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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.

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 SalinaYoon.com.

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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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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