Ideas are just ideas – it’s how you write the story that matters

Updated: Jun 14

I want to discuss one of the questions I get asked most by authors who have started writing their first book, or simply have an idea but aren’t sure if they should write it. And that question is...

Is this a good idea for a children’s book?

Quite honestly, I don’t even need to hear the idea to give an answer. So long as the content isn’t inappropriate, there’s usually merit in the idea. It might be brilliant, a little unusual or off the wall, but every successful book will have started with an idea – many with ideas that probably sounded a bit ridiculous.

But ideas are only a small part of writing a children’s book. Once you have an idea, you have to write it – and this is what actually matters. Only once a book is written is it possible to determine if the idea was well-executed, or not. So to make it clear: it’s not about the idea for the story, it’s about how the story is written.

This is why I encourage authors to not get hung up on whether their ideas are good or bad. Let’s assume there’s no such thing as a bad idea (in all my time editing I’ve only been pitched a couple books that I had to immediately shoot down due to inappropriate content). So if I can guarantee that you have a good idea, what’s stopping you from writing it?

But there’s another point with ideas that I want to discuss, and that is...

What if someone steals my story idea?

To put it simply: you can't steal an idea. This isn’t possible when it comes to just an idea. A good way to understand this is to think of a less artistic product. Anyone could come up with the idea of an electric car. However, I can’t walk into a patent office and say, “I want to patent a car that runs on electricity.” It’s not specific enough for them, and it's pointless if I haven't even designed the car. But the actual technology or design can be patented – that is, the execution of the idea.

It’s the same case with books and artistic endeavours. You can't copyright an idea - you can only copyright a written text. Ten people could have the same idea to write a book about dragons at a birthday party, but you will still end up with ten different stories, even though there will be similarities. Ask ten people to draw the same tree, and all those drawings will look different, too. But each work is individually protected.

You could even have thought of an idea for a children’s book only to realise there’s another story out there that tackles that subject. But remember that you are an individual and will bring your own perspective to the story. Think of how many adaptations of Goldilocks and the Three Bears there are – and there will continue to be well into the future.

So let’s go back to that question again… if you have an idea, and I can tell you that it’s not bad and it’s ok if there are other books out there that cover the same topic, what’s holding you back from writing it?

Until you actually put words onto the page, you’ll never know if the execution of your idea is good enough. And one more time for clarity: there is no such thing as a bad idea for a children's book (so long as it's child-appropriate, of course)!

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