Despite posts on not procrastinating joy, I put off writing – just until the obstacles were tackled. Except these obstacles involve the slow climb of a mountain that seems to grow whenever I begin making progress.
Preparing for our upcoming move uncovered evidence that slow climbs can be accomplished. I found the index card I used to plan courses for UCSD’s Children’s Book Writing program – a certificate that now rests on my desk.
It’s time to write a new goal on the back of that card – “Get published.”
A friend commented that she’s learning about publishing through my blog. So, I thought I would discuss the idea of “comp titles.” Agents and publishers want to know that there is a market for a book before making an investment, so many expect submissions to include a list of comparative titles already in print. For authors who write books to fill a specific need, comp titles are a challenge. If a similar book existed, the need wouldn’t exist, and we wouldn’t have written the manuscript. I can’t picture myself reading a book and thinking “Oooh, I want to write something just like THIS!”
That said, I am excited by Mo Willems’ book Because. It’s especially moving when read to a room full of children. I love seeing students build on experiences they enjoy, finding hobbies and skills that become their passion. Because captures that theme, highlighting a child’s journey and the efforts which lead to her success. This book also introduces my small-town farming community students to the concept of music lessons and symphonies. The discussions that happen because of Because are a delight.
It feels presumptuous to include Because as a comp title, but its existence is evidence that a manuscript close to my heart has relevance. Our themes are similar. Yet, picture book professors advocate compressing manuscripts to happen within a single day because children have short attention spans. That guideline underestimates elementary school children. My students might not be able to tell time on an analog clock, but they understand the concept. They are frequently told that effort and choices determine their future. Because is a successful modern, coming of age picture book that shows students that truth. It also gives me hope that my title has a chance of doing the same.
Another comp title quest involves a picture book about siblings, inspired by the relationships I saw at school and by my own children separating for college. The search for cheerful books about families led to finding the Sofia Martinez series. Their emphasis on school events and on extended family relationships has me looking forward to when bookfairs (and the resulting earnings) return so that we can invest in multiple hardcover copies of each title. I’m also looking forward to having students help me with pronunciation of Spanish words integrated into the story line. They especially love showcasing their authentic accents and having a chance to teach a teacher.
My current challenge is to find comp titles for the books coauthored with Jaxon – it’s his voice that the world needs to hear. Curious George and Franklin have both taken trips to the doctor, but those picture books feel a little too fiction. Specialty books distributed by support groups and hospitals offer great encouragement but are given after the child has already experienced the initial shock of hospital life. The best way to provide true support for these children, their friends, and their family is before the crisis – a What was I Scared of? that happens in the real world rather than in Dr. Seuss’ dystopia.
I love awareness and sensitivity books like We’re All Wonders and titles about specific conditions, but it feels like our Jax books aren’t directly comparable to mainstream titles. Children with ongoing conditions might be in the minority, but they are of all races. The #ownvoices movement and the desire for diverse books should extend to medically challenged children too. Sonia Sotomayor’s Just Ask book does a beautiful job of highlighting and naming many conditions. But I don’t want the Jax books to be about Neurofibromatosis, cancer, or brain tumors. I don’t want children called out for the specific challenges they face. I want these books to apply to all children – whether they are scared of an escalator, or of a haircut, or of a medical needle. They need tools to prepare them to thrive and to overcome fear. Children need to see that there can still be a happily ever after, even when today doesn’t go as planned.