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by Abi Cushman

Do you have a really cool idea for a novelty book but don’t know where to start? Well, the truth is, when I got the idea for ANIMALS GO VROOM!, my picture book with die-cut windows, I had lots of experience reading novelty books but absolutely no experience making them. So I’m going to share with you what I learned along the way so you can turn YOUR idea into a real novelty book just like I did.

Here’s how to get started:

1.     Evaluate the Concept

The first step is to evaluate the concept. Is your idea kid-relatable? Unfortunately, small children may not be interested in your pull-the-tab book about tax preparation. I mean, I’d be clapping in delight to pull a tab to find out if I needed Form 8606 when filling out Line 4B on my 1040, but it may be a tough sell to a 2-year-old.

Make sure your idea is marketable. You might take an evergreen topic that kids and parents always look for, such as dinosaurs, transportation, or bedtime, but present it in a unique, appealing way.

Finally, does your book really need a novelty element? Don’t just add feathers because you think they’re pretty. You should be able to justify why a novelty element is central to the story or idea. Novelty elements cost a lot to produce, and publishers want to feel confident in their investment.

For example, in ANIMALS GO VROOM!, I combined two evergreen topics in a fresh way: animal sounds + transportation. I had thought about how words like Roar, Honk, or Screech could be used for both an animal sound and a vehicle sound, and how it might be fun to make a book where the reader had to guess who or what was making the sound. Die-cut holes that peeked through to the next spread and offered clues seemed like a fun, but intentional way to use a novelty element.

2.     Look at Mentor Texts

The next step is to see what novelty books are already out there. Make sure your concept really is fresh and not just new-to-you.

When you find books with novelty elements similar to yours, examine how the novelty element was incorporated into them. Look at how they set up and designed the pages. You may have to dismantle the book to see how things like pull tabs and spinners work.

When I was making ANIMALS GO VROOM!, I studied novelty picture books like Tupera Tupera’s POLAR BEAR’S UNDERWEAR and Simms Taback’s THERE WAS AN OLD LADY WHO SWALLOWED A FLY, to get a better idea of how thick the paper was and how large the die-cuts were.

The other thing I looked at was page count. Typically, novelty board books are 5-10 spreads. They often do not have a title page, so you jump right into the action. The copyright info is on the back cover, and they’re usually smaller than picture books. Novelty picture books are usually 32 pages and you end up with about 12 spreads of main story content.

3.     Make a Rough Dummy

This is the step where you get to experiment and have fun! If you’re wondering, “Do I need to make a dummy if I’m not an illustrator?”, the answer is yes, absolutely. This is an important step not only so you can see for yourself if your idea actually works, but also to show other people your idea in action. Don’t worry about being messy or making ugly drawings at the beginning. You’re just trying to work out the functionality.

For ANIMALS GO VROOM!, I started with a few thumbnail drawings.

After that, I cut some printer paper in half and folded it to make a mini book. I cut some holes in the pages to see if the die-cuts would work. And truth-be-told, they did NOT line up at first. I had to make the rectangles larger sometimes or tape in little patches to make everything line up properly.

But it was fun to play and experiment and start to see it all come together. My initial dummy was full of tape, wite-out and messy drawings, but it was good enough to show a critique group and get feedback on it. And since it was so loose and messy, it made it easier to go back and make revisions to it because I wasn’t feeling precious about the art.

4.     Polish the Dummy and Submit!

If you’re not an illustrator, you don’t have to worry about wowing anyone with the caliber of your illustrations, but you should try to make the dummy as neat and legible as possible. You want editors and agents to see how the novelty element works and why it’s integral to the book. You can use an app on your phone like Genius Scan to take photos of the pages and it will convert it into a PDF.

If you do plan to illustrate the book, you’ll need to polish up the illustrations as well. Here is a sample from my larger, 9×9” dummy with neater drawings to show my agent (and eventually my editor and art director at Viking).

When I worked on the final art with Jim Hoover, the art director at Viking, we played around with different shapes for the die-cuts. I added a little wiggle room around the sound words and animal faces in the die-cut shapes to allow for any discrepancies in the cutting process. Once we got proofs back from the printer, we only needed to adjust the spacing and measurements on a couple of die-cuts. Here are the final tiger spreads:

So if you feel passionate about a novelty book idea, go for it! I can’t wait to see all your fun, inventive book concepts come to life. Even that Tax Prep for Toddlers book.

Thanks for the novel novelty tips, Abi! (I couldn’t resist.)

Blog readers, Penguin Random House is giving away a copy of ANIMALS GO VROOM!

Leave one comment to enter. A random winner will be selected in one week.

Good luck!


Abi Cushman is the author-illustrator of ANIMALS GO VROOM! and SOAKED!, which was a Kids’ Indie Next Top Ten Pick for Summer 2020. She has also worked as a web designer for over 15 years, and runs two popular websites of her own: MyHouseRabbit.com, a pet rabbit care resource, and AnimalFactGuide.com, which was named a Great Website for Kids by the American Library Association. In her spare time, Abi enjoys running, playing tennis, and eating nachos. (Yes, at the same time.) She lives on the Connecticut shoreline with her husband and two kids.

To learn more about Abi and her books, visit her website at AbiCushman.com. If you like secrets, exclusive sneak peeks, wombats, and special giveaways, subscribe to her newsletter.

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My Picture Books

COMING SOON:

ABSURD WORDS
illustrator TBA
Sourcebooks eXplore
January 2, 2022

TIME FLIES
"7 ATE 9/PRIVATE I" BOOK #3
illus by Ross MacDonald
Little, Brown
April 2022

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