by Roscoe Stoneman, award-winning writer of children’s literature and author of the bestselling Wikipedia Brunette series of juvenile mysteries
The last time I posted, I gave you some tips on how to write successful children’s books. Equally important is how to sell children’s books, because let’s face it: the only reason anyone writes this stuff is for the money. And the MILFs at book signings.
Some of the stuff I mentioned previously will help you move your inventory — write about princesses for girls and monsters for boys but don’t say “fuck” — but nothing pushes paper like a good title. Cover art helps too, but we’ll get to that later.
Your first inclination will be to make the title say a lot about what’s in the book, but in reality it’s not very important. Say you have a story about a gnome who farts rainbows; your first stab at a title might be The Gnome Who Farted Rainbows, but you run the risk of tipping your hand too early. The reader will think, “Well now I know that it’s about a hideous deformed midget who emits colored light from its supposedly whimsical ass. What more do I need to know?” See? The title gives you nowhere to go but down. In the end, I called it Rumplefartskin, which is equally whimsical but doesn’t give away the whole rainbow schtick. It’s also a take-off of a famous children’s story, so you might fool some people into thinking it’s the original or at least a gritty reboot.
So if you can’t give away too much in the title, how do you still get people interested? I like to pick a single thing that’s important to the plot but doesn’t say too much about the plot, and zero in on that. Then stick the word “prince” in it somewhere. That’s what I did with my book Zardak, Prince of Accounting, which was kind of sneaky because Zardak was really just a CPA — a commoner CPA — which not only helped sell the book but gave poseur hipster parents an excuse to come up with bullshit literature criticism explanations for the title. Also, Zardak was a unicorn.
You’ll want to stay away from titles that are too contemporary or that piggy-back on current fads. It may seem like a good way to make a quick buck, but I’m here to tell you that you’re better off with a book that keeps selling for decades than one that gets pulled off the shelf once the boy band you based it on dissolves in a disgraced cloud of cocaine and hookers. My book ¡Menudo Sleepover! doesn’t sell worth shit anymore. At least Groovy Gary’s Orange-Balorange Shag Carpet still sells a bit at folk music festivals.
Sometimes it takes two or three tries to get just the right title. I don’t know why. But I had a tough time with one book title a while back. My editor rejected the initial title, The Thalidomide Gang, because it was too controversial. We eventually agreed on a title, and the book was initially released as The Birth Defectors, which we thought had a neat science-fictiony ring to it. But everyone else thought it had a questionable-tastey ring to it. So after about a year, it was re-released as Stumpy’s Heroes, and the rest is history!
Now it also makes a lot of sense to have great cover art that kind of goes along with the title. Space Weasels had weasels in space suits on the cover, which was obvious, but Cheetah Spotting had a kind of lion thing on the front because no matter how many times I tried I just couldn’t get the fucking cheetah to look right. I think my problem was that it kept on looking like Chester Cheetah, and I didn’t want another trademark suit on my hands. Not after the whole Whidden and the Ganong Factory mess. Whatever you do, though, don’t try to make your cover art obscure or abstract. Nobody buys children’s books with floating eyeballs or tentacles, except the Japanese.
In my next installment, I’ll tell you all how to get into the business — how to get a publisher to notice you, how to work with an editor, and whether you should use a pseudonym for your adult erotic gladiator fiction.