During the recent Miami SCBWI conference, I attended a workshop with literary agent Erin Murphy and her client Audrey Vernick. The topic was quiet books.
What exactly is a quiet book? It's the opposite of a high concept book, (e.g. vampires). If you hear that an author wrote a vampire book, you're pretty sure of what the book will be about...romance with a vampire. On the other hand, a quiet book is hard to summarize in one sentence. Quiet books are often about relationships, sometimes they're historical. These kind of books are harder to sell and harder to market.
Ms. Murphy spoke about ways to make a quiet book louder. She used Lisa Schroeder's book, IT'S RAINING CUPCAKES, as an example. This book is technically a quiet book. It's about the relationship between a mother and her daughter. Sounds like a hundred other books, right? But the author made this book more interesting by its unusual setting: many scenes take place in a cupcake shop. The publisher was able to use this setting as a marketing hook. The cover is pink with cupcakes to appeal to tween girls.
Ways to Make A Quiet Book Louder:
1. Add a hook. (e.g. THE EXPRESSOLOGIST by Kristina Springer - main character is a barista)
2. Really unique setting. (e.g. IT'S RAINING CUPCAKES)
3. Glamorize the situation. (e.g. THE PRESIDENT'S DAUGHTER by Ellen Emerson White)
4. Wish fulfillment (e.g. ANNA and the FRENCH KISS by Stephanie Perkins)
5. Have the character make a really bad choice. (STORY OF A GIRL by Sara Zarr)
I developed a reading list of both picture books and novels from Ms. Murphy's workshop. Check out the following titles for quiet books that were loud enough to find success in the marketplace.
LOOKING FOR ALASKA by John Green
CLEMENTINE by Sara Pennypacker
THE SKY IS EVERYWHERE by Jandy Nelson (Erin Murphy's favorite book of the season)
THE PENDERWICKS by Jeanne Birdsall
TOYS GO OUT by Emily Jenkins
A CROOKED KIND OF PERFECT by Linda Urban
JULIA GILLIAN by Alison McGhee
STORY OF A GIRL by Sara Zarr
THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER by Stephen Chbosky
TRIGGER by Susan Vaught
PENNY DREADFUL by Laurel Snyder
RED GLASS by Laura Resau
AMAZING MORNING ON ORANGE STREET by Joanne Rocklin
ADIOS, NIRVANA by Conrad Wesselhoeft
SOMEDAY THIS PAIN WILL BE USEFUL TO YOU by Peter Cameron
SOMEDAY by Alison McGhee
NOTES FROM A LIAR AND HER DOG by Gennifer Choldenko
Quiet books are my favorite books to read and to write. This workshop gave me lots to contemplate as I plot my next novel. Audrey Vernick writes quiet books too. Be on the lookout for her upcoming novel, WATER BALLOON.
If you've read any of the books on the list, I'd like to hear your opinion. Or if you write quiet books, I'd be interested in hearing about your experiences.