By Susie Kralovasky
there are so many mysteries in writing, whether you're on your first book or your hundredth. This month, I decided to collect the biggest surprise in the publishing process from the Nonfiction Ninjas.
I was surprised that editors/agents have a different concept of "time" than writers do. To me, "soon" is about 2 weeks. To them, it can mean 2 weeks to 6 months. Or longer! And when they ask how long it will take me to complete a project, I'm thinking 8-12 months. And they ask if 12 weeks is enough time. And I say yes. And do it. How do you cope while you wait for a reply? You just keep writing.
Wendy Hinote Lanier
I never dreamed it would be so hard to find your GROUP. We all recognize the need for a good critique group, but finding one is another matter altogether. I am eternally grateful to Pat Miller and Christine Liu Perkins for sending out a call to nonfiction writers several years ago. From our first meeting, I knew I'd found IT...that elusive blend of people who encourage you, inspire you, and provide the honest feedback you need. The Nonfiction Ninjas have been the one thing that keeps me writing. Without them, I'm fairly certain I would have given up by now.
Christine Liu Perkins
Michelle Medlock Adams
I think my biggest surprise was the difference in going through the publishing process with various publishers. Some that I’ve worked with have been very good to include me in the process from beginning to end. For instance, I am currently working with Endgame Press on a Christmas picture book, “Dachshund Through the Snow” and the publisher has allowed me to be involved at every turn. I was even allowed to see the storyboards and offer art suggestions. Yet, when I have worked with some of the very large publishing houses, I never saw anything after I turned in my manuscript. In fact, in a few cases, I didn’t even see the cover art or any of the artwork until my author copies arrived. I just never realized when I began this journey over 20 years and 100 books ago that my involvement in the whole book publishing process could be so different depending on the publisher.
My biggest surprise was how much patience It requires. Coming from the world of journalism where everything is fast, faster, fastest, and needed yesterday, it has been an adjustment to live in a world where people expect you to wait, deliberate, and take time planning for tomorrow. What I have learned to love about the slower pace is how it helps us carefully and collaboratively craft books that last.
My biggest surprise has been the insecurity of the business. I thought that once I had several books published I would feel like my career was established. But in reality each book is a separate project and is evaluated on it's own merit. It's like applying for a job over and over again. And it's always a job I want!
Susan Holt Kralovansky
I was also surprised by everything my fellow Ninjas said, but marketing was my biggest surprise. I thought that when I signed the contract, I was free to move on to another project. I had no idea that I was an important element of the marketing team. And, another surprise, after that initial shock, I realized that I love marketing – and this is from a girl who hated selling anything, even her Girl Scout cookies!
Susan Kralovansky is the author of We Really, Really Want a Dog! (Pelican Publishing, 2021)
By Stephanie Bearce
Writing is all about finding and falling in love with a story. Sometimes it is a forgotten story like Peggy Thomas' book Full of Beans: Henry Ford Grows a Car, or Linda Skeers' Dinosaur Lady: The Daring Discoveries of Mary Anning, The First Palentologist. Other times it is a story that the world has never heard and needs to know like Nancy Churnin's Manjhi Moves a Mountain, or Pat Miller's The Hole Story of the Doughnut.
These books are great examples of authors discovering true facts and truning them into narrative stories that both inform and enlighten the reader.
So - you may be wondering where the heck is MY great story? Where do I find that undiscovered hero or that hidden bit of history?
This is your lucky day!
I've been digging around and I've got a treasure trove of sites for you to visit and explore. Hopefully you will find a story that sparks your curiosity and gives you the AHA! moment you need to start your next project.
Famous Scientists - A comprehensive list of astronomers, biologists, mathematicians, and geologists from ancient times to the present.
Accidental Science - Sometimes accidents in the lab lead to great discoveries.
Unsolved Mysteries - Reader's Digest provides an interesting list of strange but true events.
Weird History Facts - This list is a great starting point for story ideas. You must supply the research.
Famous Female Scientists - list of 91 famous women scientists
Forgotten History - 10 history stories not taught in school
Historic Women - Legends of America you may not know
Women who changed history - 17 female heroes
African American Inventors - From Lewis Lattimer to Dr. Patricia Bath
Inspiring Asian Americans - 130 Asian Americans and their stories
Famous Hispanic and Latino Americans - A comprehensive List
By Wendy Hinote Lanier
In previous Ninja Notebook posts about types of nonfiction, we’ve talked about two: narrative and expository literature nonfiction. Candace Fleming is considered the queen of narrative nonfiction among the Ninjas, while Melissa Stewart holds that title with regard to expository literature.
Because we are, after all, the Nonfiction Ninjas, we talk about nonfiction a lot. It’s something near and dear to our hearts. But our conversations are about all kinds of nonfiction, not just narrative and expository literature.
A type of nonfiction that doesn’t get a lot of attention from the awards people and maybe isn’t considered as “sexy” as other types of nonfiction is active nonfiction. Formerly referred to as “how-to” books, I can assure you, kids love them. Next time you’re in your local library, conduct a little test. Trot yourself over to the children’s nonfiction section and do a slow turn up and down those aisles. Take note of the most worn books. What kind of nonfiction are they? Dollars to doughnuts, the majority will be active nonfiction.
Active nonfiction isn’t new. Believe it or not, it was around even when I was the class librarian in the third grade. But in the last 20 years or so, this genre has definitely come its own. (FYI. I was in third grade more than 20 years ago.) (Ok. A lot more.) Inspired by the maker movement, and pushed along by improvements in the publishing process, the topics kids are interested in learning about have expanded. As a result, books that explain how to do an activity in clear, straightforward language have exploded in popularity.
Active nonfiction books encourage discovery, experimentation, and creativity in readers. These types of books include how-to guides, field guides, cookbooks, craft books, and science experiment books. They are written in an expository style and don’t have to be read from front to back. It’s a style that lets readers skip around in favor of topics or activities that interest them.
Some of the favorites among the Ninjas in this category are:
Wildlife Ranger Action Guide by Mary Kay Carson
Wildlife Ranger Action Guide provides dozens of hands-on activities and habitat creation projects, such as making a frog pond from a kiddie pool, planting a pollinator garden for bees, painting a bat house, and building a lodge for lizards. Kids are encouraged to learn about and take an active role in protecting local wildlife starting right in their own backyard.
Step by Step Projects: How to Make an Ant Farm (and other books in the Step by Step series)
The Step by Step series is produced by Rourke Educational Media. Kids can learn to make an ant farm, a piñata, and more in these easy-to-follow step by step instructional books.
The Dangerous Book for Boys by Conn Iggulden
A best-selling book with 1.5 million copies sold, The Dangerous Book for Boys is the original Boy 101 book. It covers everything from rope tying to learning to fish to understanding the mysteries of girls. It’s the quintessential guide to the stuff every boy (from eight to eighty) should know. Its sequel is The Double Dangerous Book for Boys.
The Worst-Case Scenario Survival Handbooks
These books feature kid-friendly how-tos for just about any situation a kid might encounter. In middle school or out in the world. They provide funny but really useful information for navigating a kid’s world.
There are also a number of titles written by Nonfiction Ninjas that fit (if somewhat loosely) into the active nonfiction category, too. The following Ninja titles have at least some activities included.
From Lisa Amstutz
From Peggy Thomas
From Michelle Medlock Adams
From Susie Kralovansky
By Peggy Thomas
You do not have to be a scientist to write science stories for kids. My background is in anthropology, yet I’ve written about the brain, artificial intelligence, animal behavior, natural history, bacteriology, volcanology and lots of other -ologies. All you need to know is where to find the accurate information that is essential to the genre.
I avoid internet sources that have tons of pop-ups, lack an “about” page or any other verifiable identity. I do, however, love to cruise the weird but true and top ten lists on my newsfeed, but only for story ideas. My go-to reliable sources include Scientific American, National Geo, Smithsonian, Science News, and of course journal articles.
Did you know all scientific journals are not equal? There are some journals that are considered predatory. Scientists pay to be included, and there is not much peer review going on. Beall’s List, https://beallslist.net/, names many of these predatory journals, as does the website: predatoryjournals.com/journals/
Journals that are published by Wiley, PLOS, Elsevier, Sage, and Taylor & Frances are peer-reviewed and every article has to meet certain standards. You can always rely on Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, American Academy for the Advancement of Science, PLOS (Public Library of Science) and New England Journal of Medicine, just to name a few.
Many of these journals charge a hefty fee, so utilize your college libraries and public libraries to get access, because it stinks when you find the paper you need but can’t read it. Sometimes you can check on Google Scholar to see if there is a PDF available, or look on the researcher’s website. Better still, ask the author. They are usually more than happy to share their work, and you’ve opened the door for a possible interview in the future.
Peggy Thomas is the author of Lincoln Clears a Path (Calkins Creek)
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.