sudiptamagazineSo, you’ve finished PiBoIdMo, and now you have all these great ideas. You’re on the road to publication!

Except, you still have to write the books. And that’s not an easy path.

A lot of people think that finding ideas is the hardest part of writing. It’s not. Finding ideas is very difficult, but figuring out which ideas to focus on first and which ones to let linger—that’s the killer. So that’s what I’ll try to help you with today.

Step 1: Get the easy stuff out of the way.
Some stories write themselves, or at least flow out of your mind effortlessly. Get those down on paper first—there’s no reason to not take the path of least resistance.

Step 2: Organize and analyze.
You’ve got 30 picture book ideas. Maybe more. Do you write manuscripts for them in alphabetical order? Chronologically? By order of the number of feet the main character has?

You could do any of those things, but it’s probably not the most efficient route to publication. So instead, I have a system. Here’s where I get nerdy.

You know that program called Excel that math people use but us creative types stay away from? Find it on your computer and start it up. We’re going to create a spreadsheet of ideas.

The idea here is to sort your ideas by various relevant characteristics to make sure you end up with a varied portfolio. After all, just like an illustrator has a style but needs more than paintings of bunnies to create a portfolio that will get him or her contracts, writers need to show range, too. You don’t want your own books to compete with each other —you want every book to have its own independent niche.

Column headings. The column headings will give you a way to list the relevant characteristics and sort your ideas using these.

Everyone may have different column headings, but here are some common ones that everyone should have:

  • Title (Obviously)
  • Character type (What kind of animal? How old of a human? Etc.)
  • Theme
  • Setting
  • Problem type (Is it a monster? A bad teacher? A parent? A wild animal?)
  • Age range (will this be a young PB or one for older kids?)
  • Hook (I may actually separate this into sub-categories to make it easier to sort.)
    - Institutional hook
    - Holiday tie-in
    - Developmental milestone

You can add any more headings that make sense to your work.

Create the spreadsheet. Now take all your PB ideas and start filling in the blanks. Now, you may not have a fully fleshed-out plan for each idea—that’s fine, just fill in as much as you can. And this is a place to do some research, too. Look at the market—are there hooks that are more popular than others?

Analyze your data. So you’ve entered your 30 ideas. Now we’re going to rank them.

You probably don’t want to write 16 books about pigs. It would be hard to get them all published before you establish a reputation. Same thing with 6 books about monsters or 3 books about pirates. So look at your spreadsheet and start seeing how you can sort the data.

If you’ve never used Excel, here is a quick tutorial: use the mouse to highlight all your data (not the column headings) and then click on Sort & Filter (in the Data tab of my version of Excel). You should then be able to sort by any of the columns. So if you sort by the column of Character Types (Column B in my spreadsheet) and sort on Values with the Order set to A to Z, all your entries will be rejiggered so you can see all your pig ideas next to each other and all your monster ideas will be next to each other.

Now look more closely at those similar ideas. Is there one that is particularly appealing? Stronger than the others? Incorporating more hooks? Move that to the top of the list. To create that varied portfolio, go through and pick only one idea from each “type” to work on first. When you notice ideas that seem too similar, delete one of them.

Step 3: Write!
I recommend getting a list of about 6 ideas to work on at a given time. Fewer than 6 and you may hit writer’s block, more than 6 and it is hard to keep everything straight. So keep looking at the ideas until you pull 6 good ones. Now you have a plan! From here, all you have to do is write a great manuscript, revise until it is perfect, market it until you find a home, wait for the illustrations, plan for the release, figure out promotions…well, that’s a post for a different day, isn’t it?

In the meantime, go figure out what to work on….

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theworst12daysSudipta Bardhan-Quallen is the award-winning author of many, many books for children, including picture books, nonfiction for young readers, and a forthcoming chapter book series called THE SPECTACLES OF DESTINY (due out in 2014). Her newest release is THE WORST TWELVE DAYS OF CHRISTMAS, illustrated by Ryan Wood. In this spirited reworking of the classic song “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” Joy has to deal with her first Christmas with a new baby brother—and nothing could be worse. A sweet surprise turns the tables on Joy, who eventually appreciates what her baby brother adds to the holiday. 

Sudipta speaks at conferences, educator events, and schools across the country, teaching the craft of writing to children and adults. She lives outside Philadelphia with her three children and an imaginary pony named Penny. Learn more about her and her books at www.sudipta.com. She also blogs at NerdyChicksRule.com, so go subscribe for witty bookish quotable things.