by Christine Van Zandt

Hello, Storystormers!

To quote Thomas Edison: “Genius is one percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration.” The inspiration for my underpants manuscript happened during an idea-brainstorming session I forced my family to have with me. My (then) third-grader had the lightbulb moment, “Kids love underwear!” So true, but was I the right person to write an underwear book? Since I’m so meticulously methodical, I generated a list of random questions and checked them off in my mind:

  • Q. Was I an expert on underwear?
  • A. Of course! An almost-lifelong expert at that.


  • Q. If, maybe, I needed to uncover more information, did I have the resources?
  • A. The library’s my best friend! The staff knows my name. (Really, they do.)


  • Q. Was I passionate about this topic?
  • A. YES! Underwear is fun and it saves our buns.

After those two minutes of inspiration, I moved on to perspiration and in the subsequent months many bars of chocolate were consumed.

I found published picture books similar to my idea, read and analyzed them. Deciding that my vision differed enough that it may find room in the marketplace, I charged forward like a knight in quilted underpants and . . . wrote the first draft!

It took 235 days from the first draft until I connected with a publisher. Here’s a glimpse at that time period:

  1. Read the manuscript aloud to myself. Revised.
  2. Thought it’d be easy finding and verifying kid-friendly facts. Discovered I was wrong.
  3. Reminded myself that my job needed my time. Tried to stop thinking about underwear.
  4. Checked out fifty pounds of reference books. Found five-and-a-half relevant facts.
  5. Panicked. Refocused when libraries closed, at-home school began, and everyone was home (Every. Day. All. Day. Long.).
  6. Read my manuscript to my family and got their feedback. Revised.
  7. Had family members read it to me. Revised.
  8. Read to the cat, because no one else would listen. Realized the cat only wanted to type with his tail. Let the cat revise.
  9. Bought reference books. Bought more reference books.
  10. Added foldout tables so I could dig out my keyboard, mouse, and the cat.
  11. Workshopped with my main critique group. Revised.
  12. Workshopped with other critique partners, then (guess what?), revised!
  13. Repeated until no one could stand this story anymore—because of how awesome it had become.
  14. Put the manuscript out there for the world. Logged when/where/how/why I sent it.
  15. Started over and wrote the next book.

So you see, it’s simple. Inspiration + perspiration = publication. Sometimes. I’ve written plenty of manuscripts that haven’t connected with the right publisher at the right moment. In the book industry, a story may also need the element of luck/timing.

In the 129 days since my underwear book found its publisher I’ve repeated many of the above steps as the book’s length increased from 32 to 48 pages and went through various renditions.

Am I finished? I don’t think “finished” happens.

My focus has shifted to the pre-order campaign, product- and self-promotion. Because of the pandemic, resilient, innovative authors are having successful book rollouts virtually and through social media. Since I work as a literary editor, I’ve been giving away manuscript critiques via opportunities like Storystorm, and monthly on Twitter. (So follow me already, @ChristineVZ.)

Today and every day in January, take time to create and write down a new story idea. You never know when a thought or statement will be THE ONE that you streeeetch into a published picture book.

Happy Storystorming evermore,

Credit: Marlena Van Zandt

Christine is a freelance editor, writer, and owner of Write for Success Editing Services. To uncover underwear facts, take a peek at her nonfiction picture book, A BRIEF HISTORY OF UNDERPANTS (April 2021, becker&mayer! kids). She’s the editor behind the SCBWI’s “Ask an Editor” column (Kite Tales blog) and contributes interviews. She also reviews children’s books for Good Reads with Ronna.

To find or follow Christine: website, Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, or Instagram.

Christine is giving away a first-1,000-words critique of one story (children’s/adult, fiction/nonfiction, any genre). For shorter pieces, such as picture book/short story/magazine article, one item of 1,000 words or fewer will be critiqued. If you have something that’s not listed, rub a magic lantern and make your wish—or just ask Christine.

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