Nonfiction writers can get discouraged when they ask librarians about the books kids ask for most, especially when the answer is: “Anything with unicorns. Or super heroes. Or fairy princesses."
How can nonfiction compete? Why bother digging through historical records, consulting with experts, cross-checking minute details about food and weather and clothing in the time and place of your story when kids are clamoring for glittery stuff that breaks all the rules?
The answer is that you’re not competing. Nonfiction is part of a well-balanced reading diet. Kids are always going to want dessert. We are all always going to want dessert. But we also need protein and vegetables and fiber. Nonfiction, packed with wholesome facts, helps build a clear vision of who we have been as a species and gets kids thinking about who we can be going forward.
Stories about unicorns and super heroes and fairy princesses, which I love as much as the kids do, allow them to soar and pluck whipped cream pies off trees of wonder.
Some fanciful tales will prove surprisingly nourishing, with themes that go straight to the heart and help kids navigate the world of feelings and spirit. Others will just be delicious like an ice cream cone with sprinkles and that’s good, too. Imagination is the ingredient that makes many of the nonfiction heroes and heroines reach beyond the limitations of their lives to do the great things that fill our stories.
Kids need wonder. We all do.
But while a protein and vegetable plate may not be glamorous, it’s needed for young, growing minds and bodies. So do your research, your fact checking and your seemingly endless revisions with joy, knowing that you are doing your part to raise strong, resilient kids. But don’t begrudge them their unicorns or super heroes or fairy princesses. Enjoy the light in their eyes as they marvel and laugh. And be glad we’re part of a large community of writers, with each of us contributing a needed ingredient to a recipe too big and grand for any of us individually to see.
Eva Shaw, author of Ghostwriting: How to Get Into the Business beautifully sums up the heart of being a ghostwriter. She writes, “You put your ego aside to perform an invaluable service, write brilliant words, produce wonderful copy, and work harder than anyone believes is humanly possible.”
Yep, that pretty much describes every ghostwriting assignment I’ve ever had but I’d also add—the hard work is totally worth it. And, ghostwriting isn’t just reserved for those of us who write nonfiction for adults; children’s writers are often called upon to ghostwrite for celebrities, politicians, TV personalities, and even ministers of megachurches.
The 411 on Ghostwriting
Definition: Ghostwriters are behind-the-scenes writers. Unnoticeable. Usually unnamed, though you can sometimes get a “with” on the cover if negotiated in the contract. And, ordinarily, well paid. Yay!
Duties: A ghostwriter writes on an assigned topic, under someone else's name, with that person’s consent and input. Some of the clients I’ve worked with are very involved—talking through every line of the manuscript—and others, not so much. Each client is different, and every assignment is a challenge.
Why so challenging, you ask? Well, if you’re like me, you’ve worked very hard your entire career to find your voice. In ghostwriting, you are asked to lose your voice and find the client’s voice. You have to wear an entirely different hat.
Marketing Yourself As A Ghostwriter
Get a Website: Develop a website that tells what services you offer, comments from satisfied clients (you can use first names only), your bio, etc. Or, simply add a drop down ghostwriting menu on your existing website.
Get a Brochure: Vistaprint.com is a very inexpensive way to put together a professional-looking brochure that touts your writing skills and ghostwriting services. Carry the brochures with you because you never know when or where you’ll encounter your next ghostwriting client.
Talk it Up: When you’re at conferences, let publishers and agents know you offer ghostwriting services specializing in nonfiction children’s articles and books. Because I do this, I’ve had more than one agent contact me with high-profile clients in need of a ghost.
Also, talk it up on social media and list it under your skills on LinkedIn. You might even consider advertising yourself on www.upwork.com as a ghostwriter for children’s projects.
Join a Ghostwriters National Association/Group: http://associationofghostwriters.org/why-join/
This is just one of several associations/groups geared specifically for ghostwriters.
Ghostwriting is quite lucrative, so if you’re not married to that coveted cover credit, go for it! It’s a great way to make money, meet some very interesting people, and tell some amazing stories—even if they aren’t yours.
When I was a kid, I loved to go fishing with my grandparents. On a good day we’d bring home a mess of bluegill or catfish for breakfast the next morning.
Looking back, it seems that good anglers and good writers have a few things in common:
1. They learn from others. Like fishing, the craft of writing has a big learning curve. You likely won’t land a big contract the first time you toss your line out. Just as you might take tips from a more experienced angler, you can shorten your writing learning curve by seeking out more experienced authors, taking classes, attending conferences, and finding a good critique group.
2. They use the right bait. Successful anglers spend a lot of time choosing just the right bait or lure for their target fish species. Think of your submissions as your bait. Start by making them irresistible. And don’t send them out scattershot—take the time to research each agent or editor you are querying and make sure your submission is the right fit for them.
3. They keep their line in the water. If you pull out your line and there’s nothing on it, the best thing to do is to check your bait and toss it right back in. Writers need to do this too. If you get a rejection, don't let it stop you in your tracks. Consider any feedback carefully, and then send your story out again. It may take a lot of tries to hook an agent or editor, but it’ll never happen if you don’t keep your hook—that is, your book—out there.
4. They are patient. Like fishing, writing takes a lot of time and patience. But if you stick with it and keep improving your craft, you’re bound to find success eventually!
Ninjas need to be swift, self-disciplined, and focused. They can't waste time. Nonfiction writers can benefit from similar practices.
When my children were young, I learned to fit writing into the corners of a busy schedule: during 15 minutes in waiting rooms, 20-minute nap times, 30-minute swim lessons, 45-minute music lessons. Amazingly, I got lots of writing done in those short but precious periods of time. How?
By focusing on small but significant tasks. By thinking strategically. By writing in sprints.
Knowing I have a limited period of time helps me concentrate on a single task, focusing my energy and attention. With a block of several hours, I can fool myself and fritter away an hour "warming up" or surfing the Web. But with only 30 minutes? I’m racing against the clock.
Even when I'm not waiting for someone, I can set a timer for 15 or 30 minutes to do a writing sprint. The key to making this period productive is to focus on one small, specific task that can be accomplished in that short time span.
What can be done in short sprints of focused writing? Here are a few ideas:
Revising and Editing
Try mixing in sprints with your writing marathons. Like interval training in physical exercise, doing short, intense bursts of activity can build up your writing muscles and increase your productivity.
I love doing work for hire. It increases my writing portfolio, helps me explore new topics, and keeps a paycheck coming to my mailbox. But I’ve heard many authors scoff at doing work for hire.
“If it’s not my idea, I don’t want to write it.”
"There are too many rules.”
“The deadlines are too short.”
“It feels like being back in school.”
Let’s take the last excuse first. Being back in school is a GOOD thing! I’ve learned so many things from my WFH editors. They taught me how to stay within word count, write to a certain readability score, and meet a short deadline. I learned how to negotiate with an editor, proof galleys, and follow the publisher’s guidelines. These are all skills that are taught in writing classes and workshops. Guess what? I got paid to learn those lessons!
And as far as being assigned a topic – I think of it as a learning adventure. I’ve discovered how hybrid cars work and how solar panels are constructed. I know about tsunamis, guinea pigs, and container gardens. The big bonus is that researching a new topic often gives me ideas for my own projects.
WFH is starting to sound better and better, isn’t it? If you are up for a writing adventure take a look at these websites. Trust me – you’ll be glad you joined the WFH team. I know I am.
Evelyn Christensen has a great site with links to WFH publishers.
Harold Underdown gives the low down on book packagers.
Editorial Freelancers Association has excellent resources.
Molly Blaisdell provides a solid list of publishers and packagers.
*Work for Hire – when a publisher hires an author to write a book on a specific subject for a predetermined audience.
We are eleven authors who support readers and writers through our writing, author visits, and workshops.
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.
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