When I was a kid, I got an allowance of $5 per week.
That $5 went toward many Beanie Babies, a handful 10-cent Now and Later candies at Mazon Market, and those big 50-cent stickers you can buy from sticker machines at Pizza Hut and Kroger.
But during weeks my Mom and sisters made the trip to Streator to shop, I hoarded that $5 bill.
Streator had On Cue.
On Cue sold books.
Streator shopping trips were agonizing until we got to On Cue. (Mom tended to go there last to make sure I would behave at all the boring stores.) I was dragged through clothing stores like Fashion Bug and Maurices. We had to stop at Kmart for household goods. We went to Save-A-Lot and McGrath’s Seafood and Kroger for groceries. Sometimes we would swing by CVS Pharmacy if there was a good sale.
I dragged my feet. I moaned. I flopped my arms. I begged to go to On Cue next.
And finally, at the end of the trip, we went to the bookstore.
I would spend an hour in the children’s books, carrying a purse on my shoulder that contained nothing but a wallet, which contained nothing but a $5 bill. I went through each book, evaluating which one I should officially make my own.
The trouble was, most of them were out of my price range. A handful were $4.99, although most of them were below my reading level. A few were $5.99, and I knew I could count on Mom to supplement the purchase by giving me the extra dollar, plus tax. (That’s how I ended up with a shelf full of $5.99 Nancy Drew mysteries.) Sometimes I could even wrangle an extra $2 from Mom to get a $6.99 book.
Then there were the $8.99 books. That was the magic number I recall as a kid. Many of the books in the children and YA fiction section were priced at $8.99. To get one of those, I had to bargain with Mom. She would pay the extra four dollars plus tax, but it would come out of next week’s allowance. No whining allowed the following week if I couldn’t buy Beanie Babies, Now and Laters, or stickers.
(Although if memory serves me right, Mom usually handed over a dollar in quarters for Now and Laters and stickers the next week.)
I grew up knowing books aren’t always easy to buy. I also grew up knowing books are important to developing minds and need to be easily available to children.
For families who live in library districts, easy access is no problem. To families like mine, which lived in rural farm country outside city limits, book access was limited during summer vacation, when the school library was closed.
As a writer, I sit on the fence and see two sides. Publishers and authors need to earn livable wages off their product. But readers also want (and need) access to reading materials.
That’s why, as a self-published writer, I am thankful to cut out the middleman of the publisher. I can set my books at the more affordable end of the pricing scale.
My goal for every children’s chapter book I write is to keep the price below that ever-memorable magic number of $8.99.
Writing isn’t about the money; it’s about making stories available to children. It’s about opening them up to new worlds with new words.
I want every kid with that $5 bill to have a realistic chance of buying a book.