As I write this, it’s early November, which means many people are scrambling to release Christmas books. Added to that, this year (2020), I see new COVID-19 pandemic books for kids coming out every day..
I get it. These are timely books. But in a couple months, many of those authors will complain that their sales were poor. Why does this happen?
Joining the Conversation
I believe the fault lies in the conception of the story and book. And that’s because so often, people don’t know what has already been written on the topic.
When you write and publish a book, you are joining a conversation. For Christmas, there are many, many books about a tree that longs to be a Christmas tree. It’s a cliched, overworked topic. Our culture knows and love this story, but enough, already. We KNOW that story. Why do I need a new one about THAT?
Does that mean you can’t do a new one?
Of course, not!
New books are often needed and wanted because they add to the conversation, twist the conversation, adapt the conversation to a certain demographic, transcend the conversation, or add such amazing illustrations that the book soars above everything else. There are many ways to join the conversation about any topic, idea, emotion or event. But you can’t do that if you don’t know what’s been said before.
Tips to Join the Conversation
Stories fail to join the conversation when they rework tired, cliched ideas and then illustrate it with mediocre $5 art. Sometimes, the author doesn’t even KNOW that it’s a tired, cliched idea, and that’s the saddest of all. Because the solution is easy: read widely.
Children’s book authors should be reading children’s books. A lot of them. Go to the library and check out books. Use your library’s digital options to read. Become a member of Amazon prime or Kindle Unlimited, Scribd, EPIC! app, or other low-cost subscription services. And then make a point of reading widely. As you read, notice the text, the art, and how they interact to create something wonderful.
My recommendation is to every month read 100 children’s books published within the last six months.
Don’t be scared if there are twenty other Christmas tree books. Your goal is to read a lot of them to see what’s been done before, so you can avoid those ideas like the plague (COVID-19 virus!). Instead, think about how your story is unique, and what it adds to the conversation.
You should plan to stand out in today’s crowded market!
TEXT. One way to stand out is by writing a fantastic text.
Let me get on a soapbox for a minute: Poorly rhymed, poorly executed poetry is NOT the way to stand out. A great poem COULD be the right way, but too often the author hasn’t spent time mastering the basics of poetry. If you’re one who blithely says, “Poetry just comes naturally to me,” then I’m skeptical. Sorry. The last one I read like that was sad. The poet proudly said, “But every line has eleven syllables.” (If you don’t know what’s wrong with THAT statement, you need to study more poetry.)
Simply telling a story isn’t enough. A fantastic text could be because you did better research and have amazing details, added figurative language, simplified, or a thousand other options. Great writing will shine; great writing will add something unique to the conversation. Here’s my course on writing picture books, which talks about your options.
ART. The art, too, should stand out in today’s crowded market. There are thousands of ways to do that! Right now, my particular pet peeve is flat, digital art. It’s so ubiquitous and so boring. To me, it screams amateur.
Instead, choose art because it, too, joins the conversation of children’s books and adds something. If every other Christmas tree book has digital art, what about woodcuts, minimal art with lots of white space, watercolor, impasto, or black-and-white. Here are tips on finding and working with a great illustrator.
Do we really need another book about Christmas trees? Maybe. How does the book join the conversation? If you line up your book next to those other twenty books, and if you read them back-to-back, will yours stand out in today’s crowded market?