I’ve often heard people—Publishing Professionals—talk about wanting to “publish books that stand the test of time.”
There’s something unnerving about the way the phrase is used. As though it were written into their code, rather than contemplated carefully and reevaluated case by case. It’s a slogan, rather than a creed. And there’s a reason for that.
While it sounds good to be the publisher known for publishing books that “stand the test of time,” publishing is a business. And in order to be successful, units need to be moved. Not books. Units. Units do not stand the test of time.
Now, it’s true, publishing professionals often come to their jobs with a love of books. And for that reason, they often sell books in spite of their better judgment. They sell them out of love. Sometimes the PP will wake clear-eyed at a meeting a year later, looking at some abominably small number in a column and wonder what they ever saw in that silly little volume.
But sometimes that love will win the day and that number will not be small. It will be large. If it is large the first year, it will, perhaps, continue to be large the second year (this is often the case with the books that are loved very well). In fact, it will sell year after year. And we will, indeed, end up with a book that stands the test of time.
Friends, this is where you come in. When you look at a bestseller list of picture books, you are often—not always—looking at a list of units. When you look at shelves of sparkly pink princesses and less sparkly dumptrucks, you are looking at units. So, as you are making lists of ideas, I want you to consider the following five point entreaty:
- Don’ t pull your ideas from the bestseller list. Pull them from your soul. What combination of experiences, relationships and ideas has come together to make your thoughts what they are? This is the same equation that should make your book. Don’t try to insert some new variable derived from market research.
- Don’t follow the rules. At least, don’t follow them just *because* they are the rules. Use them as guidelines. Mitigate them thoughtfully with your own point of view.
- Your structure is a springboard. If you are using a traditional structure, of the kind that Tammi Sauer recommends in this post, great! But don’t use it as a fetter, let it be the springy energy beneath your feet (or keyboard, as it were).
- Don’t be afraid to steal. But if you’re going to steal an idea, make it good. Pay tribute to something that you’ve been in love with for some time and can’t seem to forget. Don’t riff on something because it’s marketable. Do it because it’s good and you love it.
- Be giddy. You know those ideas that are so good you can’t believe that they came from your brain? The ones that make you do a little dance and clap your hands with glee? Those are books. Use them.
There are a lot of wonderfully quirky picture books that are having their day out there. And you can bet that these books are not a result of market research. They are a result of love.
Tamson Weston is a published children’s book author, founder of Tamson Weston Books, and an editor with over 15 years experience. She has worked on many acclaimed and award-winning books for children of all ages. When she doesn’t have her nose in a book, Tamson likes to run, bike, swim, lift heavy things and, most of all, hang out with her family in Brooklyn, NY. Visit her online at www.tamsonweston.com.