So, you’re all dressed up with ideas now. Where will you go? An idea could take you anywhere and sometimes rockets without warning. Go with it, my friends, or poof! It may be gone. To me, it’s never a bad idea to brain dump or pants your way through a picture book idea. That’s what revision is for.
But sometimes, it’s worth a little research to see what’s already been done before investing the time. If you’re like me, many times an idea starts with a title. Like the PiBoIdMo light bulb, your hope beams!
With one eye peeking, you pull up Amazon and type your title one letter at a time.
P-L-A-N-E-T-A-R-Y. Lots of results in the planetary search. The lump in your throat tightens as you continue.
P. The search results begin to drop. This is a good sign.
O. Yes! It’s thinning even more. A verdict is at hand.
P. Woo-hoo! No results for that title! But you finish typing the rest of the word anyway. C-O-R-N. It only takes a few seconds to see if PLANETARY POPCORN is a keeper. From there, it’s easy to take your research one step further.
Since beginning my writing journey, I’ve heard the same piece of advice over and over again. You’ve probably heard it, too. Read. Then, read some more! In our case, it’s picture books. I got a head start during my teaching days. But, there are still thousands and thousands of picture books I have not read, and more and more are published each day. Therefore, I put most of my focus on the current market. After all, the bulk of what is selling today is very different than what sold 10, 20, and 30 years ago.
Back to your idea. PLANETARY POPCORN is ready to explode. So, while you’ve got your title sitting there in Amazon’s search bar, go ahead and hit SEARCH. What pops up? POPCORN by Frank Asch (2015 Reprint). Hmm. Reprint. Popcorn has some staying power. But, why not hit the bookshelves to see what it is about Frank’s book that keeps it fresh. This is a great way to start your concept research. You’ll want to know what’s already been done so that your idea is 100% fresh. This can also help you weed through your PiBoIdMo idea list and focus on the most unique concepts first. An evergreen concept like bedtime is bound to be featured 10,000 times more than, let’s say, PLANETARY POPCORN. Whatever you choose, find your unique angle and make sure it is something relatable for kids.
Once you’re beyond the concept, reading for research can take you even further. It’s one thing to write a picture book. It’s another thing to write a stellar picture book. Personally, I turn to mentor texts that are featured on lists, podcasts, and blogs. Every year, the CYBILS award committee reveals a huge list of the most current nominated books to pull from. You can even back track through to the last nine years of finalists to see which books the judges were most excited about. Sites like Kirkus and School Library Journal reveal great books through reviews. The past Caldecott winners list features outstanding mentor texts. And of course you can always find great recommendations on the Let’s Get Busy Podcast’s The Best Book Ever (this week.)
Do you know what to look for? The Reading for Research blog and ReFoReMo challenge was designed especially for picture book writers who want to learn more about great writing through hands-on reading. We study elements like great beginnings, plot, characters, lyrical language, and so much more. While the blog provides free education year round, the actual ReFoReMo challenge takes place every March. Our goal is to develop a habit of studying current picture books, whether published or just getting started. We’ll kick-start our research by reading 105 books within the month.
You’re all dressed up with ideas, so it’s time to put the PJs on and tackle the freshest concepts first. Take comfort in knowing that most of your go-to places are accessible from home. But you might have to throw on your sweats for the library.
Carrie Charley Brown juggles ideas and words every day as a children’s writer. She is the 2016 Regional Advisor for SCBWI North Texas and a professional critique mentor. As the founder of ReFoReMo, a picture book research challenge and blog, she encourages picture book writers to keep reading great mentor texts. She blogs on various writing sites including Writer’s Rumpus] and contributes as a CYBILS fiction picture book judge. You can find her blogs and subscribe to her newsletter at www.carriecharleybrown.com/reforemo or follow her on Twitter @carriebrowntx and Facebook.
Carrie is giving away a picture book critique.
Leave a comment below to enter. One comment per person, please.
This prize will be given away at the conclusion of PiBoIdMo. You will be eligible for this prize if:
- You have registered for PiBoIdMo.
- You have commented ONCE ONLY on today’s post.
- You have completed the PiBoIdMo challenge.
Good luck, everyone!