You asked for it, you got it, Toyota.

youaskedforit

Sorry, no car giveaway here. Not sure you’d want a ’77 yellow hatchback anyway.

What you’ve got are your burning kidlit questions with my answers. Please remember that these are my opinions and not necessarily gospel. (I can’t sing, anyway. Except, apparently, for 70′s car commercial jingles.)

If you have follow-up questions, please leave them in the comments!

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Graphic by Edna Cabcabin Moran

Writenit asks:
Is there a better place than Amazon to search to see if the fabulous (at least in my head LOL) idea you came up with has already been done a million times?

Besides Amazon, try searching WorldCat.org, the world’s largest database of library holdings. A simple Google search is also a good idea. Try the various types of Google searches, including images and news.

But just remember, even if your title is taken or your idea has been published, there might be room for your manuscript, too. General ideas can be similar, but the execution can result in wildly differing stories. Of course, if there’s an extremely popular book with your idea, odds are that a publisher won’t take a chance on a directly competing book. In other words, if your dragons love tacos or your crayons are going on strike, you probably want to look elsewhere for ideas.

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Patricianesbitt asks:
Do you have any inside tips as to what themes or topics publishers are looking for?

This information is always changing. Right now, I hear that character-driven picture books are all the rage.

“Looking for” details can often be found at SCBWI conferences and on blogs when a particular agent or editor has been interviewed. You might want to search for conference bios, where professionals often divulge their wish lists.

You’ll also want to visit the bookstore at least once or twice a month. See what’s being displayed face-out (publishers have paid for this promotional opportunity). Are there are a lot of books on one particular subject, like trucks? Well then, the truck ship has probably sailed. (Whoa, that was a mixed metaphor, huh?) Once you see an abundance of one kind of book in the stores, the end of that craze is probably upon us. Remember pirate books during the Johnny Depp “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies? I went to a conference around that time and the editors practically screamed, “No more pirate books!” Sometimes they know more about what they DON’T want than what they DO.

Bottom line: everyone wants a good story. You don’t have to write to the marketplace’s demands. In fact, I suggest that you don’t. Whatever idea stirs up the most passion in you is the manuscript you should be writing. Your enthusiasm will be evident on the page—and that is always appealing.

And always remember Karma Wilson’s example. McElderry’s sub guidelines said “no rhyme and no talking animals” when she sent them BEAR SNORES ON, which turned out to be a huge hit, launching her successful career. It was a great manuscript, so the DON’T guidelines became moot.

bearsnoreson

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Maria Matthews asks:
Is it better to aim at writing a current popular topic or to write a quirky unusual book?

As I noted above, “currently popular” isn’t your best bet, simply because the books released today got purchased as manuscripts two to four years ago, on average. So you can’t necessarily catch up to what’s hot. And what’s hot is always changing. You never know what the next “big thing” will be.

That’s why I suggest writing from your heart. If quirky and unusual is what you enjoy, then by all means, write quirky and unusual!

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Josh Funk asks:
How do you get awesome illustrators to do “head shots” for you? (like AJ Smith did  in your previous post)

When I first began my blog seven years ago, I paid illustrators to do graphics for my site, like this watermelon-themed banner by the talented Val Webb.

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Now that my blog has become well-read, I often ask on Facebook or Twitter for a particular graphic and someone volunteers their services, in exchange for a mention and link. I’m usually blown away by the response, and so grateful!

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Jdewdropsofink asks:
So after reading your previous post, I want to know the super secret story techniques you learned from Sudipta?

I’ve learned a ton from Sudipta. If ever you get a chance to hear her speak or teach a class, grab the opportunity. I’m going to send you to her very pink site instead of spilling her secrets here…

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Nicole Snitselaar asks:
I would like to know, how much details you must write down when you are planning a PB without words…?

Only as much detail as you need to get the idea across. Be as succinct in your word choices as you are while writing a regular picture book. Paint the overall picture but don’t go into minutiae. You still must leave some things for the illustrator to fill in.

Author Linda Ashman has posted her manuscript for NO DOGS ALLOWED, which is nearly wordless. Check it out here. It’s an excellent example.

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Tune in for Part II tomorrow, kidlit fans!