Wednesday, February 3, 2021

Starting with a Great Idea: Goosebumps Don’t Lie!

By Suzanne Slade

One of the questions I’m asked most often during school visits is “Where do you get your book ideas?”

Students are always surprised to find out that I don’t go looking for new book ideas. In fact, they always find me. My children have sparked great book topics. Librarians, teachers, and students have shared fantastic ideas. I’ve stumbled across book ideas in newspaper and online articles, while listening to the radio, watching TV, and even strolling through an outdoor festival. It seems book ideas are lurking everywhere!

 


For example, years ago while I was doing a presentation about my Apollo book COUNTDOWN at a Chicago bookstore, my eyes kept wandering to a large book at the back of the room with a colorful cover. After my presentation, I pulled the book off the shelf to investigate. Turns out, it was an adult title about Mars. The incredible photos inside sparked an idea which became my picture book titled MARS IS (releasing April 2021.) 

As soon as a new book idea finds me, I write it down immediately. The few times I didn’t, I was convinced those forgotten ideas would have become the best books ever!

A long list of potential picture book topics is always floating around my desk—usually buried beneath a pile of research books for the manuscript I’m currently working on. But I can’t seem to find time to work on all these ideas. So how do I decide which ones to pursue?

Behold—the simple goosebump test. I look for a topic that has a surprising, fascinating, or little-known aspect which gives me goosebumps (literally.) I figure if a story idea is that compelling, young readers will likely be interested in it too.

Of course, a goosebump moment is just the beginning of the long, unpredictable, and often frustrating path to publication. But that inspiring moment is an exciting way to start the journey!

Before officially committing to a goosebump idea, I check to see if there are other children’s books about that topic on the market. A quick search on Amazon and WorldCat (www.worldcat.org) is an easy way to find out. If there are children’s books on the subject, that doesn’t necessarily mean I won’t pursue the project.

Next, I dig a little deeper to determine if the type of story I want to tell, the particular angle or part I plan to emphasize, is similar to an existing book. I also carefully consider whether I’m equipped to share this particular story. Meaning, I take into account whether I have any personal history, educational background, work experiences, hobbies, access to primary sources/experts, or other factors related to the topic which would prove helpful in creating an engaging, authentic, and accurate story.

Every nonfiction author has their own method of deciding which book ideas to pursue. No matter what your method, I believe it’s helpful to spend considerable time in the “idea phase” of a project. Because once you begin a nonfiction story, you’ll likely spend years researching, revising, and editing, not to mention reviewing artist sketches, fact checking, marketing, and more. So it’s beneficial to select a topic you’re over-the-moon about, because your journey with that project might end up longer than an actual trip to the moon! (Which is 239,000 miles by the way.)

Activity: If you haven’t already, jot down the book ideas that have been floating around in your head, or floating around your house on scraps of paper. If you don’t have any (or many) ideas, during the next week try to stay alert and open to book ideas throughout your day. You never know where new ideas might appear!

Next, find a block of uninterrupted time to carefully consider your list of ideas and ask yourself these questions: Which idea(s) are you most excited about? Which one(s) do you think will interest young readers? Do any ideas feel especially fresh or timely? Do you have access to unique primary sources or experts you could interview for certain topics? Do you have any personal background, expertise, work experiences, or coursework which applies to any of your topics? Based on your analysis, select the idea that seems best to pursue. You might also rank your remaining ideas, so you’ll know which ones you’d like to tackle next.

Finally, congratulate yourself on finding your next great idea(s)! I can’t wait to read your incredible nonfiction books as soon as they release.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Suzanne Slade is the award-winning author of more than100 nonfiction children’s books. A mechanical engineer by degree, many of her books are on STEM topics. She also enjoys writing about heroes from her hometown of Chicago, such as Jane Addams, Gwendolyn Brooks, and the Harlem Globetrotters. Recent titles include Swish! The Slam-Dunking, Alley-Ooping, High-Flying Harlem Globetrotters; Exquisite: The Poetry and Life of Gwendolyn Brooks; and A Computer Called Katherine: How Katherine Johnson Helped Put America on the Moon. Releasing March 15: June Almeida, Virus Detective! The Woman Who Discovered the First Human Coronavirus. Find more at SuzanneSlade.com.

 

ABOUT THE PRIZE

About the Prize: Suzanne is offering a 30-minute phone or Zoom visit to discuss your wonderful book ideas. During the consultation, she will also help you brainstorm story ideas, suggest possible primary sources for the project, and answer questions.

105 comments:

  1. Ah yes, www.worldcat.org Thanks for the reminder today.

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  2. Thanks for the great reminders about evaluating ideas!

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  3. I'm a huge fan of your work, Suzanne, and look forward to reading MARS IS. It's helpful to know how you pick the ideas to focus on.

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  5. Another fantastic read, thank you for sharing!

    I have to admit I had goosebumps the first time I heard Representative Ilhan Omar speak in person. I stood in awe of having someone that shared my religion, that was born on the same soil that I was and spoke parts of my ancestors language, finally representing someone that looked like me & my daughters, in the American Capitol.

    I knew then I wanted to share her story & began my year long research into every article ever written about her, every interview, every news segment and even watched her documentary a few times. I took the metro to the Smithsonian African Museum library to do research (they denied me access as they had none to share) and studied every picture book ever written about an American politician. Never once losing the goosebumps thinking about my daughters holding a picture book about Ms. Omar in their hands, or a child learning about her outrageous journey, at a library.

    Even today, two years later after the manuscript is done & sits in a drawer, I still get goosebumps writing about that first feeling of awe in the presence of Ms. Omar.

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    1. Sits in a drawer, A Crafty Arab,why? Sounds like a wonderful and needed story. Is it a picture book? If so, you might try: http://www.pbpitch.com/pbpitch-twitter-event.html

      I hope you feel inspired by NFF and go out and fight for this story you've put so much work into.

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    2. Yes, I've pitched it, even had an editor at one of the big C publishers take an interest, but didn't feel it was kid ready.

      I'm trying not to get discouraged by a market that has a gazillion books out on HRC but I can count on my one hand about Shirley Chisholm or other WOC representatives. So instead I've put it in a drawer, for now, as I learn the PB craft through Children's Book Academy with a silly tale about a hummus loving alien. I'm hoping to figure out what "kid ready" means.

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  6. Thank you for sharing your process. I especially liked "surprising, fascinating, or little-known aspect" to use for inspiration." I am definitely going to start jotting down every idea.

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  7. I love when ideas pop into my head at random times! I remember driving and listening to a NPR story and had to make an unexpected right turn so I could pull off and write it down. Honestly, that story is creative non-fiction but still one of my favorites and it makes me chuckle every time! Congrats on your success!

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  8. I just jotted down two ideas that came to me today ... like you if I don't write them somewhere I'm convinced I lost the best idea I ever had. Thanks!

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  9. Thank you so much! As a writer, I seem to have more ideas than time :) I adored the bit about sitting down and asking questions then ranking your ideas. I keep a google sheet of my ideas. This way, I'm able to access on my phone or when I'm going through my journals. Overwhelming! The goosebump test is a fantastic first pass idea. I am really thankful for the description of the next steps in actually moving the idea into a process for its story.

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  10. LOVE the goosebump test! I thrive on curiosity and the power of story. So your advice about spending time to determine the story to tell truly resonated with me! Thanks for your advice.

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  11. Marianne Blackstone TabnerFebruary 3, 2021 at 7:26 AM

    Thank you Suzanne for sharing this idea of the 'goosebump test'. Like you I have so many ideas I want to write about and need to sit with the next one. I would love the opportunity to 'brainstorm' with you and learn more about your writing process!!

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  12. This is basically how I cultivate my ideas for the next book in my historical fiction chapter series, HISTORY'S MYSTERIES. Nice to know I'm on the right tract when I work on a new idea...

    Great post! Thanks for sharing your process!

    Donna L Martin

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  13. Love the goosebumps idea ;) Thank you Suzanne!

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  14. Thank you for this inspiring post. You’re “goosebumps test” is the best!

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  15. I'm creating an "idea doc" right now with a heading that contains the questions I should ask myself. Great info--thank you for sharing!

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  16. First, thanks for the laugh! Writing is like a trip to the moon! Second, thanks for sharing your process of choosing the best ideas. I have a lot of ideas and my problem is choosing the best ones...and the format for them. More than a 100 books! Wow,Suzanne! Goosebumps! Guess, I'm beginning well! Have a great month.

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  17. I love this! I sometimes struggle to understand why I've chosen my ideas, because they SOUND so random. But it's definitely the goosebumps factor that sends me off down the path of research and uncovering the story.

    Your activity idea is perfect for those of us who just finished Storystorm!

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  18. Thank you I will write down my nonfiction ideas and research each one and choose which one I like the best.

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  19. I TOTALLY agree with the Goosebumps theory! And, I agree that it is important to follow through on research to determine if there is a similar title out for a book idea, and if so, offering a new twist on the subject.

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  20. Thank you! I appreciated your list of practical questions to ask about which idea/topic to pursue. That's a great way to prioritize and focus on one idea at a time.

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  21. Suzanne, I was so impressed that I made a table of the process you shared. I can make it available if anyone is interested. Let me know and if so, where I can post it.

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  22. I always have more ideas than I can tackle. I am passionate about my two current research projects, but can't wait to sit down and apply your tests to my list. Thanks.

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  23. Love the idea of goosebumps! Thanks for sharing.

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  24. Yes! I've been needing to sort through the scraps of paper I toss into the tin on my desk - and now also the StoryStorm ideas. Am going to put this on my "Assignment List" to do this week. Thanks, Suzanne, for the nudge!

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  25. The thought of all the research in doing a NF manuscript, both excites and scares the crap out of me! I think the questions you posed are good ones and very helpful for helping me to decide which ideas to pursue and which ones that might be better left to someone else to write about. Thank you!

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  26. I love NF and now I write NF. Thank you for your insight!

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  27. Thanks for sharing your idea-generation process! Lynn Street

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  28. I love thinking of the spark as the "goosebumps" moment! Thanks for sharing how it's been for you. I happen to have "Exquisite" sitting right here beside me. I loved Gwendolyn's view of her future as "ecstatically exquisite."

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  29. Thank you. I will seriously consider my list of ideas and the accompanying goosebumps.

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  30. Suzanne, thank you for sharing terrific advice with questions to ask ourselves as we pursue our "goosebumps" moments. I appreciate your insight!

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  31. I need to sit down and rank my list of ideas. Thank you for the suggestion. I think I often get so excited by a new idea that the others get lost.

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  32. What happens if an idea attracts you, perhaps won't let you go, but also scares you because of all the work involved in developing it further until it might possibly work as a picture book?

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  33. Thank you for helping me flesh out which ideas to work through. I actually made a list of story submissions called "Submit or Forget". I love the idea of ranking my ideas.






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  34. Thanks for sharing your method for choosing a new idea. This was very timely, since I am in the process of choosing a new topic about which to write.

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  35. Goosebumps! Yes! Thank you Suzanne Slade for sharing your process of deciding which one of the many ideas is speaking to you at the time.
    Many times I need to pull over while driving just to jot the idea-of-the-moment down. Look forward to reading your book titles.

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  36. The goosebumps, yes! I saw a quip of an idea the other day and in searching found 2 other books on the same topic published in the last 2 years...nothing before that! However, I've been writing, jotting, researching all day because this subject caused the excitement and I'm going at it from a different point of view! Thanks for this post.

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  37. I just counted up the story ideas I jotted down during January for Storystorm and 23 of them were non fiction ideas. I'm boggled! Now I must get to work! Thanks for your articles and books - I'll be looking for them.

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  38. Suzanne, what a great way to put into words how you know when you have an idea worth pursuing! I appreciate your advice and your links - especially the WorldCat (www.worldcat.org). I have used Amazon and Google frequently, but not WorldCat. So thank you!

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  39. Thank you, Suzanne. It would be wonderful to discuss with you, some ideas I have noted down. I'm starting to explore and would love to get the goosebumps feeling!

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  40. Suzanne, I love the idea of the "goosebump test!" Looking back on my own books, it's the ones that made my heartbeat quicken when I first thought of them that ended up turning into books! I'm definitely going to pay attention to that more moving forward.

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  41. "...a goosebump moment is just the beginning of the long, unpredictable, and often frustrating path to publication..." with emphasis on "frustrating" is something I completely relate to. But yeah, ideas are like dust; they are numerous and everywhere. LOL!

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  42. I love the "Goosebump test!" Thanks for a great post, Suzanne. I look forward to MARS IS!

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  43. I'm not sure how I feel about fate...but reading this post, today...when a new idea bloomed...let's just say the geese were bumping!!

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  44. Love the goosebumps test. Look forward to reading your upcoming PB Bio!

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  45. Thank you! Coming out of StoryStorm I have a lot of ideas to work with, and your tips will help me narrow down my NF options.

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  46. Goosebumps don't lie and your post will help me evaluate and conquer my list of ideas. I have been inspired by many of your goosebump-producing books!

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  47. I love your goosebumps test, especially when paired with an honest response to can I live with this topic/person/book for a LONG time. Thank you. I'm looking forward to MARS IS.

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  48. Were you looking in my window? I feel like you could see the bottom level of my desktop. You motivated me to look through my files of nf ideas and use your tips to pick one and move it along. And I'll keep in mind it will be a process...a long tricky process but if the idea gives me goosebumps it will go the distance. Thanks!

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  49. Thanks so much for this direct way of connecting with a strong idea!

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  50. Thank you for the great list of questions in your proposed activity; helps measure those goosebumps! I keep a folder of "ideas/story starts." A lot of ideas pop in while I'm walking and/or when I hear student comments. I whip out my phone and either dictate or write them into my 'notes' app. So glad for this technology.

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  51. I’ve gotten the goosebumps over a couple of ideas I’m working on right now! It’s such an exhilarating feeling - almost like crushing on someone!

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  52. Thank you for the great list of questions in your proposed activity; helps measure those goosebumps! I keep a folder of "ideas/story starts." A lot of ideas pop in while I'm walking and/or when I hear student comments. I whip out my phone and either dictate or write them into my 'notes' app. So glad for this technology.

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  53. Thanks for sharing your process for filtering ideas. I have a few that give me goosebumps, so I am starting to look into them further. Your list of questions is helpful!

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  54. I have so many ideas in my file, and of course, more keep coming. Thank you for the questions for vetting ideas. I will use them in choosing which NF projects to focus on.

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  55. Thanks for the mention of worldcat.org. Very helpful.

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  56. This is exactly how I get my ideas...everywhere. Even my husband would look at me on an excursion and say, "That would make a great kids' book!" Great article!

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  57. Thanks so much for sharing. You are an inspiration to all!

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  58. So many ideas. So little time. So, sometimes I put them together.

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  59. I love hearing where people get their ideas from. It seems pretty similar for lots of writers. I love the activity suggested and will definitely refer back to it when I am jotting down prospective manuscript ideas. Thank you!

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  60. Excellent questions to ask to determine if I am the one to write this story.

    Thank you, Suzanne.

    Suzy Leopold

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  61. Like you mentioned, sometimes ideas magically come along and you feel a need to write about them. Thanks for sharing, Suzanne!

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  62. Right now I'm writing biographies. It takes a LOT of digging before I feel those goosebumps.

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  63. I have so many ideas floating around in my computer. But I question myself. With each one, I am afraid that I'm not the best writer for the job. But I also ask, if I don't write it, will it be told? No easy answer. Just more questions.

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  64. Thanks for sharing your process! Your post helped!

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  65. Thanks Suzanne for your inspiration on ideas!

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  66. Like you, Suzanne, I have no worries with ideas finding me and I use your method.

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  67. I'm looking forward to reading your upcoming Mars title--am sure it will give me goosebumps! Ideas constantly bombarding me...especially in the middle of the night (I use my nifty light-up pen to capture those).

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  68. I have several ideas floating around in my head and will use your questions to focus on one. Thanks for a great post, Suzanne!

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  69. So true, Suzanne. Passion and obsession go a long way and help us on weather all the obstacles from revision through edits and publication!

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  70. I love the idea of using goosebumps as your guide!

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  71. I do keep a list of idea but often wonder which one I should pursue next. So, thank you for this post. I will try the "goosebump method".

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  72. Suzanne, thank you for your beautiful books and an amazing reminder to keep track of our ideas somewhere!! Love your “goosebumps method” to figure out what to work on next!!

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  73. I love that goosebumps moment when a fact or story feels so amazing that you have to dig deeper and write about it! Thanks for great tips on deciding on and prioritizing topics.

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  74. Thanks, Suzanne! Guess I'm not the only one who loved your "goosebumps" approach to figuring out what story ideas to work on. I've been doing this without even realizing it but giving it a name makes me able to integrate it more.

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  75. Yes, it will require an over-the-moon love of the topic for the long haul ahead! Thanks, for the reminders,Suzanne.

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  76. Thanks for your post. It’s so helpful for a newbie.

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  77. Suzanne, thank you for the encouragement. I've been to the moonlit ideas on a few long term projects, just stuck in orbit with them. Needing to land.

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  78. I got goosebumps when I found that there are no other picture books about my latest idea! Thanks for all the reminders about ideas.

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  79. I've had experiences where ideas just pop in my head, are sparked by grandkids, or I go looking for them. I'm always looking for a good idea as I travel.

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  80. I love that- goosebumps don't lie! I always write what I love. I just wonder if I should also be paying attention to the market. I know most say no, but the reality is that you need to make sure your book is marketable.

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  81. Thank you so much for so many good ideas. Even after years of looking and learning about writing for children, I did not know about worldcat.org. I think this will be an invaluable resource!

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  82. Advice is always welcome! Thank you!

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  83. Love those Goosebump moments! Thanks for the advice, Suzanne!

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  84. Those "goose bump moments" is a perfect description of what it feels like to find the gem of an idea. Now, to begin work on those ideas when they are captured and flesh them out. Thanks.

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  85. Thank you for your advice, Suzanne! I like the list of follow-up questions to evaluate topics. I imagine the answers will either extend the goosebump moment or send the feeling into overdrive.

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  86. Goosebumps don't lie! Thanks for an interesting post.

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  87. Thank you so much for the inspiration & go-get-'em attitude....I just jotted down a whole new idea thanks to this post! :)

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  88. Yes, yes, and yes! Love the goosebump analogy. The stories that keep you up at night are those begging us to tell!

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  89. Yes, I Have a folder in my phone where I jot ideas, quotes, and even pictures of story ideas.

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  90. Great goosebump philosophy and how to instruction. Thanks.

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  91. I jot down ideas on envelopes, napkins or record them in my phone, whenever and wherever I get them. Thanks for reminding me of worldcat.org. And even write during boring meetings. ;)
    Great post. Thanks!

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  92. I usually don't know at the beginning whether a subject is going to give me goosebumps. It takes some research and the finding of the "oh, wowwoowwowowwwww!" idea or factoid that then grabs me by the hair and pulls me into the research abyss, LOL. I often don't want to stop. I do need to get a little smarter about seeing what's already out there so I don't reinvent the wheel.....And I think I also need to get better at pitching hooks, because that's key to selling books.

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  93. Hello! This posting pulled out of me several book ideas, one of them being a look back at childhood...Hmmm... I will be in long writing for this one, should I truly pursue it! Thanks for the challenge.

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  94. Thank you for the reminder about the "idea phase” of a project. Sometimes I'm so excited to jump into writing that I don't make sure all the pieces are in place before starting and then frustration comes into play. Goosebumps are a great guide when making the decision to pursue a project. I'm looking forward to reading your new book.

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  95. Finding the right window into a concept is the tricky part for me.

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  96. I too seem to have ideas find me, and I do write them down immediately, but I probably wait too long to do the goosebump test. So many of my ideas find other writers when I don't give them their due space (Elizabeth Gilbert), so I need to be better about developing multiple ideas at once!

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  97. Thank you for these important tips and reminders.

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  98. Suzanne,
    i love your PB bios. I have Gerschwin and Rhapsody in Blue. I get goosebumps every time I read it. your questions:Which idea(s) are you most excited about? Which one(s) do you think will interest young readers? Do any ideas feel especially fresh or timely? Do you have access to unique primary sources or experts you could interview for certain topics? Do you have any personal background, expertise, work experiences, or coursework which applies to any of your topics? will help me to choose which of my ideas to work on.

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  99. Sometimes I have too many ideas & not sure which to pursue first, so this info and advice was very pertinent to my situation. Thank you!

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  100. Suzanne, thanks for this informative post. It is important to know upfront how committed you are to your topic so you can see it through the way the subject deserves.

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  101. Goosebump test. I love it. Thanks for sharing, Suzanne!

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  102. Suzanne, such an inspirational post! The time spent on deciding the angle of a piece is so important.

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