Jean Reidy photo

For those of you who have not met our May featured author, Jean Reidy, you are in for SUCH a treat! I met Jean a few years ago at the Rocky Mountain SCBWI conference and I fell in love, not just with her books but with her. She is warm, funny, generous, and an amazing writer. She spends a great deal of her time giving back to the writing community and to the children we serve. She’s been a major source of inspiration for me as my career has grown over the years.

What’s more, at the RMC-SCBWI conference last year, Jean gave the single best talk I’ve ever heard on the craft of writing picture books. You guys know I am a total conference junkie, so that says a lot. So I shouldn’t have been surprised when I opened her guest post and found myself salivating over how meaty and useful it is. Seriously, it’s like ribs cooked so perfectly that the meat is falling off the bone in hunks. You’ll see. I expect everyone to bookmark this, print it up, and save for permanent future reference. AND, one lucky 12 x 12 member will win a picture book critique from her! Please welcome Jean!

DOES YOUR PICTURE BOOK PREMISE HAVE POWER?

Every once in a while, one of my editors throws me a bone. Not just any old bone, but a big beautiful “our kids’ list needs a book about ‘community'” hambone. When that happens, all other Milk-Bones – I mean, ideas, are pushed aside and I chase after that hambone idea with the gusto of a golden retriever. That’s how my latest picture book ALL THROUGH MY TOWN came to be.

But that’s only every once in a while.

Most often, I’m juggling 5-6 or 11-12 of my “own” picture book ideas. Ideas that come to me on a daily basis from any number of encounters – real or imaginary. Ideas that have survived their initial honeymoon period of inspiration during which I spew thoughts onto scrap paper as recklessly as an unobstructed sneeze.

Even though I have a dreamy cast of critique buddies, rarely do they say, “Jean, work on this project NOW!” or “Shelve this for a while – like forever.” So there I am, bouncing from project to project, wondering which, if any, will earn an editor’s love.

It can be hard to do the hard work without knowing if a particular idea could sell. So how do I decide which idea deserves more attention? How do I choose which manuscript rises to the top of the heap and warrants more focus?

I’ve developed a checklist – a simple list of  “yes/no” questions – to test the strength of my picture book ideas. While I’ve used the tool as a quick assessment of an individual idea, I’ve also used it for comparing several ideas across the board, sorting the strong from the weak, if you will. I don’t claim this as the one-and-only, use-this-or-fail-in-the-worst-possible-way, definitive checklist, but it’s one that’s worked for me.

Since the tool involves evaluating my own work, honesty is the key. The questions are not meant to cause argument or critique of the questions themselves. But they are meant to trigger thought, brainstorming and, perhaps, discussion. And when I find myself challenging the importance or validity of one of the answers to these questions, it’s often a sign that I’m getting defensive of a picture book idea that won’t yet cut it in the market.

Certainly the list could be maneuvered and complicated with weights applied to questions based on current market preferences. Or if you’re really into analytics and need a way to further procrastinate, rate your answers 1 through 5 rather than “yes” or “no” and see where that leads you.

But for now, I like to keep it simple and just tally up my “Yeses.” You can bet, when a “No” answer pops up, I explore what it would take in my picture book to turn it around. So far, my little list has steered me in the right direction.  I hope it will help you too.

So without further adieu …

10 POWER PREMISE QUESTIONS

  1. Will a kid like it? (Is it part of a kid’s world – real or imaginary? Is it relatable?)
  2. Is it a completely fresh idea OR a new twist on an evergreen topic?
  3. Is it a story book or a concept book or something in between? (LIGHT UP THE NIGHT is something in between. It’s a cumulative verse about earth, space and a kid’s sense of place. Which brings me to my next question …)
  4. Can it be summarized in 1-2 sentences? (Try starting with “What happens when …?” or by answering “What’s the point?”)
  5. Does it have a commercial hook? (We’re talking “high concept” or out of the ordinary. Does your premise take a risk? Not all picture books have a strong hook, but it’s something I’m always aware of. One of my newer ideas recently jumped to the top of my “to-write” list largely because of its hook.)
  6. Is it highly visual? (Can you imagine 14 + scenes coming from your story?)
  7. Does it convey an emotional truth? (Chris Crutcher calls this that “head nod” moment. Does your premise have that?)
  8. Has it been done before? (Did you research your premise in the market? How is yours different?)
  9. Does the idea lend itself to fun, imaginative or innovative use of language?
  10. Does it have a compelling title? (Yes, titles often change during the publication process, but why pass up your first opportunity to catch an editor’s eye?)

By honestly running each of my ideas through this gauntlet of questions, I not only find the one idea that deserves my time and attention, but I clearly see red flags where my other ideas might be weak or need fleshing out.

Let me close by saying, I’m a huge believer in Julie’s 12X12 challenge. I learn volumes about the art of picture book writing every time I sit down to write a new picture book. But in case you need further convincing, here’s my plug for writing 12 picture books this year.

12 Reasons to Keep 12 Picture Books Percolating

  1. A portfolio of many projects keeps one project from becoming too precious. And it’s hard to remain objective when one project receives all your time and attention.
  2. You never know which muse will sing to you. Today it might be picture book #5. Tomorrow it might be #8.
  3. You banish writers’ block by hopping from project to project.
  4. Projects stay fresh as you take time between them and, hence, between reads.
  5. One project might inform another. You might cannibalize picture book #9 to make #10 better.
  6. When a project is rejected, other potentially winning projects-in-progress help soothe the pain.
  7. You always have a manuscript ready for your critique group.
  8. You get ALL your ideas out there. Like in a brainstorm, sometimes it’s the 5th, 10th, or 12th idea that hits the mark. You might just have to work through the good, the bad and the ugly to get to the GREAT.
  9. You never know which project will resonate with a given agent or editor – it’s often not what you think. And editors are often looking for projects to match various illustrators – you don’t want to be one-dimensional.
  10. Getting agent representation for picture book authors is tough, but you increase your chances if you have several projects to offer.
  11. Trends come and go. You’ll always want to look beyond what’s currently “hot.” Multiple projects improve the odds that you’re looking toward fresh ideas.
  12. You’ll have 11 more options when an editor asks, “What else you got?”

Julie, thanks for having me. And best of luck to all my fellow picture book writers in the 12X12 challenge.

Jean Reidy has been told that a naughty little kid lurks somewhere inside her – and she takes that as a high compliment. She writes from her home in Greenwood Village, Colorado where she lives with her husband, Mike. She has four children and hoards of nieces and nephews who provide her endless inspiration. In addition to her books for children, Jean’s articles have appeared in over fifty publications.

 

Categories: 12 x 12, 12 x 12 Featured Author, Authors, Friendship, Giveaway, Goals, Picture Books, Publishing, Rhyming, SCBWI, Works in Progress, Writing · Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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221 Comments

  1. What a fabulous post! Thank you, Jean, for so much wonderful information and inspiration! Just what I needed today, when procrastination is huge for me. 😀 I’m printing it so that I can keep rereading.

    • You’re so welcome, Beth. I’ve got a bit of the procrastination bug today as well. Let’s jump in together. I’m opening up some documents right now. How about you?

  2. An awesome post. Thanks so much for sharing your checklist- will definitely refer to it with all my manuscripts.

    • I hope it’s helpful, Sylvia. I love hearing you say “all my manuscripts.” It means you’re taking 12X12 seriously. Good luck!

  3. I love the checklist. Thank you!

  4. Hey Stacy! So nice to run into you here at 12X12. I hope the checklist is helpful.

  5. Thanks for the checklist! I’m going to print it out. I like what you said that today any muse can sing to you, a good reason for having multiple ideas! Tomorrow it could be a different one.

    • Hey Tina! The muse line was true again for me today. I was totally working on one story yesterday, but when I woke up this morning, I had an epiphany on another. It’s kind of fun when that happens.

  6. What an outstanding post, Jean! And I agree, Julie–Jean’s absolutely delightful. I really enjoyed meeting her at RMC-SCBWI last fall!

  7. Thank you Jean (and Julie) for this fantastic post! The 10 Power Premise questions are so helpful and right on target. Also, the 12 reasons to be involved in 12 x 12 are wonderful. I can’t always be as productive as I’d like, but the inspiration and accountability is priceless!

    • Jennifer, yes, accountability IS priceless. All those ideas can float around for weeks, months or even years. 12X12 is great motivation to get those stories written and polished.

  8. Julie was right, this IS a meaty post. Can’t wait to print that list out! Thank you so much ladies for a great way to kick off the month. Sticks pencil between teeth. Rolls sleeves up. Ready to work. Hmmm… Where’d my pencil go? =) P.S. And Jean…you write just BEAUTIFUL books.

    • Elizabeth – I may have found your pencil, but have you seen my pen? 🙂 I’m in a roll-up-my-sleeves mode today too. Thanks for stopping by.

  9. Love the post. Often I’m moving between picture books and short stories for adults and young adults. I’m not very good at figuring out which manuscript should be my priority–but submission deadlines help! I’m going to print out your list and see if I can modify it to help me with the short story ideas (and those novel ideas that endlessly percolate but will never get substance until I write them down!)
    Again, thanks so much for your advice.

    • Oh yes, Laurie. By all means tweak it however you like. And, with a little tweaking, I could see it working for all kinds of writing. Good luck with your many genres.

  10. Jennifer DuBose

    Wow, Julie wasn’t kidding! Printing this one, for sure. Many thanks for so generously sharing your process with us! I nodded my head many times, especially re: the point about how keeping many pb’s percolating keeps any one of them from becoming too precious, enabling us to see what needs to be cut. Thanks!

  11. I agree with you, Julie – and thank you, Jean for the great checklist. I think this is one of the most important, and least-discussed, parts of writing. It’s critical to be able to differentiate strong ideas from weak ones, and make sure we are putting our effort into the best possible ideas — those that kids (and editors) will want to read.

  12. This is such an amazingly useful question to address and I love the practical lists you give us, Jean. And yay for your 12×12 enthusiasm!

  13. Superb post. Julie was right, I better print it off and save it; or better yet, post it by my desk. I like your reasons for keeping 12 picture books going. This one–10.Getting agent representation for picture book authors is tough, but you increase your chances if you have several projects to offer–convinces me. I was making an online pitch to an agent, who after listening to me share about the project I had ready to submit, asked me what else I had. Because most of my attention had been dedicated to getting that one picture book ready, I didn’t have a lot else to offer.

    Thanks for sharing your expertise with us, Jean.

    • C.C. I learned my lesson from EXACTLY the same experience. See my reply to Jennifer about that “precious” first picture book that still sits in a drawer.

  14. Thanks for this gem of a post Jean. As a newbie, applying your questions should dispense with story ideas that will ultimately go nowhere, to make room and time for the ones that pass this gauntlet. I especially like having a several stories in the hopper because if I can just keep my mitts off them long enough, the ‘issues’ always rear their ugly heads. Your lists are printed and posted! Thanks too you as well Julie! :0)

    • “I especially like having a several stories in the hopper because if I can just keep my mitts off them long enough, the ‘issues’ always rear their ugly heads.” Best line of the day!

  15. I stuck this in my special folder. I answered it for the story I’m going to query. All yes answers. Thank you so much, Jean. This was terrific! *happy dance*

  16. Thanks for the great advice, Jean! Sometimes I want to take a risk, sometimes I want to be relatable. Good to reinforce that a PB can be both.
    Stacy

    • Stacy – Relatability is definitely more important here. Not all PBs take risks. But I’m learning it can be an added bonus when they do and do it right.

  17. Great list of questions. I also maintain a file with 1-2 sentence blurbs of all my work. I “rank” them (and re-rank as they get revised or cannibalized) on the file and that way I’m on top of what’s getting sent to my agent next, or other projects to pitch. Such awesome advice, Jean!

    • Oooh, Miranda! I love your idea of ranked blurbs. I have this big, fat idea spreadsheet that’s pretty much become unwieldy. Your list idea is much more sleek.

  18. Great post and usable tips, Jean! I am printing out your “10 POWER PREMISE QUESTIONS” and putting all of my PB manuscripts to the test. It will be interesting to see which rise to the top and which wave red flags based on your sound advice. Thank you for your words of wisdom. =)

  19. Michelle Levin

    This IS a meaty post. When Julie mentioned ribs at the start, the bar when wAAAAAy up in my world and this post cleared that big high bar easily. Thank you so much.

  20. Ooh, I’m a checklist kinda gal! This is perfect for me! Printing out right now and sticking in my writing portfolio. Thank you Julie and Jean!

    • Hey novalibrarymom (great name, by the way)
      Checklists can be handy. I hope more than anything this one opens up your PBs to greater possibilities. Have fun!

  21. Awesome checklist, Jean! Thanks so much for sharing. I collect lists to keep my muse on the straight and narrow. I also like sharing my rough drafts with my grandchildren. They always have something to ask or add which ends up making for a better plot.

    Sue F.

  22. Good stuff! I love the head nod moment. There are so many published picture books I won’t even finish reading — and those things are short! — if I don’t connect with it on that level. Picture book snot? Maybe, but I’m ok with that.

    • Hey Carter – At a workshop last fall, I was trying to put a tangible/practical definition to “emotional truth.” Then I heard Chris Crutcher talk about the “head nod” at the end of stories and I just about cried. He nailed it.

  23. Thanks so much for sharing your list, Jean! I have a stack of PB drafts ready to be put to the test.

  24. What a terrific post — love both lists! I’m both a writer and an editor, and I especially love the advice in the second checklist. It calls out some no-brainer yet fresh reasons for always keeping multiple short works on hand to share. Now, this is me getting to work on tripling my picture book ms stash!

    • Thanks, Lisa! I’m happy to hear from someone who sits on “both sides of the desk.” I think attention to “quality over quantity” may set us in a one-manuscript mode. But we both know that “quality AND quantity” betters our chances of publication.

  25. Your lists are very timely. I was just combing through 3 years of PiBoIdMo ideas trying to tell which are viable. . Now I’ll be able to choose one for the May challenge, and others for months into the future. Thanks for the help!

  26. Super checklist – might need to attach one with boxes when I send an ms to my crit-group too! To help me see the ‘cannibalism’ point a little less violently, I try see each ms draft as a box of supplies – makes lending/taking bits out for another draft feel more like the the purpose of a ‘fellowship’ – exchange! Splendi and generous post – printing, and sharing!

  27. Awesome post and fantastic checklist … thank you! We have a number of Jean’s books on our bookshelf, so it was fun to ‘meet’ her through this post!

  28. Julie…thanks so much for spotlighting Jean…this post was like Double-mint gum…do you remember the old commercials? Two, two, two exceptional posts in one.:)
    Jean…it is lovely to meet you. I appreciate you sharing the first list…definitely great ways to critique our own writing. And the second list gives me cause to thank Julie yet again for organizing and leading 12×12…those drafts WILL become manuscripts. 🙂

  29. Wow! What an invaluable checklist! Thank you for your generosity in sharing this with us and for your great books!

  30. These two lists are brilliant. It’s so true that having a bunch of stuff in the works fights off writer’s block. And I love having a test to see whether or not I’m writing something that has a future. Of course, future or not, I’ll probably still write it, but maybe not embarrass myself by sending it anywhere….

  31. Jean – I shouted “Yes!” on the sentence about critique partners not usually saying whether a theme is really strong or stinks. I’ve recently started adding that to my crits, so I can reinforce when I see a modern theme which rocks but needs work on execution. Sometimes we spend a lot of time trying to make a pile of cabbage smell a little better rather than just moving on.

    • Ha ha, Lauri. The “pile of cabbage” line is now added to my repertoire. Good for you for adding that to your critiques. I, for one, could never come out and say, “this stinks.” So I think we all try to make it smell better. But you’re right, if we applaud the solid ideas, we’ll all have a better understanding of what’s working and what’s not.

  32. I’ve found that using a checklist like yours has been especially helpful to my students. Thanks for making it so concise and accessible! Best wishes on your writing—both of you!

    • Thanks, Deb. You never know which tools will work and which won’t. So adding a few – like this checklist – to a student’s tool belt is always a good idea. Happy writing!

  33. Laura Renauld

    Selecting PRINT now! That checklist is headed for the bulletin board above my desk. Thank you!!!!

  34. Pat Haapaniemi

    Great post, Jean! I love the idea of your checklist. So many times I find myself “jumping the gun” with what I think is a great picture book idea and then find it’s not really as strong as I thought it was. This will be a great help!

    • Hi, Pat. I’m so glad it was helpful. But give your ideas a fair chance before you toss them. Just by making the necessary revisions to turn a few Nos into Yeses may be all you need.

  35. I have definitely bookmarked this post for future reference. It certainly helps to have a way to distinguish good ideas from fantastic ideas. And FYI, LIGHT UP THE NIGHT was a fantastic idea and is a favorite book in our house.

    • Oh Kirsten – your comment made me SO happy. I love that you love LIGHT UP THE NIGHT. Good luck with your writing.

      • Thanks Jean. FYI Scholastic has included your book in its Knowledge Quest! Read Aloud Collection: Our Solar System. I am ordering it for my kindergartener’s teacher.

  36. What great advice. I’m going to use the checklist. I’ve traditionally been a focus on 1-2 manuscripts at a time kind of gal, but I’m going to try adding more manuscripts to the mix. Now to come up with those 6-8 ideas…

  37. Another pivotal lesson in in the 12×12 Community Children’s Writers University Picture Book 102 class! I love free learning. This is a definite keeper. I just submitted a PB and applied the first checklist too it…I was glad to have had 8 definite “yesses,”the others “probablies.” These tools are priceless. Thanks Jean for sharing and Julie for hosting Jean.
    Go CCWU!

  38. Thank you Jean. That was an excellent post. I will definitely be used this checklist. Can you elaborate on what you mean “high concept”? I have heard that term thrown around by I don’t really understand what it mean in the picture book world.
    When in your process do you apply your checklist, before the 1st draft, after the first draft, or later. I sometimes the risk of not writing the first draft because I don’t think the idea is good enough. What I have noticed is that I don’t start liking my stories until the 3rd draft.
    Thanks!

    • Hi Darshana! I use the checklist at various stages of the process. But you’re absolutely right – sometimes I use a few questions at a time through several drafts and sometimes I used them all at once.

  39. Kathy Berman

    I love this post! Thanks Jean and Julie. It’s amazing how you created a list that is useful, fun, and so positive.

  40. Hi Jean and Julie,
    This post had so much good advice in it that I can’t mention exactly which point I want to remember most. So, I’m printing out the whole article (hope you don’t mind)! That checklist is fantastic! It has me wondering about my own PB. Thanks!
    Deb

  41. Very useful. Thank you! I’ll definitely be printing out and keeping your list.

  42. Great post, Jean! Thank you so much for sharing your lists…I will definitely be putting your “10 Power Premise Questions” to work with all of my 12 x 12 manuscripts.

    Jane Yolensaid something very similar to your second list, and that was to have a huge backlog of revised manuscripts written before you begin to send them out and if you want to become published have enough manuscripts ready to be sent out into the world in order to keep 12 of them circulating at same time.

    • Hi Sharon! So glad you stopped by. Right before I sold my very first picture book, the first question from my editor was “Do you have anything to go with it?” Of course I said, “Yes!” But then I had to scramble to get a manuscript into shape. I learned my lesson.

  43. I had the honour of having Jean critique a manuscript of mine and was blown away by her thorough comments. Thanks again Jean – you have helped me immensely.
    Love this post and the help you have provided.

  44. Great post – I definately work in the style of No.2:
    ‘You never know which muse will sing to you. Today it might be picture book #5. Tomorrow it might be #8.’

  45. Hi Jean :•)
    I love this list! I have been struggling with this a lot! What do I work on? Which one is strongest…and why do I think that? It’s wonderful to have a tool other than my “gut feeling”! Your two check lists will prove an invaluable tool for me. I, also, loved that you said “I not only find the one idea that deserves my time and attention, but I clearly see red flags where my other ideas might be weak or need fleshing out.” That is soooo helpful for focus. Thanks for sharing!

    Thanks for bringing us Jean, Julie!

    • Penny!! So nice to see you here. Just today, I had a “No” answer that nudged me to meditate a bit on my idea. It really felt like a red flag. So I thought it through, and while it’s going to require some significant changes, I know my manuscript will be stronger for it.

  46. Thanks, Jean! I’ve always got several things going, and I thought that being scattered was a negative, but as your post makes clear, there are lots of good reasons to keep a bunch of irons in the fire!

  47. Thank you, Jean, for this checklist! I will totally be using it to help prioritize my projects.

  48. Oh how I love lists…especially ones helping my writing to become stornger. Thanks Julie and Jean for a wonderful post!

    Donna L Martin

    • Donna – Can you tell how much I love lists too? You and I have that in common. Oh – as well as being picture book writers. Good luck with all your projects.

  49. Joan, it is as if you heard me shouting out these dilemmas and questions to you across state lines! These are EXACTLY the things I ponder about and you have so beautifully and succinctly given me the answers I have been searching for, and validating my style of having many projects going at once. So I’m not distracted after all – just creative!

  50. O rats! I’m so sorry I typed an o in your name and not an e…caught it as my post was loading. Sorry about that, Jean!

    • No worries. “Joan” was one of the other girl names my parents had picked out. And some days I feel like a Joan. I’m so glad my post resonated with you, Deb. What works for some doesn’t work for others. I’m glad this gave you some clarity.

  51. Jean, what a comprehensive list! Down at #10 is title, (otherwise known as that pesky pain in the rear), which I agree is a must even if it does get changed in the end. Curious as to which of your titles stuck their landing? Looking forward to seeing you at Big Sur this weekend.

    • Great question, Nadya! ALL THROUGH MY TOWN stuck. And so did TOO PRINCESSY! Two others were changed modestly and two were changed significantly. Several departments get to weigh in on a title – so it’s an iterative process.

  52. I loved reading your top 12 reasons list. For some reason, I’ve been stuck on revising one picture book lately. I haven’t been able to write down any new stories so keep going back to that one. This helped me see that I need to put it aside and start working on other things. Thank you!

    • Lisa – I hear you! It happens to me all the time. This week, I have a PB I’m obsessing about – rereading it over and over, tweaking here and there, still not loving it. And usually that’s the BEST time to step away and start something new.

  53. Thanks for the reminder to be honest and not get defensive when evaluating the merit of our ‘babies.’ Your checklist is so valuable–I appreciate your sharing it with us! I can already see which question is my “no” for many of my manuscripts, so moving forward I’ll focus on creating ideas that scream “YES” to answer it.

    • Hi Susan. Are you willing to share your big “No”? No worries if you don’t.

      I think it’s also important to love our “babies.” Especially when they first come into the world. I think that honeymoon period of writing that first draft or jotting down ideas packs a manuscript with enthusiasm and emotion that usually carries through to the final draft. But like kids who need a little guidance now and then – so do our manuscripts.

      • Yes…and I now know what my newborn “babies” need more than anything…CHANGING!

      • Susan Cabael

        My typical ‘no’ questions are 2, 5, and 8–the ones that deal with the marketplace. So far I’ve been writing stories close to my heart without much regard to marketability. Thanks for helping me bring those questions to the forefront. I’m participating in NaPiBoWriWee this week, and half of my stories so far address these questions with YES!

  54. Thanks for the informative post. I have to agree that having several projects on the go helps to prevent writer’s block. (It’s another reason why I blog; it helps if I’m feeling stumped on a particular story to write something different, and also, sometime while thinking up a topic for a blog post, I come up with new story ideas.)

    ~Becky Fyfe

  55. Love this post and the check list. I’ll definitely be putting some of my ides to the test.

  56. This was great. Two fantastic lists to run past my stories as I sit and critique for the third and fourth time.
    Thanks it gave me a lot to consider.

    • Hi Lynn – I always feel like a few different questions stand out with every manuscript pass. Good luck with your revisions.

    • Hey Robb. I adore the back and forth with talented writers – hence the replies. I’m so happy that both lists were helpful. Seven manuscripts? Wow! Good luck with your revisions and submissions. And those 30 ideas? Fabulous! Run them through the gauntlet then crank them out. Bravo!

  57. Just wanted to say thanks. I used your checklist this morning, and have printed out a copy and taped it above my writing desk. Great great great advice.

  58. First, Jean, I am surprised that you’ve responded to almost every comment. That’s fantastic. Second, I’ve read this post twice and have saved it because I know I’ll be referring to your list of ten again and again. Third, when I began this quest (to write picture books) I was concerned that I was quickly working on two, then three, then seven books without having completed one of them. Now I have seven finished (either ready for submission or ready for critiquing) and ideas for another thirty. The only list I’ve applied till now is, “Does this idea trigger any images.” Because I’m taking part in 12 x 12, it’s nice having more than one story ready every month.

    • Hey Robb. I adore the back and forth with talented writers – hence the replies. I’m so happy that both lists were helpful. Seven manuscripts? Wow! Good luck with your revisions and submissions. And those 30 ideas? Fabulous! Run them through the gauntlet then crank them out. Bravo!

  59. This checklist rocks! There is no other way to say it! Thanks for the useful tool, and also for the inspiration. I have so many manuscripts that are waiting for me on the back burner…things I revised until I was exhausted and just couldn’t figure out. I plan to put them to the test with your checklist, and see if that might lead me in a new direction.

  60. Thanks Jean! I’ll make sure I refer back to the checklist regularly, and love the extra incentive to have several manuscripts on the go at once.

  61. thanks for the great post, Jean! I will put it into use immediately. BTW, loved, loved, loved LIGHT UP THE NIGHT!

  62. Fabulous, Jean! Thank you. I had a million on the go last year but they seem to have whittled right down.

  63. Amazing post! Thank you, Jean! I have this post bookmarked to read again and again! 🙂

  64. Excellent post — your power premises will be so helpful as I move forward. I still have drafts from last year’s 12×12 that haven’t been looked at since the month they were written (I write in other genres as well, so picture books aren’t always at the front of my mind). I would do well to ask these questions regarding each of them, and see which I can bring to the next level. Thank you.

    • Hi Beth – With your fresh eyes/distance/objectivity on last years drafts, now is the perfect time to run them through the checklist. I hope it helps. Thanks for chiming in.

  65. I am losing my mind; I could have sworn I commented already…LOL!

    Like most everyone has already said, this is a fabulous post, Jean! Loved all your advice and looking into your thought process for evaluating the viability of ideas. Thank you!

    • Thank you, Teresa! Hah! I’m having one of those days too. Not remembering where my head is. I’m so happy you stopped by and found the post helpful.

  66. Oh my goodness, this is JUST what I needed! Just the other day I was lamenting that there was no magic formula for knowing if a picture book idea is good or not. I didn’t realize you had actually the secret magic formula!

    • Hey Julie. Secret magic formula, indeed. And if there were a secret ingredient – I think it would have to be honest evaluation. Really try to see the stories through a reader’s lens. Good luck!

  67. Deb Beauchamp

    This is so helpful. Thank you so much. Now I just need to go through the list and find out which ones are too long, too boring, too old, too already been done… 🙂 (love love love those books!)

  68. Terrific post – thanks for the great list of questions, Jean, and for sharing, Julie!

  69. Debra Shumaker

    What a fantastic post! I’ll definitely be coming back to it again and again. Thanks for your insights, Jean.

  70. I love both these list. The first is just what I needed to wade through my list of projects (that seems to keep growing to the point of overwhelming me) and focus on something that I can polish to pitch. And the second reminds met that having a large-ish list of current projects isn’t a bad thing (as long as I can tame it!).

    • Hannah – This weekend, I’m on faculty at a writer’s workshop, in which a top-flight agent said she will not even consider taking on a picture book client who has less than four polished, saleable manuscripts. Good luck with all your projects.

      • Deb Beauchamp

        Another GREAT tidbit to know. Thank you and thanks for all of your time with comments on this post!

  71. Great list(s)! I will use the first one! 😀

  72. Hi Jean, You just saved me a pile of money. I thought I was suffering *TMGI Syndrome and needed to get my head read.
    Thank you for the lists. I have read your post twice and will be reading it again. Unfortunately I’m terrible with lists so I may need to print yours out and stick the printout on a wall somewhere with big neon arrows to make me look at them. I am sure my 365 ideas [I am prone to exaggeration too] will be all the better for it.
    *[too Many Good Idea Syndrome]

    Sending Julie a big *kiss* for introducing you to us.
    P.S. I am not normally prone to gushing.

  73. Yes, indeed, Jean. . . you have offered a gold mine of reasons to keep up with the challenge, even when our enthusiasm might be waning. Thanks so much for your insights!

  74. this is fantastic – thank you, jean!

  75. This is a great post! Thank you for the very helpful tips.

  76. Thank you for such a helpful post, Jean!

  77. I just used your list against my latest manuscript and I got a GREEN LIGHT! Thank you, Jean. Wonderful post.

  78. Melanie Ellsworth

    Thank you, Jean! I have printed out your 10 questions, and I’m going to start asking them of my manuscripts. Very helpful. My 3 1/2-year-old daughter is a fan of TOO PRINCESSY! She quickly memorized the words and now insists on reading the book to us. It’s wonderful.

    • Melanie – I hope you find the questions helpful. I’m thrilled that your daughter can read TOO PRINCESSY! It makes me so happy when those little ones share their proud reading milestones.

  79. Sharalyn Edgeberg

    Thank you so much. As everyone has mentioned, your 10 questions is an awesome guide, & yes I printed it out for future reference. This is my first time in Julie’s 12 x 12 so it is great to write so many manuscripts. Finally, you are a Mary Tyler Moore look alike (from her early years of course!)

  80. Jessica Pilarski

    Thanks for the post, Jean. Very helpful.

  81. Julie Dillemuth

    With 12×12 I’m finding Reasons #1 and #6 particularly wonderful, and unanticipated. It’s difficult to apply the 10 questions objectively to my own work; I get too attached to the ms! I will have to practice… Thanks for the great ideas, Jean.

    • Hey Julie – It is SO hard to apply the questions objectively … which is another reason why having several stories in progress is a great idea. You can think more critically about each.

  82. Lori Mozdzierz

    I echo the thoughts of my fellow 12 X 12ers! Fabulous post that is a MUST print 😀

  83. Excellent advice!!!!! Thank you.

  84. Since it’s May 31, I honestly cannot remember if I commented on this excellent post, but I know I tweeted it, and copied and pasted the recommendations onto a doc on my desktop! Thanks, Jean.

  85. Jean, I am thrilled with your 12 Reasons to Keep 12 Picture Books Percolating. I thought something was wrong with me that I have so many PB pans in the fire. Seeing all these positive reasons why it might be a good thing has convinced me that my PB writing process is just fine. Thanks!

  86. Well said. I’m putting this list beside my computer. Thanks.

  87. Patricia Toht

    Thanks, Jean! Great post! I really like the Power Premise Questions.

  88. Tanja Bauerle

    What a great list to keep on hand! Great post! Thank you. T

  89. Wow – great tips. Thank you so much for sharing. I feel like I’ve been to a full day PB workshop!

  90. Yes. Thanks, Jean, for your informative post! Definitely a print-er out-er.

  91. Denise Richter

    I like the advice of having several projects. Before 12×12, I had 1 MS (rhyming) that I was very attached to and I thought was a real winner. After getting several rejections, including one that gently encouraged I take it out of rhyme, I was feeling defensive. Now that I have several MSS and a couple that feel more complete and polished, I’m finally getting around to a major edit with the first story to take it out of rhyme and see what happens. Great post all around! Thanks!

  92. Thank you Jean for your insight. I am inspired to ask the questions and see what my stories answer….

  93. Great concise post, Jean! Written like a picture book author… ; )

  94. Thanks for the tools! Time to put my ms to the test!

  95. I love the checklist! I am printing it out and keeping it in my revision notebook. Thanks so much!

  96. This article is packed with wonderful information. It’s such a great reference. Thank you so much! I’m printing it up to keep. 🙂

  97. Thank you so much, Jean. I’ve read your post several times and will read it many more I’m sure. I love the simple, concise checklist! 12 x 12 is a super experience!

  98. Hmmm…I thought I had commented on your post, Jean, because it was so thorough and true! But, I must have thought I did, but didn’t. You know?
    Anyway, I will print out your Power Premise list and keep it close. Thank you for sharing your expertise and genuine self with us all. I felt very lucky to have you as critique group leader at BSOTR.
    :o)

  99. What a fantastic checklist to help keep us honest about our work. I know that it will be an invaluable tool in assessing my stories and others as well. Thank you!

  100. I love the list, especially #7! As many have mentioned before me, this is definitely a list to print out and keep next to the computer! Thank you for sharing your insight with us!

  101. Thanks for the great post jean. love the checklist. off to bookmark your blog now 🙂

  102. Great post!
    I love the checklist and plan on using it 🙂

  103. Reading this was like finding the PB gold mine! Thanks so much, Jean. Tough, honest self-evaluation is so vital to success.

  104. I love this list, and copied for myself to help me decide if my story ideas work. Thanks for sharing.

  105. I’m so glad the May check-In comes back to this post! I have the “Power Premise” questions printed out and posted next to my computer. It’s been great this month to help me go through my manuscripts and prioritize which are working and which aren’t so promising. A great post!

  106. Jean, what does the term character-driven picture-book mean to you?

  107. Kathleen Cornell Berman

    Thanks Jean. I love this post. What a thoughtful and useful list. It’s a gem!

  108. Kirstine Call

    What a helpful post. Thanks for the insights!

  109. wow, not keeping a certain project to close and too precious, right on!

  110. YIkes, I haven’t commented yet, so here goes. I’ve printed your checklist, Jean. Also, the 12 reasons. Great post. Thank you,

  111. I’ve read through this post several times this month (don’t know how I missed commenting until now!), and there is so much good information to absorb on every pass-through. Not to mention all the great ideas that have been contributed in the comments! Thanks for a post jam-packed with useful information and encouragement – I think your checklist is brilliant!

  112. This was such a great post. The checklist really helped me determine whether my most recent picture book idea was one I should pursue. Thank you so much for sharing.

  113. Hi Jean,
    A delightful read! I am adding my thanks to your bouquet of “thank yous”. Especially like this line,”A portfolio of many projects keeps one project from becoming too precious.” You rock!

  114. Thanks so much, Julie for giving us Jean. I can’t believe this month flew by so fast either. And I didn’t see this post till now! on your 12×12 page! What a wonder I would have missed. Is there something else to do so I can get these in my inbox? I am missing so many wonderful posts.

  115. This is great! I’m printing this post!!!! I am a checklist lover too. 🙂

  116. Great post. I’m stealing the power questions.

  117. What a wonderful post! Very handy indeed. I agree with Janie, this is a great point,”A portfolio of many projects keeps one project from becoming too precious.”

  118. janelle mikulas

    Thanks! Super Helpful!

  119. The 12 reasons are wise ones.

  120. love this post! I will save this info and read it time to time as inspiration to move forward 🙂

  121. Wow! All these comments are making me blush. Thank you! I wish I could respond to each and every one, but alas, I’ve got at least 12 picture books to write/revise. And none of theme are feeling very precious. 🙂 I better get to work.

  122. Pamela Hamilton

    More info that I will print out and save. As I was reading through your checklist, I realized why I struggled so much with the manuscript I was trying to write this month…it got a head shake instead of a head nod for almost every question on the list. On to June.

  123. Hi “Miss Jeannie Reidy” (as my kids so lovingly call you),
    Procrastinate? Who, me? Naaaaahhhh.
    Actually, no matter the date, you know I adore you. I thought I had commented after I first read this inspirational post weeks ago 🙂 The great thing is that I just got to fall in love with your words of wisdom and checklist all over again. In fact, your 10 Power Premise Questions are now securely tucked next to my “New Story Ideas” section in my writer’s notebook. This way I can evalutate and separate the milkbones from the hambones.
    Thank you so much for all of your insights, Jean. It was wonderful to be part of your critique group at Big Sur!
    Happy writing,
    Beth Thaler

  124. What a wonderful list of questions, Jean. Thanks so much for sharing these – I found myself evaluating my manuscripts with your questions; finding myself wanting to go back & revise a manuscript from last spring as a result. Thank you! And thank you, Julie!

    Patricia Nozell

  125. Kerry Mazengia

    Thank you so much for sharing your ideas. Julie is right….this is definitely a post to bookmark and refer to over and over again!

  126. I’ll be printing this list for my study wall! Glad to know I’m not the only project-hopper around.

  127. Excellent reminders through a checklist that doesn’t do the standard “does it show or tell…” — and the points about an ongoing portfolio and continually building manuscripts of all kinds, including a variety of topics as well as good, bad and ugly (that can only get better, right?) is so true. I often return to my scraps of paper for new ideas. Thanks for making time to write such a detailed posting for 12×12.

  128. Thanks so much for your checklists. I usually have at least three or four projects on the front burner and several more on the back ones. I do switch up what I work on. My poor critique group never knows if I’m going to send a chapter from my MG mystery, or interrupt that with the PB idea that’s just pushing me to “try it again!” But it’s all fun, and that’s what counts right now.

  129. What a wonderful post! The ten power premise questions are sooo useful. What a help! I always have a number of mss percolating. I know some authors have told me to concentrate on only one ms.at a time. But it is much easier for me to complete a ms when I give it a rest and turn elsewhere. Thanks for the helpful words!

  130. Love the good, practical post :)…I think my only personal issue is than I need force myself to focus on one manuscript so that I can constantly think of new things to add to each illustration whereas if I don’t try to focus on one story than I end up all over the place with different random stories. Thanks for the insightful post!

  131. Jean, we own every single one of your books and my girls love them (me too)! We love you! Thanks for the lists, I’m going to use them from now on with my manuscripts! 🙂

  132. Great post Jean. I’m going to use this checklist. Actually, I already am. As I read through it I mentally checked several of my projects.

  133. Great post! Thanks for the helpful suggestions!

  134. Working through the good, bad and ugly–hoping I’ll get to the great! These tips are ones to revisit again and again. Many thanks, Jean.

  135. Kenzie Benbrook

    Great post, thanks Jean. Somehow I seemed to miss this, May was a weird month, but I really enjoyed reading it and those lists will be so helpful 🙂

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