Featured Author Tara Luebbe April 2018

Thank you, Julie and Kelli, for asking me to be the featured author this month. I’m a bit verklempt.  I am currently in “launch season” as I see my first two picture books, I AM FAMOUS and SHARK NATE-O, off into the world.  I have been very lucky in my writing journey in that I got here fairly quickly. I began writing picture books in late 2014, knowing nothing about the craft, and sold six books in two years. How did this happen? Did the picture book gods just smile down upon me? Although luck and timing are a big part of it, I don’t want to trivialize how hard I worked, and there are two things I feel I did especially well.

  • I found great critique partners.

I realized as soon as I began writing that I needed a great critique group. I found mine through 12 x 12. Everyone should have a small core group that you can count on to be honest and tough and make you a better writer. It may take some trial and error to find the right people, but you need to find them. I handpicked six 12 x 12 members to form a private group. I searched the forum for people who were good critiquers and wrote similar things to me. This group has worked out amazingly well. We have been together for two years now and I don’t know what I would do if I ever lost them. So, if you are not in a solid critique group, join one or create your own. Don’t wait. It is essential in this crazy business of ups and downs to have “your people.”

You can look for critique partners through your regional SCBWI, online writing communities (like 12 x 12, Kidlit 411, Sub it Club, Inked Voices, the Blue Boards etc.) at conferences, and at writers’ panels at your hometown bookstore.

  • I understand marketability.

My retail background gave me an in-depth understanding of marketability, and I believe that substantially reduced my time in the trenches. Marketability is not talked about enough in picture book writing circles, yet it is the most important piece of any manuscript. We all know how hard it is to get through the formidable acquisitions meetings. Even if the editor loves your manuscript, she/he has to convince the sales and marketing team, which is the toughest part. Sometimes we need a reminder that this is a business, and books need to actually sell once they are published. If your manuscript is not marketable, you decrease your chances of ever getting through acquisitions.

I would like to challenge you all. After you write a draft, evaluate it for marketability before spending too much valuable time revising an idea that will go nowhere. Who is the audience for this book? You should be able to identify a clear customer base. Why is your book worth printing? What does it bring to the market that does not already exist? Does it fill a market void? Does it zoom in on a little-known subject? Does it put a fresh, new spin on an evergreen topic? Does it have great humor? What is the hook? Envision your cover. Would you pick it up off the shelf? Why would a retailer choose to purchase your book for their store over thousands of others? Can you give it a high concept title? If you don’t have marketability in the story, can you go back and add it? (I wrote a more in-depth piece for Storystorm Day 21, if you want more information on this https://taralazar.com/2018/01/21/storystorm-2018-day-21-tara-luebbe/

I am going to put on my marketing goggles and dissect my book, SHARK NATE-O as an example.

Shark Nate-O by Tara Luebbe and Becky CattieIs this a marketable topic? Sharks are a kid-friendly, favorite subject. And both kids and adults (the picture book buyers) are fascinated by them. Shark Week anyone?

Why is this book different?  After reading every single shark picture book ever printed, I was happy to see that none dealt with learning to swim. Also in my research, I also discovered there weren’t a lot of books about learning to swim in general, so the market was not saturated with that subject. By combining a kid-relatable experience, learning to swim, with an evergreen topic, sharks, I had a winner. SHARK NATE-O also has a swim team theme, which is rare in picture books, even though lots of children either participate in this sport or have older siblings who do—an added bonus!

Who is the audience for this book? SHARK NATE-O appeals to children who are afraid to swim or are learning to swim, children on or around swim teams and kids who simply love sharks. I made sure it contained plenty of facts for the shark lovers, and added a nonfiction spread to make it educational, which will also make it appealing to aquarium gift shops. I also kept my audience in mind when picking shark facts for the back matter and tried to find some that were not in other shark-themed books. As a parent of a kid who had a major shark phase, I know the drill of checking out every single shark book to feed the obsession. I wanted to bring something new to the shark book business.

Does it have a catchy title? With the popularity of the Sharknado movies, SHARK NATE-O fits right in with pop culture and gives me an instant marketing hook. The title alone will attract people who love the movies, mostly adults; and with the obvious shark reference in the title, it will also appeal to kids who’ve never heard of the movies. This combination of sharks and pop culture will also be good for retailers.

So there is a peek into what went through my brain when writing SHARK NATE-O and why it was a manuscript I believed had merit enough to keep working on.

One more thing I learned from experience: marketability is also subjective. To me, SHARK NATE-O was highly marketable, but I had agents who didn’t agree and didn’t want to send it out. And I had an agent critique SHARK NATE-O positively, but ask, “Why this name? Are you trying to rhyme with tornado for some reason?” I knew that agent was not pop culture savvy, so she was probably not the best fit to sell this story. I also had an agent who did not like I AM FAMOUS and did not see its marketability. Obviously, I found a great agent who recognized the potential in both books. So, you may have the most marketable story in the world, but you will still have to deal with subjectivity. But I can assure you that a story with low marketability is a losing battle.

When you finish a great draft, put your marketing goggles on and evaluate it for its ability to sell before spending too much time doing revisions. And critique partners, don’t be afraid to call out this important attribute! I have been there, where you don’t want to crush someone by telling them this idea is not good enough to sell. But in the long run you are doing them a service by saving them months of time refining a book that won’t sell when they could be working on something that will. You can add marketability to a story, but only if you are aware that it is missing. In picture books, concept really is king.

So with an honest, supportive critique group and a solid understanding of marketability, you will be armed with the two most important tools to succeed as a professional children’s writer. And may the picture books gods always smile upon you!


Tara Luebbe is a former children’s boutique and bookstore owner turned picture book author. She co-writes with her sister Becky Cattie. They are the authors of I AM FAMOUS, illustrated by Joanne Lew Vriethoff, (Albert Whitman 2018); SHARK NATE-O, illustrated by Daniel Duncan, (little bee books April 3, 2018); I USED TO BE FAMOUS, illustrated by Joanne Lew Vriethoff (Albert Whitman Spring 2019); OPERATION PHOTOBOMB (Albert Whitman 2019), CONAN THE LIBRARIAN (Roaring Brook Press Spring 2020). She is also the founder of Writing with the Stars, a free mentorship program for aspiring picture book writers. She is represented by Tracy Marchcini of Bookends Literary. You can learn more at beckytarabooks.com and you can find her on Twitter @t_luebbe.

12 x 12 Members! We will have two winners this month. Tara is giving away a copy of I AM FAMOUS and a copy of SHARK NATE-O to lucky people. So get those drafts written and revised for the most chances to win!

This Post Has 137 Comments

  1. I had a critique with an agent who told me My MS was highly marketable. It was a shock to me as I had been oblivious to marketability, but you are so right. We are writing stories, but they are eventually a product for sale to our readers. That agent opened my eyes.

  2. Excellent post, Tara! A big, well-deserved congratulations on your first two fabulous books, as well as those in the pipeline–can’t wait to see them all on (and flying off) bookstore shelves, both of the wooden and virtual variety!

  3. What a wonderful post. I agree marketability of your story must be considered and I also agree it’s subjective. But I never know if I’m told my story isn’t strong enough in today’s market, if that’s subjective or not!

  4. This post explains marketability clearly –even someone with no marketing background (like me!) can ‘get it.’ Thank you, Tara! Congratulations on your success.

  5. Thank you for the important reminder that we are creating products that need to fit the market’s needs in order to sell. Congrats on your upcoming book releases!

  6. Thank you, Tara, for highlighting the importance of critique groups and marketability. I look forward to reading your books 🙂

  7. Congratulations on your success! I’m looking forward to reading your books.
    And just to support what you said about critique groups–an agent told me that she always asks potential clients if they’re members of a group before signing them. That’s how important she believes critique groups are.

  8. Such great info here! I will admit that I don’t think about marketability enough. By which I mean, ever. Thanks for the reminder, especially about not spending too much time on revising ideas that will never sell.

  9. Tara, Loved your comments on Storystorm (starred and highlighted them in my notebook!), and now you’ve added even more good info here. Thinking about marketing makes so much sense, and testing an idea before spending loads of time on it, with a look at marketability, is something I am now trying to do! Love the step by step look at Shark Nate-O!! Adding a critique group is next up on my priority list, after reading this.
    Thanks so much for sharing all your insights. Wishing you continued success.

  10. I, too, couldn’t live without my critique groups! Great practical thoughts on marketability. Can’t ignore that part of the writing process. Congrats on your books and I looked forward to reading them. Thanks for sharing!

  11. Thank you, Tara. Your detailed description of exactly why Shark Nate-O is marketable is hugely enlightening.

  12. Great advice, Tara. I would love to see more breakout sessions at SCBWI conferences about this topic. Best of luck with your picture books.

  13. Excellent post and marketability is definitely the something we need to be spending time thinking about early on. Thanks!

  14. Thank you for sharing this valuable information. Marketing is a critical part of this business that I haven’t thought much about. You have provided some great insight. I also appreciated hearing about how you found your critique group. Have a great day. Your new books look fun.

  15. Thanks for your straightforward and excellent advice. And congratulations on your picture book successes!!

  16. Congratulations on your success. Thank for advice. I need a new critique group and need to pay more attention to marketing.

  17. Interesting post, Tara. Critique groups are wonderful when you have the right one! Marketability we have to think about –maybe a visit to the children’s section of my local book store is in order! Of course, being around little ones is an added plus! They have great insights!

  18. Hi, Tara.
    I loved the bit of fierceness in your attitude! Great thoughts about marketability. You are right: No one does talk enough about it. Thanks for doing so.

  19. Such valuable insight on strategizing for marketability before you’re too invested–I love this! Your thinking was thorough & it paid off! Congratulations on these books!

  20. This is such great insight. I love that you were confident enough to realize your stories were marketable even after being told differently. Thank you for sharing your story!

  21. Thank you for this insightful post. Marketability is a tough nut to crack. I am learning to research, research, research.

  22. Thank-you! These are both such important aspects to keep in mind. And the help of critique partners is key in identifying marketability – what seems marketable to someone who has spent loads of time living with a book is not necessarily marketable in the world. We need honest reactions to help make our books better. Fabulous advice!

  23. Thank you, Tara, for sharing your experience and insights. I found the marketing googles part–dissecting the marketing approaches you followed–especially helpful. Best wishes in launch season and your future writing!

  24. Thanks for the great tips. Marketing isn’t something that I generally think about before revising. I will now!

  25. Thanks for this post that really lays it all out. I totally agree with you on the importance of critique groups and why marketability is important. I’d be lost without my groups. And now a few of us have books coming out soon and we’ve formed a marketing group to support each other as we go forward.

  26. This is a really helpful post. It is important to think about marketability, although I’m not sure I have a feeling for what’s marketable and what’s not. I know what books I like (my own and other peoples) and as an early childhood teacher for 16 years , I have a sense of what 3-6 year olds like. That’s, maybe, a good place to start!
    Thank you for focussing on this important part of writing.

  27. This was an extremely helpful post – I really appreciate and value the insight here. I love that you write the first draft and then look for marketability. I had heard to write the hook first but oftentimes I don’t know what I am writing until it is on the paper. This seems like valuable advice that I can follow. Thank you!

  28. Great advice @Taraluebbe! I’ll keep that in mind with every ms I write from now on. I’ll also go back and apply this theory/technique to my manuscripts currently on submission. Thank you.

  29. Great post. Marketability is something I am still trying to figure out. I feel like we newbies need more resources about this. It’s one thing to know what kind of stories you like to tell; it’s another to know what kind of stories will sell.

  30. I was a “closeted” writer before joining a critique group. Joining a critique group was, by far, the best thing I’ve done in my writing career so far. I have not been quite as focused on the marketability of my manuscripts, but ever since your StoryStorm post, I have been thinking more and more about it. Thank you so much for the advice!

  31. Thanks Tara for reminding us that the stories in our heads aren’t always going to sell – and how to focus on the ones that will.

  32. Tara this post is so useful! Great to hear how valuable you found 12 x 12 and your critique group and I found your comments about marketability and your example so helpful. Thank you for sharing and best of luck with your future writing – Pauline

  33. Thanks Tara for this post … now I have to match previous advice about writing stories that “you” want to write, with looking for the marketability within that story. I know I’ll find this tricky to do … but it’s also about letting go of a draft of something that you might be initially excited about, but if it’s not sellable then you have to drop it!

  34. In today’s tough market, these insights are invaluable. My background is in advertising and marketing, but I probably don’t use enough of my hard-earned knowledge in these fields in my children’s writing. Thanks for the reminder!

  35. What a wonderful post! Thanks, Tara for dissecting Shark-Nate-o’s marketability. I’m writing down those questions and using them on my mss.
    And your titles are fantastic!

  36. Some great things to think about, Tara. I, for one, have spent far too much time on manuscripts that never will sell due to marketability factors. Your post is a wonderful reminder of that most important aspect of picture book, or any, publishing.

  37. Thank you SO much for shining a spotlight on marketability. I’m trying to quantify a particular niche market, because agents who aren’t part of it won’t get it. 🙂 Awesome information.

  38. Sage and timely advice. The critique group is essential and a well-communicated necessity. The need to think about the marketability of your draft before moving further in revisions is a great idea. While I think I thought about this in general with my drafts, I’ve never taken the time to sit down and write out a basic market eval. Thank you for sharing this helpful and timely suggestion with us!

  39. I especially liked the part about the subjectivity of marketability and finding the right agent who will believe in you. With over 326 million people in the US, there are many types of markets. It’s important to know who you are writing for. This informs how to best connect with critique partners, agents and publishers. When you are with the wrong group, you can spin your wheels trying to make your stories marketable to the wrong market. My key take away is that I need to find my right critique group who also understand my market arena.

  40. Thanks, Tara – wise words. The marketability factor can be a tough needle to thread – believing in your work, without being blind to the market, constructively processing feedback from the industry in the face of its subjectivity. Congratulations on your success! Looking forward to seeing your books.

  41. Thanks so much for your analysis of Shark Nate-O’s marketability and the important points about marketability as well as critique partner value. Thanks, Tara

  42. We know that agents and publishers want us to be able to help market our books. Thanks to Tara for giving us the HOW!

  43. WOW…loved learning so much about your writing journey…and getting an inside peek into how you determined the marketability of your stories! Many great takeaways that will be valuable as I move forward. Thanks so much, Tara!

  44. Thank you Tara for these tips. Considering the marketability of a manuscript is something that I haven’t considered in the detailed way you described for your book. I love the titles – something else I need to work on. Thank goodness for critique groups!

  45. Thank you so much Tara for a very insightful post! I can’t wait to go back through my manuscripts with my “marketing goggles” on! It is a great reminder to always be thinking about the marketing/business end of PB writing – in addition to the creative! Congratulations on all of your success – I can’t wait to read all of your books!

  46. Thanks for your great tips, Tara. It sounds like you really did your research and focused on what was necessary to get your books picked up! Bravo! Congrats on your success!!

  47. Is it Shark Week already?! Congratulations again, and thanks for the great advice! Looking at marketability- and doing the research- are key steps, and it’s so valuable to have knowledgeable, honest critique partners give perspective on which drafts should make the cut.

  48. Congratulations on your quick success! I look forward to reading your books. Your advice about marketability and critique groups is right on target.

  49. Thank you for writing this post. Marketbility. How important it is. I’m a slacker in this area. What makes a book sell Is all important in this crazy business. Carole Calladine

  50. Thank you for this post! Your insights in marketing have been to your advantage and thank you for using your book to illustrate the importance of it.

  51. Thank you so much for this very valuable and practical advice- bookmarking this. Congratulations and I really look forward to reading your books!

  52. What a great post! I think we all forget about focusing on the business of books. This was inspirational, as it encourages us to be creative with a focus. I just picked up I AM FAMOUS from the library today! Can’t wait to read Shark-Nate-O, as well! Well done with your career! Congrats!

  53. Hi Tara! Loved reading your post and loved seeing I AM FAMOUS in the STAR this weekend. You’re on fire and I’m so happy for you. Thanks for the great insights on marketability. Will be reviewing some manuscripts this month using your formula.

    Thanks again!

  54. Thanks for sharing that even with strong marketability a book might not connect with an agent. You are so right about including unique facts in the backmatter. Readers obsessed with a topic really need that. Congratulations!

  55. Tara,
    Congratulations on your 2 soon to be published books. I owned a business and yes marketability is everything. I”m not sure how to assess the MS I am working on, but i will start keeping that in mind as I choose a subject, title and back matter.

  56. Tara, thank you for this on-point article. As I navigate the writing world, I am learning that your critique group can be your lifesaver or a hole in the bottom of your boat, depending on whom you choose. I agree that marketability is crucial, but many of us also have “quiet” or themed stories that may resonate with a smaller readership but be important for us to share with the world. Thanks for your insights.

  57. Thanks, Tara! I’ll be sure to consider marketability with my manuscripts. The need to look at the market from various perspectives really resonated with me.

  58. So true about the value of a good critique group and finding “your people.” It’s way too difficult to determine marketability in an echo chamber! Thanks for a great post, Tara!

  59. Excellent post, Tara. You’ve really got me thinking about marketability and I also love the advice about factoring that in after the first draft, rather than spending oodles of time on something that may never sell.

  60. Thanks Tara and congratulations on your books! I appreciate your thoughts on marketability. This is an important aspect of a ms to consider before investing too much time and effort. I also want to say three cheers for critique partners. They are the best!

  61. Thank you for such a great post, Tara. I haven’t really thought about marketability this much when writing but now I certainly will. It definitely will help to think of this before you get too attached to an idea!
    Congrats on your books!

  62. Tara, this post is everything!! Thank you so much for the time you put into it. Seeing the example of how you applied your marketability considerations to your own work is extremely helpful. I’ll be applying this to early drafts as well as using it as a springboard in the brainstorming process. Thanks!!!

  63. Wonderful article. Thank you so much for the clear advice and examples. I am so glad you included our storystorm article as well! Both articles are filled with wonderful information. Thank you!

  64. Thanks for the great advice. It was helpful to see you explain your own work from that standpoint. I will definitely remember to do that with my stories in the future. Best wishes on your book launches!

  65. You’ve made an important point about marketability and subjectivity, Tara. After reading this I realized I’ve been writing and submitting stories that I hope will attract an agent or editor. I wasn’t thinking enough ahead for acquisitions and how the book will attract buyers. This makes me realize I need to re-examine some of my manuscripts before revising and wasting my time and a new understanding of why I haven’t sold any of my manuscripts or attracted an agent yet. But I’ll carry on with this new knowledge aiming to write a marketable manuscript. Thank you for this eye-opening advice, Tara!

  66. Tara, your post is one of the most helpful I’ve ever read. I’m convinced marketability is paramount and you offer helpful points to consider. Thank you so very much.

  67. Thanks Tara! I think we do need to think more about marketability. I will take that into account on all future drafts. And YES to critique groups! I started my own last year and they are awesome! It would be a lonely journey without my critique buddies.

  68. I’m so excited to see this post for a couple of reasons. First, I’m a big fan of Tara and her inspiring efforts to give back to this community (with the WWTS contest, for example). Second, marketability is something I’m very focused on right now and Tara’s advice comes at the perfect time. I will be reading and re-reading this post as I try to evaluate my work for commercial hooks and sales potential. It’s not something I’m used to doing, so I really appreciate the advice. Third, I AM FAMOUS and SHARK NATE-O will be arriving on my doorstep this week. So, Congratulations and Thank you, Tara!

  69. Congratulations Tara! I wish we could all take a marketing class from you! We always hear about the importance of great critique partners but we rarely discuss marketability. Thanks for touching on the subject of selling potential.

  70. Tara,
    I am excited for you and all you have accomplished in your new career as book writer, not just book seller. Thank you so much for your insight into figuring out marketability for our drafts, this is HUGE help!

    Looking forward to reading your new book babies.

  71. Marketability . . . such a scary concept! Your advice reminds me a little bit of what Simon Cowell used to say on “America’s Got Talent” when he would practically eviscerate a contestant and cause the audience to gasp. When his fellow judges would call him on his cruelty, he often replied that he was saving the contestant years of striving for something (say, a singing career) for which they possessed absolutely no talent. Our little manuscripts and ideas are our little babies – it’s hard to cut them loose when they aren’t working, but your advice is really practical. Thanks for reminding us of this all-important component.

  72. What valuable information! Thank you for dissecting SHARK NATE-O. It really helps me look at my own work with an eye for marketability.

  73. Hi Tara (and of course Becky. I feel so honored to have had you as my critique partner at one time.
    Best of luck in all your future projects. Hooray for your success! Hugs Joan

  74. Thank you for this post! I’ll suggest to my CG we add “Is this marketable? If not, how could it become so?” to our critique checklist!

  75. Thank you, Tara for your post. Critique groups are essential. Marketing is one aspect that doesn’t get enough focus especially considering its importance to getting any book published. Thank you for your thoughts on that and for all you give back to the writing community in form of Writing For The Stars mentorship opportunities.

  76. Thanks for the tips Marketability is obviously important for selling manuscripts, but sometimes we need to right a particular book for ourselves, even if it isn’t an obvious sell. That’s okay too!

    1. Oops! Too much matzah and too little sleep! That should read “…sometimes we need to WRITE a particular book…”

  77. Great post, Tara! I will start drafting queries much earlier than I have. It’s never too soon to think about a manuscript from the agent or editor’s perspective.

  78. Hi Tara thank you for your post. We all have the ability to write and now from reading your post I can use marketability to help sell my writing :-).

  79. Tara’s point is well made. We don’t think about marketability enough, or at least I didn’t early on. I do now. And this article helps do that!

  80. This post SCREAMED at me! I literally had this discussion with my AMAZING 12×12 critique partners 5 minutes ago! Concept and marketability are paramount, critique partners are worth their weight in platinum, gold, diamonds, rubies- everything! Yes, yes, yes, to all of the above!

  81. Marketability is definitely something I should consider more seriously when writing my PB manuscripts. Thanks for the great tips, Tara!

  82. Excellent advice and equally great reminder about considering marketability as we write. Thank you!

  83. Thanks, Tara, for approaching the serious sides of writing and doing a great presentation. We get so hung up on the writing and the entire process, we neglect the outside world of writing which deals with the business side. This is so relevant and mind blowing.

  84. Thank you for your great insight, Tara! The authors (like you) that have great brand marketability seem to shine above the others, too. So much to consider while on the writing path to pub.

  85. Thanks , Tara, for reminding us of the importance of marketability. It’s easy to think that if we (the authors) like a topic, everyone else will as well. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way 🙂

  86. I have been working so hard on something for years. Pretty sure I have to find the ONE person who will like it. The marketability is needing work. But I felt compelled to get it done. Now I tweak here and there, but I get to move on to other stories. Now that I have read this, I will try and remind myself to keep thinking about my target audience and what is already available to them:) Thanks so much

  87. Marketability is a hard knowledge to get I find.
    I wish I knew more about the market gap and niche to look for 🙂

  88. This is a great post and really made me evaluate all the PBs I am working on currently for Marketability!

  89. You are spot on!
    I will try to join or start an online critique group.
    I will also evaluate my books for marketability.
    Great post!

  90. Thanks for this valuable information Tara. These are important things to keep in mind. I wrestle with the question of each manuscript I write, whether or not it’s really worth spending time on in terms of marketability. I would love to see you do a webinar on this!

  91. Concept is king! Yes! Thank you for reminding us how important marketability is and for giving us some great questions to help us evaluate our own manuscripts. Like most people, my time is limited and I can’t afford to waste it on manuscripts that won’t sell. Thanks for the excellent post, Tara!

  92. Thank you for the great info, Tara! Marketability is a very important factor to promote our work as writers. Critique groups and exchange of ideas conduce to that, too! Congrats to you!

  93. Thank you, Tara! You are quite right that agents and publishers want to promote books that are marketable. As authors, we write books that inspire us and come from our hearts. We need to keep marketability in mind as well.

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