by Tammi Sauer

One of the ways I come up with picture book ideas is to push myself to put a twist on the familiar. This technique worked out well for me with my latest book MOSTLY MONSTERLY (Simon & Schuster, 2010) and my upcoming book ME WANT PET (Simon & Schuster, 2012).

The initial seed for MOSTLY MONSTERLY came from my editor wanting a young, funny Valentine’s Day book about friendship. She encouraged me to try to write one. Oh, the thrill! Oh, the pressure. I went to the library and read Every Valentine’s Day Picture Book Ever Written.

I discovered that most of those books were about cutesy things like kittens and puppies and mice. I knew my story had to be different, so I thought as un-cutesy as possible. And came up with monsters. Bernadette is an ordinary monster on the outside, but, underneath her fangs and fur, she has a deep, dark secret. She—gasp!—has a sweet side.

Even though my editor and I eventually decided to tweak out the Valentine’s Day references and make the book marketable year-round, the story is still very much the same. But it never would have come about if I wasn’t trying to find a way to make my story stand out from the competition.

ME WANT PET sprang from my desire to write a book about a kid who really wanted a pet. There was only one problem. Every publishing house already had a pet book. Once again, I knew my story had to be unique if I wanted any chance of selling it. So I brainstormed. And read, read, read, read, read, read. And thunked my head on the keyboard.

One day, it hit me. My pet story wasn’t going to be about a typical kid who wanted a typical pet. Mine would star a cave boy in pursuit of the perfect prehistoric pet. Ooga!

So give it a try. Come up with a basic topic (Valentine’s Day, pets, siblings, pirates, first day of school, etc.). See what else is already out there. Then brainstorm a way that sets your story apart.

Tammi Sauer spends the bulk of her free time hanging out with cowboys, chickens, monsters, ducks, princesses, three disgruntled chipmunks, and the occasional cave boy. Her next book, MR. DUCK MEANS BUSINESS (Simon & Schuster, 2011), debuts in January. To learn more about Tammi, please visit her at

Tammi will be giving away a signed copy of MOSTLY MONSTERLY at the conclusion of PiBoIdMo.