By Susie kralovansky
Celebrated during the fourth week of September, National Dog Week is a time to honor and celebrate our pets and best friends. Teachers, librarians, parents and grandparents can share a weeks worth of activities to teach children more about these wonderful animals.
After my last post about whether you need an agent, a reader posed a great question: How do you find a reputable agent who represents nonfiction (or any other genre)?
Here are some places to start:
1. Querytracker lists tons of agents and publishers. When you visit the site, you can search by genre, find contact info, see statistics about reply time, and more. The site also helps you track your submissions. There are other similar sites out there as well.
2. Look at resource guides such as Writer’s Market, Children’s Writers and Illustrators Market, and the SCBWI resource guide. Writers’ magazines like Writer’s Digest and The Writer often list agents and feature interviews as well.
3. Google is your friend! Find out who represents other authors in your genre by checking out their website or by searching (author’s name) and agent. If you’d like to learn more about a particular agent, check out their agency website and google interviews with them. Take a look at their social media and at www.manuscriptwishlist.com as well.
4. You may want to subscribe to Publishers Marketplace for a month to search agents and their sales. (It runs about $25/month.) Please note though that not all sales are reported to PM, and there can be a long delay before they’re reported.
5. Network. Ask questions in Facebook groups like NF Fest, or at SCBWI meetings. Talk to your writer friends about their agents. Be judicious in asking for referrals, though, so you don’t put your friends in an awkward position.
6. If an agent offers representation, it’s fine to take a little time to answer. They should be willing to provide referrals so you can talk to current clients if you wish.
This is certainly not an exhaustive list, but hopefully it gives you a start on researching agents. Feel free to drop any questions or other tips in the comment box below!
Lisa Amstutz is an associate literary agent with Storm Literary Agency and the author of more than 150 books. Her most recent titles include Mammal Mania and Plants Fight Back. Learn more at www.LisaAmstutz.com.
By Nancy Churnin
When you write biographies, it’s hard to resist the urge to list all the great things your main character has done. You want your readers to know about all your person’s fantastic accomplishments. But if your story reads like a list, readers will be overwhelmed or bored.
What’s the solution?
Find a child-friendly theme that addresses WHY your main character did what he or she did. And limit yourself, if you can, to accomplishments that fit that theme. All you want and can do in a picture book is open a door –a slice of life that makes children hungry for more.
At first, I struggled to find a theme for my biography of Henrietta Szold. This woman created the first night school in America, founded Hadassah, the first charity run by women, and saved 11,000 children during the Holocaust. As I researched, I began to understand why there had never been a picture book about her. There was too much to say!
My breakthrough came when I discovered Henrietta’s admiration of Queen Esther, the Biblical queen who spoke up and risked her life to save her people. Every year, Jewish children celebrate Queen Esther at joyous, kid-friendly Purim celebrations. They dress up in costumes, eat hamentashen, and shake groggers – noise makers.
What if my theme was how Henrietta tried to be like Queen Esther in trying to save her people in her own way? As soon as that light bulb went off, things fell into place. Henrietta called her charity Hadassah, which is the Hebrew name for Esther. When she traveled to Nazi Germany and pled for visas to save Jewish children, she, like Esther, was pleading with the powerful to save her people.
That theme led to the title: A Queen to the Rescue, the Story of Henrietta Szold, Founder of Hadassah.
Not only did this theme fit the story, it provided another takeaway. It’s great to admire heroic deeds done long ago, but what’s most important is to help others in our own lifetimes. Like Queen Esther, Henrietta saved her people in the way that people needed in the time in which she lived. And that encourages children to think of the good things they can do now.
Susie Kralovansky, August 2021
I’m honored to celebrate my fellow Ninjas and friends Michelle Medlock Adam’s and Wendy Lanier’s book birthday for PUPPY DOG DEVOTIONS. To commemorate their special day and the fact that we have all written dog books, today will be a double giveaway! One will receive a copy of PUPPY DOG DEVOTIONS, published by New Hope Kidz, and the other will receive my newest, WE REALLY, REALLY WANT A DOG! (more about that below).
My friends, Michelle and Wendy, are both powers to be reckoned with, so let’s get right to it.
Michelle, tell us about how this book came about for you.
I’ve been wanting to do this one for a while. I did a book with Tommy Nelson in 2018 called Dinosaur Devotions: 75 Dino Discoveries, Bible Truths, Fun Facts, and More! Although I wrote it, Wendy helped me brainstorm devotion ideas, took me to Dinosaur Valley State Park in Glen Rose, Texas, and helped me take photos for promotional use. When that book came out, we both thought it would be great to have a doggy version of it, and this is it!
Wendy, both of our books use dog photographs and illustrations. Had you planned those combinations all along?
From the beginning, Michelle and I knew we wanted to stick to a format similar to her Dinosaur Devotions book. But since this book is through a different publisher, we had a little more leeway. Originally, we hoped my dad would be able to do the dog drawings, too, but we finally settled on the dogs being photos and my dad doing all the spot artwork. My dad will be 90 this fall, so we’re both tickled that he could be part of this process.
Ladies, how did this collaboration come together?
Michelle – Wendy and I have talked about doing a book together for years. And almost every idea we’ve discussed had something to do with dogs. Her involvement with Dinosaur Devotions meant she was familiar with the type of content I was going for, and it seemed like the perfect first project together.
Wendy – Michelle and I have been friends for almost 20 years. We’ve talked about doing a book together many times. We finally hit on the right project at the right time to make it happen. We love Jesus and dogs, so it’s just a natural fit for us.
How did you decide which dogs to include?
We each called dibs on certain dogs right off the bat. Michelle wanted Dachshunds because she has owned at least one for most of her life. Wendy wanted Dalmatians because she and her parents have owned four over the years. From there we each just made a list of dogs we’d like to do and swapped lists to make sure we weren’t repeating any. It still happened though. We had to redo one because we both chose the same dog, but we worked it out.
Thank you, Michelle and Wendy for dropping by!
Thank you, Susie, for the opportunity to chat about our first (hopefully the first of many) book together!
MICHELLE MEDLOCK ADAMS is a bestselling author of more than 100 books, with close to four million books sold, including her award-winning titles, Dinosaur Devotions and Get Your Spirit On!: Devotions for Cheerleaders. Michelle is married to her high school sweetheart, Jeff. They have two married daughters, two grandsons, two granddaughters, a miniature dachshund named Mollie Mae, and a rescue dog named Bella Marie. Follow her at michellemedlockadams.com.
WENDY HINOTE LANIER is a Texan, dog lover, and only child who always wanted a puppy rather than a brother or sister. She is a former elementary teacher who writes and speaks for children and adults on a variety of topics and is the author of more than 50 books for children.
Susie here: As for my new dog book, I’m paws-itively thrilled with how We Really, Really Want a Dog! (Pelican Publishing) has been received. This lighthearted read-aloud describes a trip to the animal shelter to find that just-right family pet. Sidebars and back matter provide young readers with information on choosing and raising their dog. And, a donation will be made to animal shelters for every book sold.
To enter the giveaway, please leave a comment by September 1st, and I’ll pick three winners at random.
By Lisa Amstutz
“Do I need an agent?” I’m often asked this question by aspiring authors who are ready to start querying. It’s a good question. And the answer is…well, it depends.
It is certainly possible to sell your work directly to publishers – plenty of writers find success this way, and some prefer the DIY method. Most smaller houses are open to unagented submissions. You can also connect with editors from larger houses at conferences, Twitter pitch events, etc. So an agent is not strictly necessary.
Furthermore, if you’re self-publishing, writing articles, or doing work-for-hire projects, there is really no role for an agent in the process. And if your book is mainly of local interest or on a very niche topic, it will be difficult to interest an agent. You’ll want to look for a small press that will be a good fit and submit your work directly. The same holds true if you only plan to write one book.
However, if your goal is to build a writing career in the trade market, an agent can be very helpful. An agent can open doors for you and get your manuscript a closer look. They may help you edit your work. They will handle submissions and contracts so you can focus on other things. Overall, an agent is a business partner who provides advice, support, and vision for your writing career. And that may be exactly what you are looking for.
The truth is, though, that even getting an agent is no guarantee of success. Ultimately, writing success boils down to some combination of skill, tenacity, timing, and luck. So if you’re still in the query trenches, don’t let that hold you back. Keep learning and writing and putting your work out into the world. And agent or no agent, I have no doubt you will succeed!
Lisa Amstutz is the author of ~150 children’s books and an associate literary agent with Storm Literary Agency.
By Wendy Hinote Lanier
This is the fifth installment of a series of posts about five types of nonfiction based on the work of Melissa Stewart (we’ve already addressed the first four). Today’s post is about the fifth type: browseable nonfiction.
(Side note: The spelling of browseable appears to be fluid. I’ve checked several sources. But, for the purposes of this post, I’ve chosen to use the one from Melissa Stewart’s new book The Five Kinds of Nonfiction.)
As a former elementary teacher, I have often noted that browseable nonfiction is especially appealing to reluctant or struggling readers. This is probably due to a format that offers tons of photos and illustrations, short blocks of text, and lets the reader skip around without losing any meaning. It’s great for reading and discussion with a reading buddy. And, while the writing style is generally expository, it packs a lot of information into small bite-sized bits.
Ninja favs in this category include the following:
Tim Flannery’s Weird, Wild, Amazing! books cover such topics as animals, forests, and oceans. Each page is packed with questions, amazing facts, and information about animals on land and in the sea. Colorful drawings depict creatures from around the world. And the conversational text reveals little known facts about well-known animals while introducing the reader to some they’ve never heard of before.
The Bible Explorer’s Guide by Nancy I. Sanders allows readers to get up close and personal with everyday life during Bible times through photos, maps, and illustrations of the people, places, and buildings of the Bible. Brief text and full-color photos reveal what the people and events of the Bible were really like.
Anna Claybourne’s 100 Most series are another Ninja favorite. The topics included are just the sort that kids love since the gross and/or fear factors are pretty high. Amazing photographs depict natural and man-made wonders—each with an awesome rating that ranges from “cool” to “completely awesome.”
By Peggy Thomas
For anyone who is leery of leaping into nonfiction writing, I’d like to suggest Nonfiction-lite. Adding a nonfiction element to your fictional project. One way is by adding nonfiction back matter. This works especially well if there is an historic or scientific element to your story.
For example, in How Fire Ants Got Their Fire, a fictional origin story, fellow Ninja Susan Kralovansky added a recipe for the main character’s “prizewinnin’ chili.” But what I like most is the creative way that she included facts about fire ants on the end pages. Each fact is displayed on a chili pepper.
My good friend Kathleen Blasi’s sweet story called Milo’s Moonlight Mission follows the main character, Milo, as he helps his mother do all of her chores so she can accompany Captain Milo on his space launch. But when they hear about a meteor storm, they prepare for a new mission. Based on a real experience, Kathy added back matter that explains what a comet is and when to watch the Leonid Meteor shower each year. There is even a call to action as she asks readers if they will set their alarm to watch the next one.
One more example comes from fellow Ninja Lisa Amstutz. Her picture book called, Finding a Dove for Gramps, follows a boy and his mother as they participate in the Christmas Bird Count. Tension rises when the one bird they most hope to find proves elusive. In the back matter Lisa added a short description of the Bird Count, how to join, and most fun of all, a checklist of birds so readers can join in the hunt.
Adding nonfiction back matter to a fictional story adds educational value that librarians and teachers love, and added sales value that editors appreciate.
So, what kind of back matter could you add to your writing project? A recipe, craft, game, fun facts, background info, call to action…?
Leap in! Nonfiction is fun!
Peggy Thomas is the author of dozens of award-winning nonfiction titles including Lincoln Clears a Path.
by Christine Liu-Perkins
Powerful nonfiction draws readers in by exploring some aspect of being human. As Susan Rabiner & Alfred Fortunato wrote, ". . . you find your narrative by humanizing your story" (Thinking Like Your Editor, p. 192).
Even in writing about science and nature, "Create a connection between your subject and your reader's life," advised Margery Facklam and Peggy Thomas (Anatomy of Nonfiction, p. 155).
I learned the value of building on a human connection when I was assigned to write about the Temple of Heaven located in Beijing. My first draft described the temple's architecture and its (very cool) hidden symbolism. I used lively language and a sense of progression. I included wow-type details. Surely readers would find the temple as awesome as I did.
But in reading it over, I sensed that draft still lacked something. It was dry; it was boring. What was missing?
I pulled back and started wondering, WHO used the temple? What did they use it for?
I dug deeper into the research. The answer was emperors. Considered to be mediators between heaven and earth, the emperors themselves performed ceremonies at the Temple of Heaven. These ceremonies involved three days of fasting and mental preparation, a parade of some 3,500 people, and elaborate sequences of offerings and prayers.
Eureka! Here was the focus I needed to help readers connect to the temple. Describing the emperor's actions and his desire for heaven's blessings brought the article to life and gave readers a way to feel the significance of the temple.
Question for you: in your current project, can you amplify a human connection to deepen the reader's experience?
By Nancy Churnin
Find your passion. And let one thing lead to another.
I write books about people I fall in love with -- someone I want kids to know about. Sometimes that passion leads me to unlikely places.
I don’t remember who I went the library to research when my mind drifted to Charles Dickens. Now, I had no intention of writing a book about Charles Dickens – there are already excellent picture books about him, including Deborah Hopkinson’s 2012 A Boy Called Dickens.
But then I stumbled on this: a Jewish woman, Eliza Davis, had written to him, reproaching him for creating Fagin in Oliver Twist, telling him this ugly character was hurtful and unfair to the Jewish community. I read that her letters changed his heart toward Jewish people. And I felt time stop.
Growing up as a Jewish girl, it hurt me to read the character of Fagin. Now, as a Jewish woman, it was empowering to learn that a Jewish woman spoke up and changed his heart. Talk about validating the power of words. It felt like the universe telling me to use my words to change the world for good, too.
The research wasn’t easy. I had to track down the correspondence. My librarian at the Plano Public Library discovered there were few copies, but one was in Denton, Texas, of all places – less than an hour drive away, at the University of North Texas. I contacted the university’s librarian and was put in touch with the professor who had donated it. I became friends with Professor Don Vann and his wife, the lovely and now, sadly, late Dolores Vann. The Vanns helped me with my research and put me in touch with two other Dickens scholars, Professor Murray Baumgarten and Professor David Paroissien.
I let one thing lead to another. I followed my passion. And I revised innumerable times. Because it took years to find a home for this unusual story.
But it was worth it. Because on Oct. 1, Dear Mr. Dickens, illustrated by Bethany Stancliffe, published by Albert Whitman, comes into the world. And when I hold this book in my hands and share it with kids, you’ll see the look of love in my eyes.
By Stephanie Bearce
Nonfiction writers LOVE teachers!
We share the same passion for learning, the same curiosity about the world, and have the same desire to connect with children.
We also want to connect with each other!
As nonfiction writers it is important for us to know what's going on in the clasroom. How can we help teachers teach and children learn? What stories do teachers and students want to read? Building partnerships with teachers is an important part of being a nonfiction writer.
Speaking at teacher conferences is a wonderful way for writers to connect with educators. As the the world opens up from the pandemic, in-person conferences are returning and so are the speaking opportunities. Teacher organizations like the National Science Teaching Association, National Council for the Social Studies, National Council of Teachers of English, and the American Library Association have annual calls for speaking proposals. If you've written a nonfiction book propsal - then you can write a successful speaking proposal! Speaking at national conferences helps you gain new audiences for your books and expand your platform, but if going to a national conference is not in your budget, consider writing proposals to speak at regional conferences.
Most conferences open their submission window immediately after the current conference ends. Go to the website of the conference you are interested in and note the conference dates. Then keep a close eye out for their instructions and forms.
It does take effort, but presenting at education conferences is one of the best ways to connect with educators and share your passion for learning.
Here are some conferences that might intereste Nonfiction Authors:
National council Teachers of Mathematics
Council for Exceptional Children Conference
NCSS Annual Conference
International Conference on Visual and Performing Arts Education
International Conference on Multiculturalism and Bilingual Education
International Conference on Mathematics Education and Technology
We are nonfiction authors who support readers and writers through our writing, author visits, and workshops.
The Nonfiction Ninjas are a group of writers with diverse ideas and a strong belief in The First Amendment. The views expressed in each post are those of the author and may differ from others in the group.