The Secret Art of Brainstorming

No. 167 on the “What No One Tells You about Being an Editor” list is this: Our job is 60-70% brainstorming. In the case of Lerner Publications, at least, we start brainstorming about books years before they exist. We brainstorm possible content, titles, authors, trim size, strategies for responding to criticism from Rush Limbaugh, you name it. Recently I spent an hour in a titling meeting, where top editorial and marketing brains (and I) came together to decide on the most effective titles for our next batch of First Step Nonfiction books.

Not these; this series (Sports Are Fun!)
is already on the shelves. Check it out.

No. 542 on the “Things You’d Think Would Be Easy but Aren’t” list is First Step Nonfiction books. They’re 24 pages long, contain all of 50 words, and are an incredibly delicate tightrope to walk. They have to be
  • accessible to kids
  • accessible to teachers
  • in line with teaching standards for the subject
  • in line with reading levels for their grade range (K-2)
  • as engaging (i.e., non-boring) as possible
Now take those criteria and apply them to the titleof each book. I’ll be back for you in an hour.
The results can be mixed. We might end up with a book called How I Feed My Dog Healthy Snacks While I Ride My Bike. And we might end up with one called Kale. Nobody said we were shooting for the Pulitzer with these. But the bottom line is that if it’s what teachers need, we’ve done our job.
So what have I learned about the ancient, indispensable practice of brainstorming?
  • Embrace the straightforward. Don’t get hung up on being cutesy or catchy. Does it clearly tell the reader what the book’s about? Mission accomplished.
  • On the other hand, do be willing to think outside the box. The school/library market has 1.3 zillion books called My Cat. Don’t be afraid to try something with a clever or original twist, if it doesn’t get confusing.
  • Be patient. Rome was not named in a day. First Romulus and Remus had to fight to the death over it.
  • Tangents, in moderation, are harmless and even good for you. Like dark chocolate. Sometimes a brief jaunt off the topic is just what you need to gain fresh perspective. Hmm, dark chocolate….
  • No idea goes to waste. (See below.)

Not an appropriate title for the FSN book in question,
but don’t you think it has potential for another imprint?

  • This isn’t about us; it’s about the reader. If you can settle on something the reader will understand and—fingers crossed—find intriguing, slap it with the stamp of approval and don’t look back.
  • Eat your lunch before the meeting starts.