In search of clever book ideas

by Lindsay
(Kansas City, MO)

Light bulb moment!

Light bulb moment!

How can I take my children's book ideas to the next level?

I'm the star of all my writer friends because I'm the one who sometimes gets back handwritten rejections. You know, "Nicely done, but it didn't excite me ENOUGH," and "Great execution but not an idea we love."

Of course, a personal rejection is relatively nice, but it doesn't quite do it for me!

I think I'm starting to notice a common theme in my rejections (if I'm interpreting correctly; rejections seem always to be so terse), and that's this:

You write well, but your subject matter leaves us cold.

I'm trying to figure out where this leaves me.

Apparently I need to get better ideas, but aren't ideas just something that happens? I'm not sure I can come up with different ideas without being a different person! I'm definitely in need of some encouragement here.

Comments for In search of clever book ideas

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More exciting children's book ideas
by: Steve B. (webmaster)

Lindsay, I definitely have some thoughts for you.

For one thing, it's time to get to the library or visit the children's books bestseller list. Start reading the ideas that ARE exciting editors. I find that when I'm trying to come up with my next great idea, the best thing I can do is immerse myself in the genre I'm trying to succeed in.

As for actually dreaming up those ideas, I'd like to break down your desire for more exciting children's book ideas into two areas:
  1. Premise

  2. Plot


Premise, of course, is the idea your book is essentially founded upon. "Two kids home alone are confronted with a mischievous rhyming cat who wants to play."

Plot is the complete set of choices you make WITHIN the story. If Billy doesn't want to go to school, you could have him pretend to be sick, or you could have him hide Mom's car keys, or you could have him post a dummy of the school's calendar to the internet showing that today is a teachers' day.

You see, I think you're taking from the rejections you're getting that it's your premises that they're finding uninspired, but I'd also like to suggest that it could be your plot choices. In my three examples in the above paragraph, the first is the obvious choice, the second is a little more unexpected, and the third is off-the-wall, one-of-a-kind.

When I think unusual premises, I think first of someone like Mo Willems. When I think unusual choices, I can't help but think of the hilarious Junie B. Jones books.

And - ahem - I also think of me.

If you visit my children's book ideas page, you'll see I offer a lot of thoughts about making more unusual plot choices. (My experience in film made that a particular area of expertise.)

Good luck! And congrats on the great rejections. They really ARE a good sign.

Stimulate your imagination!
by: Lisa J. Michaels

I agree with Steve, but I'd also like to suggest that you look around you. There are great story ideas everywhere! One of my favorite writing exercises is to take my car to Walmart and sit in the parking lot and watch the people going in and out.

This may sound wacky, but it's amazing what you see when you're paying close attention!

Everyone you'll see has his/her own story. As I watch them interact with each other, I make one up. Your car says a lot about you...what did they arrive in? A beat up old truck, or an expensive sedan?

I look at the clothes they chose to put on that morning, how they dressed their kids. Are they even paying attention to what their kids are doing/saying? What ARE the kids doing/saying? Is little Suzy really still in her striped pajamas at 3 pm in the afternoon?

Why does her teenage brother look like somebody just took away his x-box, grounded him for life, and then dragged him to the worst possible place on the planet, only to play babysitter to his 3 year-old half sister?

Is it because his step-mom caught him sneaking out his bedroom window in the middle of the night? It was (after all) the only way he could meet up with Tommy and prove that he'd been right. It was his chance to get at the truth about Aunt Zulima being someone, no.... SOMETHING else!

See what I mean? There are a wealth of stories out there, just waiting to be written. At Dunkin' Donuts the other day, I saw a little girl talking to her grandma in the back seat of their van. Even though the grandma couldn't respond (she just stared out the window), the child kept talking as if grandma heard her, and I wondered, what's their story?

There was a wheelchair on the back of the van, so clearly grandma was an invalid. I thought, what a great story line that could be... "Grandma... are you in there?" Meaning, "are you listening, do you hear me?"

What is the potential for that book to speak to the thousands of children who have invalid grandparents whom they love and adore? If it were written well, with great emotion, wouldn't an editor find it marketable?

The moral to my story is, look at what's happening in your world, and tell the stories of the people you most relate to. Let your imagination take you to places you visited as a kid, or where you wished you could have gone.

Don't be afraid to take risks. Take your characters from living, breathing human beings - and then stretch the possibilities to make them more than they really are! Let your imagination soar without limits, and soon you'll have that story that wows your publisher. Go for what you know, then make it grow.

Best of luck,
Lisa J. Michaels
Author/Illustrator

idea for a book
by: Mike

I have a well developed concept for a series of books but have not had time to refine them and complete the writing. I would be happy to discuss the details.

A Couple of Christmas tales to give away
by: Jeff

I have always liked writing, but my hands no longer work due to a muscle disease. I've got a pair of Christmas stories rattling around in my head that I would be happy to give away.

The first story would tell how Santa became Santa and explains other aspects of his life. It's a bit dark. (I call it the "Doll Meister.") The other story is more of a whimsical story of the North Pole Guard (snowmen).Haven't flushed the idea out fully.

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