03 Nov

Storytelling Tip: Keep It Simple

I’ve written around 35 books, and a large part of my success has come from “hand-selling” (a direct sale between creator and customer). I have interacted with readers at special events, book signings, and, of course, comic book conventions. I’ve seen which of my books are irresistible and which are ignored. The big lesson I’ve learned is this:

The simpler the concept, the more likely the book will succeed.

Got it? Good! Let’s compare two picture books, both written by the same fabulously talented author. (Ahem, that’s me.) Book A was self-published on a small budget, poorly titled, slightly overpriced, with a cover that didn’t print quite right. Book B was illustrated by an Emmy-winning animator and was worked on by a team of publishing professionals, who helped to create the perfect cover, the perfect title, and a price that’s just right. Guess which one sells better for me.

Joe Lee and the Boo

Book A!

Why? Because when I describe it, I can say, “Joe Lee and the Boo is about a boy who uses the positive power of imagination to overcome his fear of monsters.” It’s a simple, uncomplicated concept.

Book B, on the other hand, takes some explaining.

Nature Squad: Bluebird Finds a Home

“Well, you see, the book is called Nature Squad: Bluebird Finds a Home. It’s about a team of talking animals. Together, they deal with environmental and conservation issues. In this story, they meet a bluebird that can’t find a place to live. Why? Because too many dead trees have been chopped down. The story is about how the Nature Squad helps the bluebird.”

Whoa! Try saying that without taking a breath.

Don’t get me wrong; both are very good books (if I do say so, myself). My point is that paying customers tend to gravitate toward the simpler concept.

For instance, a super-powered alien who fights the forces of evil, that’s easy to understand. But a kid who gets a different super power every time he listens to his magic headphones… and he can’t choose his super power… and he only gets one super power per day… well, that’s just too darn complicated.

If you can explain your concept in just a few words, you’re off to a great start. If you need a paragraph to get your point across, you might want to simplify it.