KidLit TV’s excellent program on holiday books has me reading every Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa book I can get my hands on, from Jon Agee’s Little Santa to Lisa Wheeler and Brian Floca’s uncles and antlers. Surrounded by holiday books, I eventually arrived at the question: Should writers spend time writing a holiday book? After all, publishers only have a 3 month window or less to sell a holiday book each year. Holiday books are also more likely to go out-of-print quickly and most editors aren’t exactly begging for them.
Don’t bother mentioning these caveats to Deborah Underwood, Jan Brett, Chris Van Allsburg or other writers of holiday books, though. They’re too busy writing holiday classics.
Deborah’s popular Here Comes the Easter Cat and Here Comes Santa Cat jump off the holiday shelves and Cat has no thought of slowing down the holiday banter. Here Comes Valentine Cat is in the queue. Deborah was in my Cliffhangers’ critique group when she was writing the first Cat story. None of us cautioned, “Be careful. That’s a holiday book. Editors will shy away.” We were charmed by the unusual angle Deborah had found for a holiday book and the great fun of the story.
What Deborah is doing makes great marketing sense. She uses one adorable character to span the holidays through the year. If a parent buys Santa Cat at Christmas, they’re more likely to pick up Easter Cat at Eastertime and Valentine Cat in the future. But it takes an imaginative mind and creative spirit to pull these books off. Living with an independent minded cat named Bella doesn’t hurt either.
If you already have a popular book character, your publisher will welcome a holiday story to add to the series. Think Olivia and the Christmas Present, Fancy Nancy: Splendiferous Christmas and Fancy Nancy: Our Thanksgiving Banquet and on and on. But most of us can’t count on those holiday book invitations.
You may think you’ll never be creative enough to write a story like Here Comes Easter Cat or lucky enough to have a book like The Pumpkin Runner that’s kept running through bookstores, schools, and homes for over 16 years. But how will you know if you don’t try?
If you have an idea for a holiday book, consider it. If you have better ideas, pursue those. But if you love that holiday story and keep returning to it year after year, wondering why you never finished it, then complete it, submit it, and cross your fingers. It may just become one of those holiday traditions readers enjoy year after year.
Below are a few guidelines for your holiday stories and for your submission of any story during the holidays.
Editors want holiday stories that are unique and fresh. But editors want all stories to be unique and fresh, so this is not a big surprise.
Readers will buy holiday books for the familiarity - a Santa or a scraggly Christmas tree. But they’ll also choose a book that has a surprise element, something unusual. If you can combine both in one book, all the better.
And when that holiday story is finished, don’t rush to submit it during the holidays. Picture this: writers around the world using their holiday time completing drafts, then looking at their New Year’s resolution: Get published! Send a story to my favorite editor! Instead of rushing to the post office, take a breath, revise, go bake some cookies, and consider starting your New Year’s resolution in February, after the manuscript deluge.
In the end, the answer to the question of whether writers should spend time writing a holiday book is similar to the answer to the question of whether we should spend time writing. Only if we love our story.
Happy holidays and happy writing!
Marsha grew up on a Kansas farm and for decades created imaginative worlds and wacky characters in northern California. She’s now creating those worlds in southwest Florida, amidst building a new home and helping care for her energetic granddaughter. An award-winning picture book author, she has eleven traditional books, two digital apps, and an e-book to her credit. Represented by Karen Grencik of Red Fox Literary, they recently sold six picture book and board book manuscripts to Neal Porter Books, Kate O'Sullivan of Houghton Mifflin, Random House UK, and Yolanda Scott of Charlesbridge.
Her Writing Wonderful Character-Driven Picture Books course has helped many published and aspiring writers to write stronger characters. You may read about her books, school visits, and life at www.marshadianearnold.com or hop over to Facebook to like her author page.
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