WRITING FOR THE HOLIDAYS: WILL IT BE TRICK OR TREAT? HO-HUM OR HO, HO, HO?
With so many beloved holiday titles out there, many released year after year, it can be a challenge to get your holiday book published. But if you look at my career in particular, basically most every one of my books so far, with the exception of Let’s Eat Around the World, is a holiday book.
Hedgehog Goes to Kindergarten - illustrated by Anne Kennedy (Scholastic, 2011), is essentially a beginning of school book. Hedgehog's 100th Day of School – illustrated by Lorna Hussey (Scholastic, January 2017) is most-definitely a 100th Day of School celebration book. The Star of the Christmas Play -- illustrated by Lorna Hussey (Beaming Books, 10/16/2018) is essentially a Christmas-themed book and Moldilocks and the 3 Scares -- illustrated by David Rodriguez Lorenzo (Sterling, 2019) can be considered a Halloween tie-in.
I use the words “essentially” and “can be considered” because honestly, the holiday is not all these books are about. The holidays just basically set up situation and the book is about so much more. In Hedgehog Goes to Kindergarten, a little hedgehog fears being able to make a school bus buddy due to his prickly nature and must be brave and persist when trying to make a friend. In Hedgehog’s 100th Day of School, the same little Hedgehog must challenge his creativity and look inside himself when faced with the problem of choosing a clever project for his class 100th Day of School Celebration. In The Star in the Christmas Play, Raffi believes he’s too tall to be cast as any of the characters in his school Nativity Play, until he learns to accept himself and comes up with the perfect role, all by himself. Moldilocks and the 3 Scares features a monstrous cast of characters (a Frankenstein monster, a mummy, a vampire and “blood” hound), but at its heart is really about a family unit that each realizes there’s something missing from their lives and finds what they need when they welcome an orphaned stranger (a zombie named Moldilocks) and embrace her with open arms.
This business is extremely subjective. It’s not only about good writing, but more importantly, good storytelling. Still, it is really hard to say what made a particular editor take on my books. I can only share what I think informed their decision and I hope this information will help to inform similar success for you.
Most importantly (and not surprisingly) for each and every one of these published books, I took out at least 75-100 similar picture books for the library. For Hedgehog #1, I bought or ordered into the library about 30 school bus-related books, and the rest fell to first day of school, fear of something and friendship challenges. Hedgehog #2 was a bit more challenging, but I collected every 100th Day of School book I could get my hands on. I filled in with picture books on art, school celebrations and individuality. For Star I read over 100 religious and holiday Christmas-related books. And for Moldilocks, over 100 Halloween and monster picture books, as well as every fractured fairy tale I could get my hands on.
For each project, I made a list of the books I read: Title, Author, Illustrator, Publisher, Date of Publication and Editor, if known. This helped me in several ways. I knew which publishers had published similar books and when. As I saw what was out there already (and what wasn’t), I started to see holes in the market. It seemed Scholastic didn’t have a school bus book for a few years, and was slight on 100th day offerings. I saw that Sparkhouse Family (now Beaming Books) didn’t have a book about a Christmas Play, and similarly, Sterling didn’t have a monster mash-up of the Goldilocks story (nor did anyone else for that matter).
Having read anything and everything out there on my chosen topics helped me to confidently know that my picture book concept was unique and different than all the others. The next step was making sure it was better. That’s where writing, revising, participating in a critique group and revisioning comes in. And I really, really did the work. I think I revised Hedgehog #1 32 times over many years to make it as sweet and shiny as it could be -- letting it sit, then focusing on revisions, reading it aloud and passing it through my critique group each time.
So when you tackle the project of writing a holiday book, read all the books out there that relate to your holiday. Find the hole in the market and or the unique slant and write the best book you can -- one that has many levels and transcends the holiday on a least one of them. If you do, you may just have something publishable like The Spooky Wheels on the Bus by J. Elizabeth Mills, Skeleton Hiccups by Margery Cuyler, Where’s My Mummy by Carolyn Crimi, Auntie Claus by Elise Primavera, Santa Bruce by Ryan Higgins, We Wish You a Monster Christmas by Sue Fliess, Santa’s Underwear by Marty Rhodes Figly, to name a few!
Lynne Marie is the author of Hedgehog Goes to Kindergarten - illustrated by Anne Kennedy (Scholastic, 2011), Hedgehog's 100th Day of School – illustrated by Lorna Hussey (Scholastic, January 2017), The Star of the Christmas Play -- illustrated by Lorna Hussey (Beaming Books, 10/16/2018), Moldilocks and the 3 Scares -- illustrated by David Rodriguez Lorenzo (Sterling, 2019) and her first non-fiction picture book, Let’s Eat Around the World -- illustrated by Parwinder Singh (Beaming Books, 2019) and more forthcoming. She is also a Travel Agent and when she’s not traveling to Disney World, Universal Studios and fascinating places around the world, she lives on a lake in South Florida with her daughter, son, a Schipperke named Anakin and several resident water birds. You can learn more about her at www.LiterallyLynneMarie.com.