Blog Archive

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

How to Series: Writing Children's Novelty Books - an interview with Salina Yoon

Touch and feel board book

My interview today is with children's book author, Salina Yoon who specializes in doing novelty and board books. She is quite good at it as she has published almost 200 books. My interview today is about her experience in writing in this genre. Hope you will find it enlightening and enjoyable.

You write and illustrate children’s board books and novelty books. I’ve heard some people say that doing a board book is really easy as it is so short. Please dispel that rumor. What does it take to write a successful board book?
You mention two kinds of books here: board books and novelty books. These are two different things. Traditional board books are generally board book editions of previously published picture books. Publishers tend to select these titles based on its success as a picture book, and the appropriate target age.

Board books are generally for 5 and under, so the picture book in a board book edition should be appropriate for the younger market. We see lots of classics and licensed characters in board book editions as well.

Creating a novelty board book has more to do with artistic vision than writing. I create the entire package: the editorial concept, book format, illustrations and design for the book before I submit this to a publisher. Each component should fit effortlessly together. THIS is the true challenge of novelty books.

 Since novelties tend to be short (10-12 pages), the book must capture the attention of the reader immediately. Most novelties have very limited text. It's all about creating an interactive experience for the reader with the help of "novelty" elements like: lift flaps, tactile elements, pull tabs, pop-ups, special die-cuts, moving parts, wheels to spin, or even a mechanical component with lights and sound. A successful novelty entertains the reader, engages them, and makes them want to read and play with it over and over again.

When you decided to write these small books for children did you send in your manuscripts with illustrations? How many changes did you have to do with the illustrations per the publisher as compared to text changes?
I've always submitted the entire package to a publisher: a book dummy that includes all the elements described above. Revisions are a necessary part of any publishing process. Some require more than others. But almost always, there are more art revisions than there are text revisions, but this is simply because the books tend to be more art-driven. Often times, I will do the art first, and place in appropriate text afterwards. This isn't to say the text is an afterthought. The initial concept drives the text, which is developed early on in the process.

Have you ever done illustrations for other author’s stories? If so how is that handled? Do you just come up with your own ideas or do the author or publisher give you suggestions?
I have only illustrated two books that I did not write, out of nearly 200 published books. I prefer to work with my own concepts and ideas, because I like to make changes to the text as I go and most of my books are art driven. But in the case where I illustrated another author's ms, I didn't make any changes to the text. I create sketches, submit them to the editor, the editor makes comments, I revise, and then the illustrations go to final. There are no discussions directly with the author. The relationship is strictly with the editor.

How long does it take you to create a finished picture that is ready for print? What art media do you use?
Earlier in my career, I primarily worked with acrylic paints on illustration board. Now, I almost exclusively work digitally. The length of time it takes depends on the illustration. It could be as short as an hour, to several days per spread. My style is simple and graphic, so it tends to go quickly if I know what I want to do.

Novelty children’s books are something that has always intrigued me. Do you first pitch an idea for a book style to a publisher and see if they are interested before sending out a manuscript? Or do you the full manuscript with an illustrated mock-up of the book?
I do a full manuscript with an illustrated mock up of the book, sometimes to completion. Since novelties are so short, I feel one or two spreads don't show the concept well enough. The first and last pages are always the most important (intro and finale spreads), but I also like to show how I'd tie them together. Novelties do have a beginning, middle and an end like any other book, and it should show this in the dummy.

How long does it usually take for one of your books to go from publication acceptance to being at the book store?
As early as 8 months to as late as 2 years, though most books fall in the 1 to 1-1/2 year mark.

Kaleidoscope lens in book form!
What drew you to work in this media and age range? Do you see yourself branching out to other age ranges for stories? Have you ever had any tie-ins for your book illustrations for toys or see that in the future?
I love children's book art. It fit with my aesthetic and design sensibilities. Most of my books have been for the 5 and under crowd, but recently, I've published an all-ages book titled KALEIDOSCOPE, with Little, Brown, that appeals to both the adult and children's markets. Click on the word, book to view.     

I've also recently branched out to creating picture books. My first story-based picture book releases with Walker/Bloomsbury this fall, and a second title in that series releases next spring. I plan to do more picture books, but still for my young audience of 5 and under. I have not had any tie-ins for my books with toys and other merchandise, but I'm open to these opportunities.

What suggestions would you give someone who would like to break into writing board or novelty books?
Features cut-out designs of animals
Like any genre someone wants to break into, study the market and do the research before submitting novelty projects to editors. Not all houses create originated novelties. This means that many publishers buy from book packagers, and do not acquire novelties to develop and produce by themselves.  They simply buy the rights to publish.

As far as breaking into writing for board books, this really isn't done. Simple concept board books are either written by the editors themselves, or by the illustrator of the book. My suggestion would be to try and sell it as a picture book first,.. and if it does well and is appropriate for ages 6 and under, it may be printed as a board book edition down the line.

If you would like to learn more about Salina and her books, you can do so by clicking here to take you to her list of books for sale on Amazon.


  1. Interesting interview! Novelty books always get the attention of the babies in my infant classroom.

  2. Great interview, Salina and Christine!