexaB:

    Success will always have its detractors. I’m sure there are plenty in the children’s literature world who hate “Wimpy Kid” for its hold on kids’ loyalty with the same level of vitriol as some in the adult book community hate FSoG. But then in the ’90s, “Goosebumps” was viewed by some as a horseman of the apocalypse in quality children’s literature, just as “Sweet Valley High” was in the ’80s.

    I never read any Enid Blyton books but I think they have caused some of the same reaction in the UK. Jasper Fforde’s latest Thursday Next novel deals with this somewhat.

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  24. Sunny
    Dec 03, 2012 @ 17:36:17

    @Jane:

    I wonder if the backlast for FSOG is as much because of the target market as well as the author and protagonist — it’s meant for women, while Wimpy Kids is very specifically targeted at boys (“but ok for girls too, if they want to give us their money, but if not who cares they’re just girls”).

    Today while shopping they had “Boys Toys” and “Toys for Boys and Girls” as the only two categories.

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