Monday, September 23, 2013

Picture Book Worshop #32: Research at the Bookstore

Every so often, I get to a point where I am familiar with many current picture book covers, but I've never seen the inside pages.  I have no idea what the book is about.  That's when it's time to HIT THE BOOKSTORE!

Just the other week I did this.  I went into Barnes & Noble with my notebook and camera and picked a bunch of books from the shelves (the big buck face out ones) and sat down in a very low chair and read. 

I took notes on the books.  I jotted down who the protagonist was and what their goal was.  If there was a lovely illustration, I snapped a photo.  (I was sneaky about this as I'm sure this practice would be frowned upon.  But I only took the photos for my own personal reference, not for sharing.)

It's important to see what's out NOW.  What are the publishers promoting.  Are there a lot of sweet family stories, or pithy comedies?  I'm not saying if you see a bunch of monsters-with-feeling books you need to write only monster-with-feelings books, but when it's time to pitch your book to an agent or editor, it can be beneficial to say, it has the brevity of THIS HAT IS NOT MINE combined with the thrill of THE DARK.

It short-hands what your story is like while letting the editor/agent know that you're keeping up with the current market.

Also, it is good to know about trends.  For example, I've noticed the more popular books have very lower word counts these days.  It seems like, more and more, a picture book is telling the story with more pictures and fewer words.  This is fine for me, b/c I illustrate my own books, but it would be good for a straight-up writer to keep that in mind.

And, as an illustrator, I'm also paying attention to the style of illustration that seems popular. 
That's not to say that I'm looking to copy someone else's style, but I am, again, looking at trends.  And inspiration.  Every book you read has the potential to spark an idea.  When you're reading and looking at the same things, that's when the creative juices stop flowing.  Creative people need to constantly take in new ideas, new music, new art to keep producing fresh and interesting things.

Finally, it's also nice to just LEAVE THE HOUSE.  I don't want to make it sound like I'm agoraphobic, but my office and my studio are in my house.  There are days when the only time I leave the house is to take Magoo to school and pick him up.  There's always plenty of work to do, but it is a good thing to take an hour and go out into the world.  Besides, a bookstore is one of the best places to spend an hour, in my opinion.

So get out there, see what's what, and if you do raid your local bookstore for an hour or so, maybe buy a book before you go.  I bought  SECRET PIZZA PARTY - it's hilarious!

Have a great week!


Johnell DeWitt said...

This was great. I did a Barnes and Noble trip and talked to the clerks. It was amazingly helpful, but I like your idea of writing down the details of the books you see.

Maureen said...

Good tips. Especially the one about knowing the market so you can make better pitches to agents, etc.

Though I know if I were to bring my seven year old, I would come out with more than just one book. LOL!

Mirka Breen said...

I've never been a trendy person, but I agree you should look and see what others are up to, if only to get the creative juices flowing.

Julie_c said...

Hi Johnell - I never thought to talk to clerks. Duh! I'm usually too busy hiding from them as I do naughty things like put my book face out on the shelves.

Maureen, I know exactly what you mean. I LOVE to buy books and if I took my son I'd have spent a bundle.

Right on, Mirka. Besides, by the time a trend comes out, if you're not on the boat then you've already missed it!

Lucia Sasaki said...

Hi Julie, thanks for your post, it is always a pleasure to read them!
Ah, bookstores... I worked for a regal one for ten years (no as clerk but internally) and one of my pleasures were browsing the shelfs at my lunch time or leaving time. It was a delight! Nowadays I live in a city that doesn't have huge bookstores, but I always go there and I have my happiness time.
I love to work for libraries, but I understand when you say that in bookstores we see the trends on literary creation. Unfortunately in libraries (at least here in my city)we get too many secondhanded and old books. Mind this, many of them are old but they are treasures nevertheless.
Thanks again, dear, your illustrations are marvelous, as ever, read your blog always make me smile.
Great weekend!!