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
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.