PRIMARY DOCUMENTS VS TRAVEL
By Peggy Thomas
I love when I get to travel for research. When I’m writing a biography, I’ll visit the person’s home, walk the streets, and collect sounds and smells that I can weave into the narrative. I like to get the lay of the land -- How far did George W. Carver walk to school? What was Lincoln’s view from his White House window?
But Covid hit just as I was starting to research Nobel laureate, Norman Borlaug, an agricultural scientist who saved millions of lives from starvation. I couldn’t get to Mexico where Norm worked for decades, or even Cresco, Iowa where he grew up. Just reading about him did not give me the same kind of connection.
Fortunately, Texas A & M and the University of Minnesota both have huge archives filled with Borlaug memorabilia, articles, and photos. The digitized images that I could access by computer showed me a time and place I could otherwise have never seen.
Dozens of speeches and taped interviews preserved Norm’s voice and mannerisms. From the comfort of my couch, I was transported to a wheat field in Mexico where Norm talked about plant breeding. Then I was whisked off to an auditorium in Oslo, Norway to hear Norm accept his Nobel Peace Prize. It was easy to see that he was the kind of guy that no matter what he was wearing, a tux or dust-covered khakis, he always spoke with the same enthusiasm.
But the material I found most helpful were Norm’s handwritten notebooks. For decades, Norman recorded the look, feel, and characteristics of every single wheat plant as he searched for a better crop for poor farmers. Each page documented his dedication and showed how much he valued his work.
They also revealed Norm’s private thoughts. They directed my eyes so I could see what he saw and understand his feelings. For example, the first time he visited rural India during a famine he simply wrote: Humanity – frightening.
And like me, when Norm rushed to get notes on paper, he didn’t worry about spelling. It was more important to get his ideas down.
I still wish I had gone to Mexico, but it turned out that the weeks I spent deciphering hasty handwriting far exceeded the value of any frequent flier miles I would have accumulated.
The Rewards of Awards
By Stephanie Bearce
What is one of the best ways to get your book into the hands of LOTS of young readers? Get your book nominated for one of the State reading awards.
Children's choice award programs are held each year and in every state in the nation. Books that are selected for the nomination list are purchased by every school and public library and read by thousands of children who then vote for their favorite. It's an incredible honor to win, but just being a nominee is a boost every writer would love.
So how do you get your book on one of these magical lists? Nominations are taken for several months before the list is decided. Some states allow authors or publishers to nominate books. Others only allow teachers and librarians. Authors, this is NOT the time to be shy. If you want your book on the list - ask teacher and librarian friends to nominate you. The first step is getting your book in front of the selection committee. The rest will be up to the readers.
There is no guarantee that your book will be showered in awards, but you can't win if you don't try. And the rewards of having an award-winning book are rich indeed. Not only will your agent and family cheer, but your publisher will also love the increase in sales and publicity. Awards can help you get that next book deal.
I've found a great list of State Awards hosted by Bound to Stay Bound.
This resource lists all of the awards by state and age level. Simply go to the site and check to see what the nomination criteria are for your type of book. Make sure you check the date and subject requirements.
Other sites where you can learn about state book awards are:
Overdrive - National and State Awards
Reading levels and reading lists - Minnesota State University
And good luck! I hope to see your books on many state reading lists!
By Lisa Amstutz
Every now and then, I see discussions pop up online about terminology related to nonfiction. It’s easy to get confused! So I thought I’d take the opportunity to provide some definitions that are fairly standard in the industry.
First, what is nonfiction? This one’s simple: it is 100% verifiable fact. No invented dialogue or made-up characters or events. Anything else falls into the fiction category.
As a note, nonfiction is not superior to fiction or vice versa—these labels are simply a way of communicating with the reader what to expect. As writers, we owe it to our readers to be honest about what we’re presenting. If we call it nonfiction, they should be able to trust that everything in the book is well-sourced and factual.
Creative nonfiction is a term that is frequently misused. Creative Nonfiction magazine defines it as “true stories, well told,” which sums it up well. It is nonfiction written in an engaging way, using literary techniques to present the facts in a fun and interesting manner. It does NOT mean taking liberties with the truth. Most recent children’s trade nonfiction falls into this category; as an example, my book Plants Fight Back presents facts about plant defenses using humor and rhyme. But everything in it is 100% true.
Narrative nonfiction and expository nonfiction are other terms you may see thrown around. Again, these are both 100% factual categories. Narrative stories have a story arc of some kind; expository stories do not. Instead, they focus on explaining a topic. Biographies and ‘day in the life’ stories are narrative, while a book of factoids is expository. Narrative and expository books can both fall under the creative nonfiction umbrella, but can also be more straightforwardly written, like many educational market titles. For more on this topic, see Melissa Stewart’s excellent article at https://www.slj.com/story/comparing-teaching-expository-and-narrative-nonfiction.
There is one more definition I want to touch on: historical fiction. If you’re writing about an actual person or event in history, but decide to add invented dialogue, characters, or events, you’re now writing historical fiction. Particularly if you’re writing picture books, it can be helpful to explain to the reader in the back matter which parts you’ve fictionalized, as it may not otherwise be clear.
Are there other terms you’re curious about? Drop a note in the comments, or head over to the NF Fest Facebook page to discuss!
by Christine Liu-Perkins
When I first heard about emotional resonance in nonfiction, I wondered what that meant. As a nonfiction writer, I thought about research, accuracy, and interesting details. I learned to develop a focus, experiment with structure, and seek creative ways to hook young readers’ attention. But emotional resonance? What is it? Is it important in nonfiction?
Editors look for manuscripts that touch the emotions of readers—nonfiction as well as fiction. Anna Sargeant of Sourcebooks eXplore said, “When I read a nonfiction manuscript, the first thing I gauge is not the facts or the subject matter, but what the book feels like. . . . facts stick better when tied to emotions.”
Sylvie Frank, now at Disney Hyperion, explained what she looks for a book: “If it’s a particularly heartfelt, re-readable book, a kid reader should have a question at the end. . . . It’s about how it lingers in the heart of the reader.”
Melissa Manlove of Chronicle Books explained that good nonfiction speaks to both the heart and the head. She gave examples of nonfiction books that take readers on an emotional journey. Author Kim Tomsic explained what she learned from Melissa about emotional resonance being like a buried treasure, which helped Kim revise her rejected manuscript into a touching book.
Interested in learning more? I recommend reading the wonderful series on Beth Anderson’s blog called “Mining for Heart.” It features blog posts by various authors about how they infused heart into their books (some nonfiction, some fiction).
In my next post, I’ll discuss ways to build emotional resonance into a manuscript.
We are nonfiction authors who support readers and writers through our writing, author visits, and workshops.
Disclaimer: The Nonfiction Ninjas are a group of writers with diverse ideas . The views expressed in each post are those of the author and may differ from others in the group.