Tuesday, November 11, 2014


Bestselling book Love You Forever, written by Robert Munsch, illustrated by Sheila McGraw, published by Firefly Books
More than 27 million in print!

That darned title... if I had the answer to producing bestsellers I'd be on my yacht motoring through the Bahamas while being fanned by a hunky galley slave and sipping pina coladas. Now, presumably anyone with a laptop and spellcheck could write a bestseller and anyone with pencils and paper can illustrate one, and anyone with both can write and illustrate their bestseller. However… thousands upon thousands of books are published each year, but only a few rise to the top, like the cream in unhomogenized dairy products, or beer foam, or the bubbles in bubbly.

*wanders off to pour one of those liquids in a glass (not the first two)*

 Of course we all want a bestseller, but what is the magic ingredient that creates that book—the one with the elusive quality that kicks it to the top of the heap where it magically 
Illustration from Love You Forever
slides off the slush pile and lands in an agent's hands (hands with calluses from shaking over major deals with massive $advances$, huge distribution, giant royalties). A book that then goes on to grasp the hearts and imaginations of readers?

Is it hard work that makes a bestseller? Definitely. Hone and sharpen your manuscript until it hums. How about timing? It certainly helps if the public just happens to be aching for your product. Talent? Most certainly. How about inspiration? Of course. Set your mind free. Don't be afraid. The worst that can happen is you'll be laughed out of the bookstore. The best that can happen is that rarest of all commodities—an original thought.

Illustration from the bestseller I Promise I'll Find You, written by
Heather Ward, Illustrated by Sheila McGraw, published by Firefly books
Probably the most potent guarantee to write a dud is to set out with writing a bestseller as the preeminent goal. Hopping on a bandwagon: vampires, zombies, boy wizards, purple dinosaurs, love-you-so books...

If you're trampy enough to bed hop among subjects, styles, genres in order to tag along on the greasy, tatty coattails of the latest trend, go ahead, but you'll be joining the slush pile a thousand miles high, a slagheap of also-rans that will probably never make it from there into an editor's or agent's hands until the fad is over. And when that happens, books, movies, and TV shows will suddenly no longer want dreck on princesses, now they'll want dreck on, say, trolls.

Don't get me wrong, plenty of people write tripe and make barrels of cash. If that's the aim, fine, cool and dandy, but I think the stunningly awesome JK Rowling followed her heart and mind to the land of Harry Potter, not a derivative breadcrumb trail of rupees.

Illustration from bestseller Pussycats Everywhere! written and illustrated by Sheila McGraw, published by Firefly Books

Sure you want a bestseller. Who doesn't? But more than want, you'd better believe. Believe in your story--find your voice and something to say, something to add to the shelves of the bookstores, the Kindles and iPads of the nation, the hearts and minds of youngsters. If not, get thee away from those illustrating materials and that writing machine, Keyboard-Monkey!

If you don't believe your story is profoundly worthwhile, quit wasting paper and energy. We've got too many writers without wishy-washy half-baked ones added to the mix. Go do something else for heaven's sake; deliver meals on wheels, cut the grass, take up quilting... whatever turns your crank, flips your switch, gives you a charge! Anything that feels better than that drivel you're passing off as okay.

Because just okay won't cut it... not because it most certainly won't become a mega hit and make buckets of drachmas, but because it's clutter and simply not good enough to take up space anywhere: on shelves, in megabytes or in brain power. Be better than that—write crazier, write emotionally, write harder! Hemmingway said "Write drunk, edit sober." And I'll drink to that.
Illustration from Love You Forever

*takes big swig of aforementioned liquid*

Here is one thing I know. Drawing on your own emotional experiences is a powerful precept. Dig deep and take your emotions (concept) and turn that into something concrete, namely words with pictures, whether the form is narrative, rhyming couplets, humor, or a completely other form.

Robert Munsch did it with Love You Forever after his wife's devastating multiple miscarriages. Heather Ward did it in I Promise I'll Find You, for the memory of a girlhood friend who went missing. And in a lighter way I did it too, in Pussycats Everywhere! in the story of a missing cat and some humorous consequences.

Illustration from Pussycats Everywhere!
So take a flight of fancy. Be your most everything.... whacky, funny, sad, introspective, wild, nonsensical. Let loose the most original and inspired self you can be. Pour your guts out and lay your heart on the page.

Phew... time for a nap. No! wait! Time to place butt on chair and hands on keyboard. Write harder.
Find books and more here: www.SheilaMcGraw.com

Thanks for stopping by.

1 comment:

  1. At the moment I'm writing my own book for learning Russian. I'm wondering why a children's story has to have a "message." We wouldn't think of writing a novel with a "message." Readers would smell it a mile away. Why not write a great story and leave it at that? Good stories are their own message. They portray a character growing out of their old habits. In other words, escaping to a more mature version of themselves. There's no message there, that's just what good stories do.