By Susan Kralovansky
I seem to keep finding a list of don’ts – things agents don’t like, or things editors don’t want to see, or the mistakes you don’t want to make if you want to succeed. I would like to share instead a list of Do’s that lead to success.
1. You do you. Some write first thing in the morning. Some after the kids are in bed. Some write every day, and some write after days of woolgathering. There isn’t one right way to do things so do what works best for you.
2. Do use those mentor texts. Read your favorite books. Study the beginnings and the endings. If you’re struggling with dialog, see how your favorite author handles dialogue. Study sentence structure and length. Study the page turns. See what makes the book work and why it works. Then apply everything you’ve learned to your own story.
3. Do keep yourself busy. Always be working on that next book or idea while you’re waiting to hear from that agent or editor.
4. Do be nice. Whether it’s your local writing group, your critique partner, a conference speaker, an editor or an agent - people talk, and word spreads about who’s great to work with and who’s not.
5. Do realize that feedback helps. You want your piece to be loved. You want to be told it’s perfect. But, trust your readers to find the imperfections. Accept the suggestions you think are valid, recognize the ones that you’ve heard more than once. Be open to criticism—it will make you a better writer.
6. Do cover the basics: Good spelling and sound grammar are what keeps that great story out of the recycling bin.
7. Do celebrate. Whether it’s another writer’s success or yours - take time to celebrate that new agent, book release, or even a few pages finished. Get up from that desk, enjoy the success and celebrate.
8. Do read. Read. Read. Read. Read the type of things your write and read books on the craft of writing.
9. Do give up … just for a little bit. Sometimes, your idea just isn’t working. Rather than spending weeks anguishing over solutions you can’t find, put it away. Remember Step 3? Keep yourself busy, move on to the next project, and in a month, a year, or even six years you can pull it out and possibly come up with the perfect solution to your problem.
Maybe you have your own Do’s that are part of your process. I’d love to hear them in the comments. Happy writing!
In a recent blog post I discussed the fact that terms for describing nonfiction are changing. The leader in this conversation among both writers and teachers is Melissa Stewart. Her articles on this topic over the last several years have resulted in some fairly new, but generally agreed upon, labels. In a December blog post we talked a bit about narrative nonfiction.
In this week’s post I want to tackle expository literature nonfiction. Expository literature nonfiction features a somewhat narrow topic in a creative way. And it uses engaging language with a strong, unique voice. It’s a style that works especially well for STEM topics.
While narrative nonfiction has a definite story arc, expository literature seeks to inform without a story narrative. In my experiences as an elementary teacher, I saw it happen again and again. Struggling readers are drawn to an expository literature style. They’re the bottom-line kinds of kids. (Just the facts, ma’am.) They read for information and tend to get lost if they have to find it in a story. They much prefer books that explain, describe, and inform them in a direct way.
Within the covers of an expository literature book, you’ll find a lot going on. A single page can include photos, diagrams, labels, captions, and fun facts all related to the topic discussed in the main text. In addition, you’ll likely find a table of contents, glossary, index, and a bibliography (list of references). These kinds of books are often quirky or funny—a quality kids (and big kids like me) love.
If Candace Fleming (Oops! Sorry, Candy. I forgot to hyperlink you in the December post.) is the recognized narrative nonfiction genius, then Melissa Stewart is the hands down Ninja favorite for expository literature. Melissa’s books have a distinctive voice and explore science topics in creative ways.
In Ick! Delightfully Disgusting Animal Dinners, Dwellings, and Defenses, Melissa ramps up the yuck factor by focusing on specific animal actions related to eating, making a home, and animal defense. The whole point is to make the reader to eeewwww a bit as they learn fascinating facts about the world around them.
Melissa’s Pipsqueaks, Slowpokes, and Stinkers: Celebrating Animal Underdogs showcases “animal underdogs” with some creative survival skills. True, these animals may not be the movie stars of the animal kingdom, but those characteristics that seem like weaknesses can be the very thing that helps an underdog survive.
In Seashells: More than a Home, Melissa uses layered text to show how seashells are homes to various sea animals. The secondary text discusses the unique characteristics of each shell, while labeled diagrams make the explanations crystal clear. All of Melissa’s books are wonderful and well worth your time.
But Melissa isn’t the only one doing this type of work. Recent years have seen a rapid growth in the number of expository literature nonfiction titles on the market. A few Ninja favorites in this category include:
What to Expect When You're Expecting Larvae: A Guide for Insect Parents (And Curious Kids) by Bridget Heos
Being Frog by April Pulley Sayre (and other books by this author including Warbler Wave)
Seeds Move! by Robin Page
Pink is for Blobfish by Jess Keating.
Sea Otter Heroes: The Predators That Saved an Ecosystem by Patricia Newman
Crow Smarts: Inside the Brain of the World's Brightest Bird by Pamela S. Turner
Death Eaters: Meet Nature's Scavengers by Kelly Milner Halls
Neighborhood Sharks by Katherine Roy
Grand Canyon by Jason Chin
Actual Size by Steve Jenkins
Some of the Ninjas have written books in an expository literature nonfiction style as well:
Plants Fight Back by Lisa Amstutz
At Home in Her Tomb: Lady Dai and the Ancient Chinese Treasures of Mawangdui by Christine Liu-Perkins
(Note: I mistakenly included Christine’s book in the narrative nonfiction post. This title is more accurately an expository literature nonfiction since the tomb is treated like a time capsule that examines each artifact as a part of life in ancient China.)
Extreme Sports: Motocross by Wendy Hinote Lanier
Dinosaur Devotions: 75 Dino Discoveries, Bible Truths, Fun Facts, and More! by Michelle Medlock Adams
By Christine Liu-Perkins
One of us recently became an agent in addition to being an author! Lisa Amstutz joined Storm Literary Agency, which represents children's authors and illustrators. Let's find out more about her new adventure.
Why did you decide to become a literary agent?
The idea sort of grew on me the past couple years after some conversations with Vicki Selvaggio at Storm Literary Agency. Along with writing, I’d been editing professionally for about eight years, working with both publishers and individual writers, and realized that my favorite parts of that job—helping manuscripts shine and writers succeed—were a big part of what an agent does. I went through training with Storm last year, and that experience confirmed my interest.
How does your experience as an author influence your approach as an agent?
Well, first of all, I know exactly how it feels to be in the querying trenches! I bring the knowledge I’ve gained from 15+ years studying the writing craft as well as my editorial experience to help my clients polish their work before it goes out on submission. I will also be building on the industry connections I made as an author, editor, and ARA of SCBWI: Ohio North.
Are there specific topics that interest you?
I’m not a good fit for anything dark, dystopian, or graphic. I love stories that help people connect with nature, promote sustainability, bring important bits of history to light, introduce kids to different cultures, and celebrate kindness, beauty, and truth.
What are you looking for in nonfiction projects?
I’m looking for writing that connects strongly with its target audience, whether that’s kids or adults. I love humor, lyricism, and heart, as well as stories that make me see something in a new way.
What do you want to see in a nonfiction proposal?
Pretty much the standard proposal format – include a synopsis, outline, sample chapters, comps, marketing opportunities, bio, etc. Basically, sell me on this book!
What qualities are you looking for in a client?
I’m looking for serious writers who want to build a writing career or are already established. I prefer to work with people who are professional and positive—no drama, please.
What advice can you give to people who want to break into the nonfiction market?
Study the market and figure out what’s selling right now. Today’s nonfiction is very different from the nonfiction most of us grew up with! Look for a “hook” of some kind that makes it more than a mere listing of facts. Make sure your text is 100% accurate, but told in a compelling way. Use techniques such as alliteration, onomatopoeia, lyricism, humor, etc. to make your story sing.
It can also be helpful to align your content with Common Core or NGS Standards, as many NF publishers target schools and libraries.
For many more tips, don’t miss NF Fest this month!
My bio and submission guidelines are at https://www.stormliteraryagency.com/aboutus. I’m currently closed to submissions except from conference attendees, but do hope to reopen later this year. For updates, follow me on Twitter: @LJAmstutz.
By Michelle Medlock Adams
Since it’s February—the month we celebrate love—I thought I’d share how I fell in love…with writing for children.
When I graduated from Indiana University with a journalism degree, I couldn’t wait to tackle those hard news stories and make a difference in the world. I had lots of confidence and curiosity—both personality traits needed to become an ace reporter—and so I got my chance writing for a daily newspaper in Southern Indiana. I started working the Police Beat, which was just one step above the obituary writer, and eventually secured a position covering city government and education.
I spent five years in those news reporter trenches before God led our family to Texas, and I began writing features and personality profiles for an international ministry magazine. Little did I know that move would change my life forever.
After a little while on the job, my boss came to me asked, “You have kids, right?”
“Yes,” I answered.
“Great, then you can write some kids stories for our children’s page.”
I remember thinking, “Just because I have kids doesn’t mean I know how to write for them.”
But…I was a journalist so I began researching the world of children’s literature and the craft of writing children’s books. The more I researched, the more I fell in love with this whimsical, enchanting genre. And as a journalist, I fell head over heels with the notion of writing nonfiction books for children.
That was more than 20 years and 100 books ago, but I’ve been lovesick ever since.
Creating stories for children—stories that teach, entertain, encourage, and inspire—it’s a noble calling. It’s a privilege that I don’t take for granted, and one that I cherish in my heart. Since you’re reading this blog, I’m guessing you feel the same. But I learned early on, not everyone shares our passion.
I’ll never forget the first time I encountered this truth. I attended a faculty mixer on the eve of a large writers conference, meeting my colleagues and chatting about the industry, when one woman asked, “So, what is it that you’ll be teaching?”
I smiled and said, “I’m teaching a continuing class about the wonderful world of writing for children.”
“Oh,” she mumbled. “You write children’s books…that’s nice.”
With that, she quickly turned her attention to a fellow novelist, and I stood there wondering what had just happened. Truly, I wasn’t as offended as I was shocked—shocked that she didn’t share my love and enthusiasm for children’s writing. But I couldn’t fault her. Not really.
After all, she wasn’t called to write for kids. She didn’t share our love for children’s literature. How could she possibly understand?
Now, I also write for adults, but my heart only pounds with enthusiasm when I am writing board books, picture books, middle grade, and YA manuscripts.
I bet you can relate.
Why do we love it so much? Maybe it’s because we get to encourage children to dream a little bigger, laugh a little harder, feel a little deeper, or care a little more. Or perhaps, because we are writers of nonfiction children’s books, it’s because we get to share true stories that need to be told to a readership eager to learn. We get to educate and inspire with every book we write.
What’s not to love?!
But if you have lost your passion for writing children’s books, reignite that flame by:
Happy Valentine’s Day. I hope your day is filled with roses and chocolates and new story ideas that make your heart pound a little harder.
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.