By Peggy Thomas
Look on agents’ and editors’ wish lists and you’ll notice that middle grade nonfiction is in demand. Maybe now is the time to rethink that bothersome picture book biography that refuses to cooperate.
Maybe there’s a reason. Perhaps the subject matter is too complex for a young reader, or too exciting to be crammed into a tight 32 pages. If you want to upgrade to middle grade, here is a tip for you: Write your back matter.
All the tidbits that are important enough to be placed in the back matter is now necessary for your narrative. The family members you excised from the subject’s life can now make an appearance. Background history, what was happening at the time your subject was alive, can be woven in.
You still need to maintain a tight focus, however. This isn’t a license to pile on trivia. Instead, think about layering pertinent information and building a knowledge base for your reader. Picture book writers are stone sculptors chipping away material to reveal their story. Middle grade writers work in clay, carefully adding layers of information to create an accurate portrayal.
For example, here is a rough outline of key points in my picture book bio, Full of Beans: Henry Ford Grows a Car.
Drawing on information from my back matter, I could add information about his family, historical background of the times and of Ford’s success, key people who helped in his research, things related to his research including activities, and the future of Ford and soybeans.
Of course, this info would be woven in where needed, but this slide gives you an idea of how to build on a subject and still maintain the focus, which in this case is Ford’s soybean research.
So, give it a try. I’ll be back with more tips for writing middle grade nonfiction. Long may it live!
By Stephanie Bearce
Do you have an agent?
Those five little words used to strike fear in my heart. I would be teaching a writing class or attending a lit conference and invariably someone would utter those five horrible words.
Do you have an agent?
I would shuffle my feet in embarrassment and say, uh – well, no, I don’t.
Never mind that I have 28 published books, I’ve won the SCBWI Crystal Kite Award, and I’ve presented at major conferences. None of that seemed to matter the instant I admitted I didn’t have an agent. The person asking would pat me on the shoulder and say, don’t worry. I’m sure there’s an agent out there for you. I felt like I was some sort of pariah. Writers who had never published a book had agents, but I didn’t. What was wrong with me?
For a long time, I really didn’t feel the need to have an agent. I had sold 14 trade books on my own and had writing contracts with other companies that I liked working with. Like most nonfiction authors, I was able to send my book proposals directly to editors. Why would I need an agent?
But a few years ago, the market began to change. Big publishing houses gobbled up smaller houses. Everybody decided they needed to be lean and mean to survive. The publishers reduced their staff numbers. Editors started wearing so many hats they needed extra heads. And because their desktops were piled to the ceiling, they slammed the transoms shut. More and more editors closed to unsolicited submissions. Having an agent started to seem much more appealing.
So, I started researching agents who were looking for nonfiction kidlit writers.
This seemed like an easy task. Go through Manuscript Wish List, read the Publishers Market Place, check out Writer’s Digest new agent alerts. No problem.
BIG PROBLEM – nobody wanted kidlit nonfiction. Okay – it wasn’t really nobody, but it was a very very small list of agents who would look at nonfiction. The majority of the agents specifically said, NO nonfiction. What was a nonfiction writer to do?
That’s what I did.
One party size bag of Cheetos and two Dr. Peppers later, I decided to put on my big girl panties and start querying agents.
I’d like to say that it was a simple task of finding the right person. We magically clicked and are making book babies to this day. It was not that simple.
My ego took a lot of hits during this process. I got some kind responses – “Lovely writing, but not for me.”
I got a few – “I might be taking on some nonfiction people in the future – please check back.”
But mostly I got crickets. Not even the old-fashioned standard rejection letter. Just dead silence.
I ate more Cheetos. Downed more Dr. Pepper. Sent out more queries.
Eventually after many, many, many, ups and downs, I found a lovely agent who not only reps my nonfiction, she is willing to look at my fiction work, too. We do hope to make many book babies together.
After this experience, I think about that dreaded question differently. When people ask – Do you have an agent?
I answer a happy yes, but I also want to stop and have a conversation. I want writers to think about why they want an agent. Many nonfiction authors still sell their work without representation. They stay in control of their marketing and writing. They make all the decisions and do their own negotiations. Some writers prefer doing business this way. YOU may be one of these authors.
I took an informal survey of the Nonfiction Ninjas. Two the Ninjas represent themselves and do all their own negotiations. They have sold over 30 books on their own.
Eight of the Ninjas work with agents, but most of them have also sold numerous books on their own. (a total of over 200) I asked why they decided to seek representation when they have had publishing success without an agent. These were some of the responses:
Do you want an agent?
If your answer is yes – please join us next month for Agents of August! We will be featuring some amazing agents who are looking for NONFICTION authors. This will be a great opportunity to get some insight into who wants your work and how you can submit.
See you soon with our first August agent – Heather Cashman of Storm Literary
by Christine Liu-Perkins
How you define success will impact how happy you are as a writer. It will influence what motivates you and where you focus your energies. What do you consider markers for your success?
My sense of success as a children's writer has changed over time. When I first started, I was thrilled just to play around with ideas and capture them in a draft. Then I moved to seeking publication. I celebrated milestones along the way: personalized rejection letters! requests for rewrites! publication in children's magazines! book contracts!
But I also thought more than once about quitting – was I beating my head against a wall? Was it worth the frustration and disappointment? Fellow critiquers were publishing, and although I was genuinely happy for my friends, I just wanted the same for me. I felt immense relief from the pressure to prove myself when my first book was accepted.
At this point, I'm happy concentrating on two things. One, I love doing research. (Confession: I chose to specialize in nonfiction when I realized that, whatever I was writing, I always looked for excuses to do research.) Two, I choose projects that hopefully will inspire readers to love learning and to understand others better.
Two perspectives I found helpful are:
If you're ready to ponder how you define success as a writer, here are some articles that might help:
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!
originally posted 1/15/2019
by Michelle Medlock Adams
While doing research for my latest book, Dinosaur Devotions: 75 Dino Discoveries, Bible Truths, Fun Facts, and More! (TommyNelson, 2019), I realized that we can learn a lot from our dinosaur friends. Here are three “Dino Do’s” for my fellow children’s writers.
Do be like a Compsognathus (comp-sog-NAYTH-us). This little dinosaur, about the size of a chicken, worked smarter, not harder. Though he chased after and munched on small prey, sometimes he watched and waited, letting the more powerful predators kill unsuspecting dinos. Then the Compsognathus would sneak in and snack on the dead animals. It’s not that this dino was lazy; it was cunning.
Do be like a Corythosaurus (ko-RITH-o-SORE-us)--The Corythosaurus had exceptional eyesight and hearing and used those senses to survive. You’ll have to do the same if you want to survive and thrive in the children’s book world.
Do be like a Utahraptor (Yoo-tah-RAP-tor)--Experts believe Utahraptors stayed together throughout their lives, hunting in packs, and surviving by working together.
So, be like a dinosaur and grow your writing career as big as a Patagotitan.
original post 11/7/2018
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.