Erin Murphy (l.) and Liz Garton Scanlon at the 2010 Newbery-Caldecott Award Banquet, where Marla Frazee, illustrator of Liz's All the World (Beach Lane/S&S), was awarded a Caldecott Honor.

by Erin Murphy

So, you’ve got 30 picture book ideas. Now what do you do?

Keep them. All of them. Do you have an idea file of some kind? You should. It’s obvious that you might turn to the idea file when you’re casting about for something new to write, but it also can do wonders for unlocking writers block. You never know when some seemingly unrelated idea will be just the thing to add the missing layer to another piece. Sometimes it’s less direct than that; just reading through ideas is a way of getting you out of a stuck place, much like taking a walk or strolling through a gallery can knock you out of a creative rut.

Sort through them to find the most promising ideas to spend more time with. Laura Purdie Salas had some great suggestions about how to evaluate your ideas last week.

Budget time to work on each of those most promising ideas. Not just once, but two or three times per idea before you decide if they’re worth pursuing further. Even if you schedule 20 minutes of writing time a day, you can spend 10 on a new idea, 10 on an idea you’ve already worked on some, and by the new year, you’ll most likely have a couple of solid ideas that are coming together into a real picture book manuscript.

Some ideas seem to have promise, but they resist any time and attention you give them. This is a sign that they need to sit in your subconscious for awhile. They will most likely kick and scream when they’re ready.

After a concentrated creative period like PiBoIdMo, you’ve got a great opportunity to take stock of where and when you do your most creative thinking. Did you get your best ideas in the car while waiting for your kid to come out of her piano lesson? Well then, perhaps a copy of your promising idea list needs to stay in the car so you can keep using that time for best results.

I’m not talking about evaluating the idea; you’ve already done that. I’m talking about general trends. Try putting all 30 ideas into categories (character-driven, concept-driven, voice-driven, plot-driven; lyrical, funny, quiet; spontaneous-feeling or intellectual…). Are you heavily weighted towards one type of story? Is that your strength? (Or, conversely, are you limiting yourself unnecessarily?) What research can you do about that type of story to help you grow in your picture book writing craft?

Don’t forget to go back to that full list of ideas now and then. Who knows what discarded idea ends up turning out to have legs! Kathy Duval’s I Think I See a UFO, forthcoming from Disney-Hyperion, to be illustrated by the wonderful Adam McCauley, was a nearly discarded idea that found a home at the first publisher we sent it to!

Erin Murphy was born and raised in Arizona, and founded EMLA in Flagstaff in 1999. She works with publishers of all sizes all over the U.S., and has placed clients’ books with every major children’s house in New York and Boston, but she cut her teeth in regional publishing. She began her career at Northland Publishing/Rising Moon Books for Young Readers (a beloved decades-old Flagstaff company that was bought out in 2007), eventually becoming editor-in-chief, and was a member of the board of directors of PubWest, a professional development organization for small and mid-sized publishers in the West.

Erin represents writers and writer-illustrators of picture books, novels for middle-graders and young adults, and select nonfiction. She is especially drawn to strong characters and heart-centered stories. In her spare time she loves walking, baking, kayaking, knitting, traveling, reading (often audiobooks), and powering through her Netflix queue. You can read more about Erin’s tastes and background in interviews here and here. She now blogs at and tweets @AgentErinMurphy.