PICTURE BOOKS:

How to distinguish the good ideas from the not so good

If you dream of having your picture book published, a standout idea is key. Writing is a skill and skills can be crafted and learned. But without a unique concept your story is unlikely to standout to industry professionals.

Having a BIG idea is important because;

  • Editors are inundated with submissions every week. Your text will need to catch their eye
  • An editor needs to enthuse their acquisitions team, being sure it will earn out its production costs and turn a profit
  • Your text will need to stand out amongst the many other books published at the same time.

With that in mind, how do we make our stories stronger and more marketable?

It is my belief that there is no such thing as a bad idea. Surely these blurbs are testament to that!

Aliens are full of the festive spirit and so they are giving away their beloved underpants. Join them as they help out in Santa’s busy workshop, put neon pants on Rudolph and tie knickers up in the place of stockings.

A young boy suddenly notices a big problem – his bum has a huge crack! So he sets off to find a new one. Will he choose an armour-plated bum? A rocket bum? A robot bum?

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Aliens Love Panta Claus! Written by Claire Freedman, illustrated by Ben Court

I Need a New Bum! Written by Dawn McMillan, illustrated by Ross Kinnaird

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But what is important, is to be different.

Rather than good ideas and bad ideas, it is perhaps useful to think about the approach to an idea.

Bedtime, siblings, new babies, pirates, mice, rabbits, bears, love, hugs, worries, kindness, sharing, pets, friendships, growing up are all popular themes seen repeatedly in picture books. That’s not to say they can’t be done again. However, it is important to stop and think before you begin about how your story will be doing something new.

For example, you want to write a pirate adventure?

…What if the pirates were dinosaurs!

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You want to write a story that touches on sibling jealousy? …Tell it in letters! …And with crayon characters!

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Thinking about your idea before you begin can help to ensure it is strong and unique enough, thus making the end text more marketable. This will also mean you are working more efficiently, writing ideas that are fully fleshed-out, as opposed to investing your time in the ones that might not yet be BIG enough to go the distance.

If you’re anything like me, you’ll have a steady stream of ideas jotted down for rainy days (Register with Tara Lazar’s StoryStorm if you need inspiration; https://taralazar.com/storystorm/) But do top tips exist for making sure your idea is ready to be written?

Et voila!

Top Tips for Ensuring your Idea is BIG enough to go the distance:

  • Can you see the potential in your idea for telling a story or journey?
  • Is your concept/ character/ setting/ plot different enough? Have you seen anything like it recently or before?
  • Will be it funny? Educational? Lyrical? There’s no need to limit yourself to just one of these. Give an editor more reasons to take on your book by giving it more than one hook.
  • Summarise your story in a one-line pitch to identify if; your story has enough tension and conflict.

Of course, there are some ideas that might be less suited to an age range or publisher. This doesn’t mean to say they can’t ever work. However, some things to be mindful of include:

  • Inappropriate vocabulary or language structures for your intended audience (These could make your story less accessible)
  • Inanimate objects (It is easier for children to relate to anthropomorphic main characters and characters that take on the same emotional qualities as the children themselves)
  • Ideas that are specific to one culture or country (Pigs, currency, schools, fairy tales can be culture or country specific and can therefore be difficult to sell internationally)
  • Stereotyped roles (Everyone deserves and needs to see themselves depicted authentically in books. We need diverse books!)
  • Poor rhyme (The industry standard for rhyming texts is rightly incredibly high. Inconsistent meter, rhythm or scansion just won’t cut it).

But, is there such a thing as a bad idea?

I don’t think so!

Literally anything can be turned into story potential when you have the imagination to grow your idea into the strongest and most marketable form.

Good luck!

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Clare Helen Welsh

Clare is a children’s writer and primary school teacher from Devon. She writes fiction and non-fiction picture book texts – sometimes funny and sometimes lyrical. Her first book was published in 2015, and she currently has books in development with Little Tiger Press, Quarto, Andersen, Nosy Crow and MacMillan. Clare also runs a manuscript critique service. Please see her website for more details: www.clarehelenwelsh.com @ClareHelenWelsh

For those writers interested in creating standout picture book concepts, Clare will be running a 4 week online picture book course with WriteMentor, in which she touches on how to grow your picture book concepts. Subscribe to the WriteMentor newsletter for more details.

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