by Rita Goldner
I recently attended a webinar hosted by the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). The guest speaker was a representative from Chronicle Books in San Francisco, and her job is to work with creators of non-book merchandise. These products are sometimes based on, or inspired by, books or book characters, but appeal to a wider audience. Some examples are puzzles, board games, card games, wall decals, stationery, toys, home décor, and Advent calendars. She assured us that these products could be designed as sophisticated and cutting-edge items that appeal to adults and teens, not just little kids.
Her presentation was very interesting and inspiring – it inspired me to design a rainforest board game and submit it! However, the most important take-away for me was that anything her company would acquire and publish, whether a book or an ancillary product, had to have two distinct qualities: first, be different from the rest of its genre, and second, have a “hook.” It’s the relevance of these two characteristics to books, as opposed to products, that I address here.
For the first requirement, being different from the rest of its genre, a book has to rise above and be unique from the rest, even though it is classified with other books by subject matter, target audience, etc. We achieve that by unusual style, point-of-view, pacing and plot twists. That “uniqueness” may only become known to the buyers after they read it, but is a valuable asset when you’re pitching the book to a prospective publisher, or when your readers are pitching it to their friends.
The other necessity is the “hook,” which must be immediately obvious when someone picks up the book. The hook can’t wait until a person is already reading – it has to jump out and grab him at the outset, to MAKE him buy the book. Hooks for books with an adult end user seem limited to a catchy title, clever cover design, attention-grabbing / controversial one- or two-sentence teaser, or dynamite endorsement from someone unexpected. Books for a child target audience, however, offer a wider choice of hooks.
The hook for my orangutan board game is that it will be 3-D, with trees that stand up at the corners on which a player can hang their orangutan game piece when they stop there. The tree will be a safe haven, and exempt the hanger from having to go back 3 spaces like the other players when someone turns over the flood card or the predator card. Players will lay the trees down during periods of deforestation and put them back when re-planting. This board game is a pie-in-the-sky fun idea that I won’t try to do myself if it’s rejected. I will do my other idea by myself; in fact I was well into it before the webinar. I just have to rethink the marketing in terms of how it’s different and unique, and what its hook is.
I got the idea for my other project from a customer at our book booth at the Phoenix Festival of the Arts last December. He liked a series of two e-books I had written about a third grade boy who had difficulty learning in the usual way, in a classroom. So instead, he paints the things he wants to learn about. His love of painting helps him conquer his fears, solve problems, etc. The customer suggested I make companion coloring books for the e-books, and since the protagonist is a painter, the young reader could color along. I embellished the idea by designing a story picture book that is unique among coloring books, because the reader doesn’t rip out the pages he’s colored to display on the fridge. Instead, after it’s fully colored in, the book is a keeper, an adventure story to be re-read. The hook is that the book will be landscape format, with the coil binding across the top. This way, left-handed colorers (like me) can avoid the annoyance of having their coloring hand in the book’s gutter.
I’m more excited about my project now that I’m seeing its description in such a defined way. I’ve heard a recent undercurrent at our marketing meetings from authors who don’t want to seem pushy in sales, and are trying to avoid the “circus barker” mystique. But I maintain that as long as we are convinced that our book is impeccable, very well crafted, and professional looking, we should jump right into the aggressive marketing. Being certain that our book will enrich a reader’s thoughts, boost his self-esteem, inspire or entertain him is a strong motivator for establishing a unique position within a particular genre, and then developing a focused hook strategy.
Rita Goldner is the author and illustrator of the children’s picture book, Orangutan: A Day in the Rainforest Canopy. Rita has also written and illustrated two eBooks, Jackson’s History Adventure and Jackson’s Aviation Adventure, in the Jackson’s Adventure series. For orangutan facts and images and to purchase the book (also available as an ebook), visit OrangutanDay.com. To view additional illustrations and other books in progress, visit Rita’s website. Contact Rita here. Follow Rita on Facebook.