Monday 24 January 2022

Ask yourself a question: Why would I buy this book? By Moira Butterfield

It’s daunting, isn’t it, looking at all the picture books out there. How is it possible to get any success in such a crowded market? Well, it’s true that it IS very crowded. There’s no getting away from it. So how are you going to catch the attention of publishers and the public, assuming that you aren’t already a celebrity? 


I think the best way is to plough your own furrow with a really strong idea that you feel passionate about. Only then will you create something that people will want to buy and use with their children. It’s a good exercise to rigorously examine your concept from the point of view of an agent, editor and buyer. 


Ask yourself – How does your idea stand out from everything else already on the shelves? Why would a member of the public want to buy it, out of all the others on sale? 


Will it stand out as a strong concept? Take a look at Amazon and have a stroll around the bookshops to spot your type of book. Is your concept already out there big-time? Now it’s true you might do quite a generic concept really well – say a sentimental ‘I love you to the Moon and back’ type of book  - but the chances are it could end up looking like a lot of other books in the same vein and it might sink into the bookshop background unless you’re a big name. 

This book really stands out as unusual and looks a lot of fun. It was super-successful. 

This concept is clear at first glance. It's great for bedtime. 

 Is it going to appeal to enough people? Say you want to write a book that has a strong didactic message. I’d be very careful how you did that because most parents want a safe ride and a fun read when they pick up a book, which is why they would buy trustworthy Julia Donaldson over something that looks as if it might be browbeating. You’re going to need to think about how to make your message appeal to your audience, not put them off.  


This is a great example of a 'message' topic done well. It's about telling a child to control their bad behaviour but it's handled in a really fun way that stands out. It definitely doesn't look preachy. 

 Will people think: “This book is going to be usable by me and my kids over and over again so I’ll buy it!” BLOG KLAXON: At this point I’m going to use one of my upcoming books as an example, I hope, of a thought-through concept. It’s Grandma’s Story – illustrated by Salvatore Rubbino and published by Walker on May 5th


The cover 

The first spread 


This idea came from hanging out with my great-niece alongside my elderly parents. What unbelievably different childhoods they all had! Yet by the time my great-niece would be old enough to think about asking them questions would they still be around? I’d never asked my own grandparents anything about their early lives and regretted it. Added to that my great-niece would soon go to school, where she would immediately do ‘history’. How would she even know what that was? I set about creating a picture book that would connect kids to the grown-ups around them in a practical way that would really work. The artist and I have both put some of our own family history backgrounds into the book, which I hope gives it integrity. 


So I knew this was a concept that people would really be able to benefit from. It thought it would  appeal to a lot of people and I could see there wasn't another book like it. My agent and publisher agreed and so it is about to make it onto the shelves, where I hope the public will also notice it and agree. 


 Is your concept strong enough to persuade an agent/editor to sign up your book? You should resolve that before you approach them – marshalling your reasons so you can be as confident as you can be. 


Oh, and you’ll need to write it, obviously... Good luck! 


Moira Butterfield
twitter @moiraworld 
instagram @moirabutterfieldauthor







Rebecca Gomez said...

I've been teaching a picture book "master class" and I think this post would be great to share with my students, who sometimes struggle with choosing which ideas to pursue. Thanks for this!

Adelaide Dupont said...


It does depend on the reasons your students are struggling with the ideas, Rebecca.

What I wanted to say:

There was a book in the 1980s called PLEASE WRITE BACK which promoted writing letters to elders and grandparents specifically as a piece of living history. One could also do it by the telephone.

This is like what Moira and her co-author are doing.