Oh Susanna – How Do You Know What Books Are Already Published In The Picture Book Market?

Happy Monday, Everyone!

First off, before we do anything, I’d like to give a virtual high five to Julie Foster Hedlund whose debut storybook app A Troop Is  Group Of Monkeys is now officially published!  Woo-hoo!

Released yesterday from Little Bahalia Publishing, this delightful app is both an entertaining story and an education in collective nouns for animal groups.  Beautiful illustrations bursting with color (created by Pamela Baron) complement the engaging text, along with plenty of fun interactive add-ons… wait until you see the skunk 🙂 … and the story is sung to a catchy tune by Tim McCanna.  You can view the trailer HERE and purchase it on iTunes HERE.  Congratulations, Julie!!! 🙂

I will wait while you all skip on over to iTunes App Store and purchase your copy 🙂

Alrighty then, onward to our topic of conversation for today, which is an Oh Susanna question.

Cheryl asks, “Oh, Susanna, could you please give some pointers on how to research what’s already out there in the picture book market?

Well, Cheryl, I’ll be happy to give it the old college try :), although I am the first to admit that I don’t feel like an authority on the subject, so I hope lots of our devoted readers will chime in with their knowledge.

The short answer is, a lot of things have already been done, so no matter what you write, you’ll have to put a new spin on it – your own spin 🙂

But there are places you can look.

For the low, low price of only $400 (EEK!) you can purchase the 2012 Subject Guide To Children’s Books In Print – hardcover and 3154 pages chock full of information that is mostly up-to-date for about 10 minutes 🙂  But unless you’re independently wealthy and have a really sturdy desk to hold up a book that size you’re probably better off just going to the local public library and using theirs 🙂

The Subject Guide to Books In Print is available at most larger libraries in the reference section.  The Subject Guide To Children’s Books In Print and Children’s Books In Print may also be available.

From Greyhouse Publishing’s Website:

Children’s Books In Print: “Children’s Books In Print®, now in its 43nd edition, is the go-to source for locating children’s and young adult titles in the US.

  • Volume 1, the Title Index, provides immediate access to over 250,000 children’s books from over 18,000 US publishers
  • Entries include title, author, translator, illustrator, photographer, edition, LCC number, series information, pages, binding, grade range, year of publication, price, ISBN, publisher and imprint
  • Volume 2, the Author & Illustrator Index, features more than 223,000 contributors, including photographers
  • Publisher Name Index and Wholesaler & Distributor Name Index, with complete contact information for all listed publishers, distributors and wholesalers”

The Subject Guide To Children’s Books In Print: “A natural complement to Children’s Books In Print®, Subject Guide to Children’s Books In Print® is a valuable tool when expanding children’s literature collections and new curriculum areas.

  • Subject Index with over 347,000 titles classified under over 9,500 Library of Congress Subject Headings, from Actors and Actresses to Zoo Animals and everything in between
  • Entries include title, author, translator, illustrator, photographer, edition, LCC number, series information, pages, binding, grade range, year of publication, price, ISBN, publisher and imprint
  • Publisher Name Index and Wholesaler & Distributor Index, with complete contact information makes easy work for your acquisitions department”

So there is a lot of information there.

Another useful avenue of research is publishing house websites.  They all have sections that list their current titles and their backlists.  It is time-consuming, but worthwhile, and something you’ll be doing anyway when the time comes to research houses for submission.

In terms of what publishers might be looking for, SCBWI has a section in their bulletin that addresses that, and other publications like the CBI Newsletter and the Children’s Writer (issued by the Institute Of Children’s Literature) frequently post subjects/topics/specific things that agents and editors have mentioned they would be interested in seeing in both book and magazine markets.  If editors are looking for something, it’s a good bet there’s nothing like it currently in print.

Another place you can look is Amazon.  I know.  They’re taking over the world. 🙂  But they do have a huge data base of books.  You can search by a title you’re thinking of using and see if other books with that title already exist.  You can search by subject matter within children’s books and see what comes up that might be similar to your idea.  And then underneath the book you’ve chosen to look at there is usually a long list of similar books that people also viewed or purchased when they looked at that book, so you can often find related items easily.

You should always check the publication date.  A book that is similar to your story but is 20 years old and not a well-known classic may be ready for a fresh new version.

I think, in the end, you have to write the stories you want to write to the best of your ability.  Then research publishing houses that might be interested in the type of story you’ve written.  Go to the library or bookstore and read lots of picture books and take note of who publishes books similar to yours.  Then go on their websites and read through their current and backlist titles.  Do they already have your book, or something so similar that they’d be competing with their own list by purchasing yours?  Hopefully you can find a house that might fit your manuscript that hasn’t already published a similar story.  If not, you may discover ways you can tweak your story to make it different from what’s already out there.

I hope that’s a little bit helpful.  Unfortunately there’s no quick, easy method I know of for accomplishing this task.  But I’d love to hear from readers about how they go about this, whether they know any tricks of the trade, or know any better ways of doing this!  Please, readers, share your thoughts!!!

Thanks for a great question, Cheryl.

Have a fabulous Monday, everyone, especially those of you who have the day off 🙂

44 thoughts on “Oh Susanna – How Do You Know What Books Are Already Published In The Picture Book Market?

  1. Heather Newman says:

    Thank you, Susanna! I tend to use Amazon because it's fairly easy to search, but it's nice to see all of the other options available.

  2. Stacy S. Jensen says:

    I should make a poster of these lines: I think, in the end, you have to write the stories you want to write to the best of your ability. Then research publishing houses that might be interested in the type of story you've written. I was at a book proposal class (for the memoir) and the speaker said it used to take forever to do comparative/competitive titles before Amazon. It has streamlined the process online. I'm going to search our “main” library this week for those references as I'm seriously trying this submission part of the process. 🙂 Critique groups are a great source of info too. I shared a story Sunday and Vivian shared a similar title I should check out.

  3. Angela Brown says:

    It's sometimes hard to find something that hasn't already been done. But there appear to be lots of outlets for checking these things out. Great information Susanna. Thanks for sharing 🙂

  4. Carrie Finison says:

    This is a good topic. I find the research very time consuming. One thing that has been helpful for me is our library's online catalog, which is connected to a large regional network of libraries. Once I find a similar story to mine, I look that one book up in the catalog and look at the subject categories. I can then click those and see other books with those subjects. Kind of like Amazon, but since it's through my library I can immediately order the books through interlibrary loan for free.

  5. Kirsten Larson says:

    First, WOO HOO Julie! Susanna, I agree that Amazon is probably your best bet for finding the most up-to-date info. If I have an idea of a publisher who might be interested in a book, I will go to their site and make sure nothing's in their current catalog. I find in nonfiction, it's a constant recycling of ideas in new forms and formats.

  6. Joanna Marple says:

    Wow, super comprehensive reply, Susanna… and more than I normally do, I confess. I too have had crit partners help me out with suggested similar books to my manuscript.

  7. Susanna Leonard Hill says:

    Glad if you found this helpful, Stacy. And check out Carrie's comment about using the library data base – great idea. I must have missed your weekend post… I will have to go back and check it out – and Vivian's.

  8. Beth Stilborn says:

    Fantastically comprehensive answer, O Susanna of Susannas! I usually just check Amazon, but should probably be checking further afield. I also sometimes google character names just to see if they're too common. (For example, in something I was writing a few years ago, I had a character who was a cardiologist at a teaching hospital, with a particular specialty. I made up a name, then googled, and found a person who was, gulp, a cardiologist with that specialty. What are the odds?????)

  9. Julie Hedlund says:

    First of all, THANK YOU for sharing my app. That was so unexpected and appreciated!

    As for me, I use plain-old Amazon and Google. I didn't even know about the Books in Print resource!! So I've learned a ton already today! 🙂

  10. Stacy S. Jensen says:

    Great point about the library's data base. I use it to find similar titles for my son – a la hippos – so I should do this for my stories too. I didn't post over the weekend. Vivian and I attend the local SCBWI critique group. I shared a story in person. 🙂 Lots of thinking about this post on President's Day!

  11. Susanna Leonard Hill says:

    I love your hippo theme 🙂 I'm sure you've read one of my all-time favorites – Hippos Go Berserk by Sandra Boynton – but did I ask you if you've read Hurty Feelings?

    Stacy S. Jensen (unregistered) wrote, in response to Susanna Leonard Hill:

    Great point about the library's data base. I use it to find similar titles for my son – a la hippos – so I should do this for my stories too. I didn't post over the weekend. Vivian and I attend the local SCBWI critique group. I shared a story in person. 🙂 Lots of thinking about this post on President's Day!

    Link to comment
    IP address: 209.248.104.144

  12. pennyklostermann says:

    Julie's app is super! Really great!

    Thanks, Susanna! As usual you provide a detailed answer with things I would never think of. I use Amazon and Google, but now I have more options! I do love Carrie's suggestion,too!

  13. Iza Trapani says:

    How did this slip by me? Great answer, Susanna- as always. I know of the Books in Print but have never used it. I like the look inside feature on Amazon. Most importantly, you are right in saying that it's important to write the stories we want to write. Ideas are universal, but interpretations are unique.

  14. Vivian Kirkfield says:

    First of all…congrats to Julie on a super app…saw it yesterday on Stacy's ipad and LOVED it.

    This was a great question and very helpful answer.:) Don't apologize for suggesting Amazon…I think that is probably the cheapest and easiest way of finding titles that are similar or the same as one we might want to use. Thanks, Susanna, for the detailed resource list!

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