Top 10 Picture Book Topics to Avoid


Stiff Competition for These Picture Book Topics

Dial editor, Liz Waniewski (ONE–es-key) spoke at the Arkansas SCBWI 2007 conference. For a couple months before the conference, she kept track of her slush pile picture book submissions by category. This resulted in my 2007 posting 12 Picture Book Topics to Avoid, one of the more popular posting in the 30 Days to a Stronger Picture Book series

Two years later, in 2009, I asked her if she would update the list; again, Liz kept track of her submissions for a month. Many topics were repeated, but she added five more topics that she saw too often. Recent spot checks confirm that these are still topics with stiff competition that you should avoid.

Topics too common. It’s not that these topics are taboo. Instead, they are so common that you must really rise above the competition to be accepted. Good examples of these topics are given, because we need to know our competition.

Or as Waniewski put it, “Just because I see these topics many times doesn’t mean you can’t write about it.” However, the competition is very stiff for picture books in these categories and your submission should really stand out in today’s crowded marketplace.” Knowing that many others writers are working on these topics, should make us either avoid them entirely, or take our manuscript to that next level.

1. First Day at School. 19 Girls and Me by Darcy Pattison.
2. Cleaning up your room. Clean Your Room, Harvey Moon by Pat Cummings.
3. Tooth fairy. The Bear’s Toothache by David McPhail. A Little Brown editor once commented that this book has been in print continuously for 20 years and is still a steady seller for them. She said she’d love to see books that address kid-friendly topics in such a unique way. NOT strictly a tooth fairy book, because the fairy is just implied at the end. Still–it’s a book about losing teeth and it’s competition if you write this kind of story.
4. Christmas/Halloween
5. Wanting a pet
6. Dealing with a disability (thus, message-driven)
7. “Hi! My name is. . . and I am (seven) years old!”
8. Visiting Grandma and Grandpa
9. New baby Favorites.
10. Barnyard stories (! She wasn’t sure why she was getting barnyard stories, but there they were! Rural nostalgia?) Farmer McPeeper and his Missing Milk Cows by Katy Duffield
11. Bedtime stories. Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown.
12. Personal hygiene. Everyone Poops (My Body Science Series) by Taro Gomi


1. Monsters acting un-monster-like

2. Going Green

3. “I Love You” stories. You are My I Love You by Maryann Cusimano

4. Boredom

5. Baby Bird Learning to Fly


Look for books that would compete with the topic you want to write about. Compare your idea with what’s already out there: How does your book differ? What makes it unique? Why should someone choose your book over those on your competition list?

Write the Story
Using the planning sheets as a guide, write the story. Just write it. That’s it. Write just like you would normally write any story. Keep in mind that you want it to be short and you’ll leave visual details to the illustrator, but, otherwise, write the story. In this First Draft, Don’t Worry About Vocabulary. Picture book vocabulary doesn’t have to be limited, because usually an adult is reading the story to a child. Don’t limit yourself on this first draft.

Style. Just relax and write.

Length. Remember you’re writing a picture book, which implies you’ll write short. But how short doesn’t matter much on this first draft, unless you go over 10 typed double-spaced pages. Just write.

The online video course expands on the idea of finding the best ideas to develop into a picture book. Check it out!

1 Comment
  • Jeanine Norris
    July 24, 2009

    Great info – thanks! Posting your link on my blog. Seems I have a habit of writing what is popular! My published PB is a Christmas book and currently under consideration is a barnyard book…