tammiforsiteby Tammi Sauer

For me, the absolute hardest part about the picture book creating process is coming up with a good idea. A wow idea. An irresistible-to-editors idea.

One approach that has worked for me is to brainstorm a list of potential titles before I even know a single word of a manuscript. I keep in mind that I don’t want a book of mine to have just any title. I always try to have a title that pops. Why? The title is a writer’s first chance to make a good impression and hook a possible agent/editor/reader.

Two of my books started with a title.

One day, while waiting for my daughter to find a book at the library, I sat down on a bench. Next to me was a book on etiquette. I flipped through the book and came across the words “princess in training.” My first thought? That would make a great idea for a picture book….and…


…In fall 2012, PRINCESS IN TRAINING, illustrated by Joe Berger, made its debut.

Another day, I was playing around with words that rhymed with names. As I brainstormed, the words “Quiet Wyatt” popped into my head. QUIET WYATT recently sold to Houghton Mifflin Harcourt BFYR.

My latest manuscript is the result of a title that grabbed hold and said, “You must drop everything and write this.” So I did. A good title can be very pushy. And intoxicating.

If you want to come up with a title as a starting point, consider using these strategies:

  • Showcase a Main Character

examples: Vampirina Ballerina; Fancy Nancy; Scaredy Squirrel

  • Focus on the Setting

examples: Cowboy Camp; In the Small, Small Pond; The Library

  • Create a Sense of Suspense

examples: The Monster at the End of This Book; Do Not Open This Book

  • Utilize Fun Language Play

examples: Chicks and Salsa; Hush, Little Dragon; Llama, Llama Misses Mama

Side Note: I happen to be wildly jealous of the upcoming books There Was an Old Dragon by Penny Klostermann and Tyrannosaurus Wrecks by Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen simply because I am gah-gah over those titles. Why didn’t I think of those titles?! Why?? WHY????

Your Homework Should You Choose To Accept It: Brainstorm at least five titles. That’s it. No need to know the nitty-gritty of what is to follow. Just jot down those titles and maybe, just maybe, a story will sneak up on you.

Extra Credit (because I am a true blue nerd who loves extra credit opportunities): Go to the bookstore and jot down the titles of the books you see. Perhaps one of those titles will be the perfect trigger to help you come up with your next big idea.


Tammi Sauer has sold 16 picture books to major publishing houses. Four of those books got their start through PiBoIdMo. In addition to winning awards, Tammi’s books have gone on to do great things. Cowboy Camp was developed into a musical in Katy, Texas. Mostly Monsterly was selected for the 2012 Cheerios Spoonfuls of Stories program. And Chicken Dance was released in French which makes her feel extra fancy. There’s more fun stuff at TammiSauer.com.

Sink your teeth into this prize pack that features Tammi’s latest release: one personalized copy of NUGGET & FANG, one super shiny poster with a teacher’s guide on the back, and two Nugget tattoos that look fabulous on any bicep (or fin).


Nugget & Fang is a 2009 PiBoIdMo Success Story!

And…Tammi’s also offering a picture book critique to another lucky winner!

This prize pack and critique will be given away at the conclusion of PiBoIdMo. You are eligible for these prizes if:

  1. You have registered for PiBoIdMo.
  2. You have commented ONCE ONLY on today’s post.
  3. You have completed the PiBoIdMo challenge. (You will have to sign the PiBoIdMo Pledge at the end of the event.)

Good luck, everyone!