Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Good to Great in Picture Books

It has been super motivational to complete PiBoIdMo two years in a row. I now have nearly 70 picture book ideas in the hopper. Several, I've developed into full-fledged stories. Polishing is ongoing after critique partners have taken a look.

But this year, the idea hit home that there are thousands, sigh, of good picture book stories pitched every day. What makes that one story take off and become great in the eyes of agents, editors, publishers, and readers? 

I think the answer is surprise. What is it about a title or cover illustration that makes you take a second look or smile at the cleverness of the story? I've started thinking about my book ideas like an act at the circus. Will it cause readers to gasp at the suspense, giggle at the clowning, or rather take on a "been there, seen that" attitude.

Here are some of the books that lead me to my hypothesis.

  • Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus (Huh! Pigeons can't drive!)
  • Boy + Bot (love all things robotic plus the 2 points of view add interest)
  • Exclamation! (extremely clever)
  • I Want My Hat (grumpy bear is a fashion horse?)
  • Extra Yarn (hmm...yarn everywhere. I love knitting so this caught my eye)
  • This Moose Belongs to Me (Huh. Huge moose won't follow small boy's rules)
  • Press Here (quite inventive)
  • This is Not My Hat (fish with a blue bowler and visual humor)
You get the idea. These books are all fairly unique. There is not a vampire or magical boy in the bunch. They entertain and teach in different non-standard ways. And a lot comes out in the art.

So it seems that to really stand out in a busy picture book market, you have to REALLY stand out. I have tons of fun story ideas that I love, but most don't have the wow factor yet. I'll keep honing my craft and see where it leads. If it was easy, everyone would be publishing. - Q

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Write What You Wish You Knew

We've all heard the advice to "write what you know." But what about sci-fi and historical topics? I love books in these genres and the old/new settings and civilizations described. How then can authors write something they know about if they didn't live hundreds of years ago or thousands of years in the future? It's a mystery!

But, if I were to guess. I would say historical research in the first case and research+science+imagination in the latter case. At least that's how I would tackle it. For science fiction, I would imagine all kinds of science gadgets that I wish I had or dreaded having, then give them to some young characters to figure out. I would do the same thing with clothing, environment, and family relationships to name a few. Then, I would start fiddling with a mashup of several of the threads. Conflicts? Characters? Journeys? Resolutions?

I wouldn't start out knowing much about the story, but with a lot of analysis and (for me) outlining. I would know a lot by the time I finished the story. How about you? Do you wonder about writing in the past or future, invisible or  unknown? - Q