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by Salina Yoon

Ever wonder how those cute books with moving parts, lift-flaps, pop-ups, or touchable things get sold to publishers?

With a novelty book submission, the dummy is critical. Unlike other formats that may be story- or art-driven, a novelty book is format-driven. This means that the physical format can be even more important than the text, the story, the concept, or the art, though all of these elements have to work seamlessly together at the end. Creating a novelty book is like solving a puzzle on a multi-dimensional level. But the challenge is what makes it FUN!

The format has to be unique and versatile enough to work as a series.

But how do you build a book with moving parts?!

I’ll show you.

It begins with an idea. You sketch it out. This sketch is no bigger than 2”, but it’s got a lot of info here. The tail of an animal will wag by the pull of a pull-tab.

Since I already know that it would be important for the publisher to be able to make this into a series, I created a series title.

The things that I considered while creating the series title:

  • Must highlight its most unique feature on the book
  • Must be catchy
  • Must inform reader how the book works

I came up with a WAGGING TAIL BOOK. But I revised the series title to A WAG MY TAIL BOOK for the final submission, which the acquiring publisher kept.

Then comes the tricky part. Before I do anything else, I have to figure out how to make the tail wag with a pull tab. What if you’re not a paper engineer? While I consider myself a format engineer, I’m not a paper engineer myself, so I sought one out. I happen to have a good friend who can really make paper do anything! Having some experience with novelty, though, I knew the possibilities and limitations. I explained how I wanted the tail to move with a tab on the side. She sent me various options, and this mechanic worked the best for me.

You could hire a freelance paper engineer, like Renee Jablow or carefully open up other books with a similar mechanic to the one you want, and see if you could recreate it. No need to reinvent the wheel. All paper-engineers pull apart other paper mechanics to learn from them! Don’t worry about making it perfect. This is for the purpose of submitting it to a publisher so they see how it works. If the publisher is interested, they would send this dummy to their printer, and the printer would re-engineer it (and clean it up)—and supply quotes to the publisher. Pricing is KEY in getting through the acquisition process. If it’s too pricey, it’ll be passed. Be sure to only include interactive elements that are absolutely necessary and cost effective.

Once I had the mechanic figured out, I worked on creating an art sample. But since I want to show this format as a series, I created four covers. After building the four dummies, I had to source the fabric for the touch-and-feel tail. This could be done by visiting a fabric store, or even a party store that sells costumes. All I needed was a tiny piece of fabric for my dummy. A fully designed dummy shows the publisher exactly how I am envisioning this series.

But I wanted to offer less-expensive versions of the dummy, too, so I did not put fabric on the tails of all of the animals. It’s nice to offer options.

After building the dummy, I created a video to show how the dummy works. This would allow me to share the dummy without actually sending it, unless it was requested.

The acquisition process for a novelty book typically takes far longer than a traditional picture book, even when the publisher is excited about it. Expect 7-12 months…or longer to get an offer, if one is coming! Some books have been acquired as late as 18 months after submission!

The Wag My Tail series was sold to S&S as a 3-book deal (though more are coming). Instead of going with the original concepts, the publisher asked for holiday themes, which was easy to apply to this format. The first book HALLOWEEN KITTY is available now, and the others will follow.

Don’t be afraid to tackle a novelty book idea. Take it just one step at a time—beginning with the format. It’s challenging on multiple levels, but you’ll have lots of fun and maybe less hair than what you started with. Good luck!

Thanks, Salina! What a fascinating process. You are the novelty master. How could any publisher resist?

You can visit Salina and her books online at

To celebrate the release of HALLOWEEN KITTY, Salina is giving away 5 copies of the book!

Leave one comment below to enter. Five random winners will be selected in a couple weeks.

Good luck!

by Salina Yoon

Toys, toys, toys! I love toys! They are often the inspiration to my novelty books—board books with interactive features. They are designed to be touched, pulled, squeezed and played with, so my books and toys are like cousins.

Colored stacking rings, the Connect Four game, wooden puzzles, rubber duckies, and even a football has inspired a book idea! And sometimes, it’s not even a toy at all. Random objects will inspire me. My husband’s toolbox, kitchen utensils, scrap fabric, a greeting card, and even a funny jack-o-lantern on Halloween! I can’t get away from ideas creeping into my head because I’m surrounded by objects. Needless to say, I develop a ton of ideas every year. About a dozen are usually good enough to publish. And the others crawl back into my deep, dark dummy closet of doom. (See photo!)

My books are concept- and format-driven, so I’m not looking for story ideas. I look for fun concepts that allow a child to interact in a meaningful way from the physical design of the book. Rock & Roll COLORS is an excellent example. The book has a hidden track within each narrow page that allow a shiny disk to roll back and forth when the book is tilted. It makes a nice, satisfying clunking sound when the disk hits the edge. Each side of the page has an image with die-cuts, so the foil comes shining through. Each spread focuses on one color, and both images on the page are that same color. It’s so simple, but effective!

So how does this help you if you’re not developing novelty books? I say keep an open mind! Even simple objects can inspire, if you let them. For the PiBoIdMo challenge, all you need are concepts.

Surrender to your imagination! I don’t actively try to create ideas as much as allowing ideas to come into my head. Allow your mind to be free! Relax. Smile. Enjoy the process. Like the Chinese finger trap, the harder you pull, the stronger it resists. Don’t stress too much about trying to think up great ideas. When they come a-knockin’, just invite them in!

Salina Yoon is the creator of over 150 innovative books for young children. She has been named a finalist for the CBC’s Children’s Choice Book Awards for K-2nd Best Book of the Year, for Opposnakes (S&S/Little Simon), received the Oppenheim Toy Portfolio Gold Seal awards for Little Scholastic TOYS (Scholastic/Cartwheel) and Rock & Roll COLORS (Scholastic/Cartwheel), and the Nick Jr. Family Magazine Best Book of the Year award for My First Menorah (S&S). An author search on B&N, Amazon or IndieBound is the best way to track Salina’s books down. There are lots and lots of new titles releasing soon! (And Salina promises to have an updated website in Spring, 2011.)


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As a children's book author and mother of two, I'm pushing a stroller along the path to publication. I collect shiny doodads on the journey and share them here. You've found a kidlit treasure box.

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My Picture Books


illus by Melissa Crowton
Tundra/PRH Canada
June 4, 2019

illus by Ross MacDonald
October 15, 2019

illus by Vivienne To
Spring 2020

illustrator TBA
Sourcebooks eXplore
August 2020

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