Sharpen Your Nonfiction Skills
Do you want to write nonfiction with the skills of a ninja but not sure where to start? Get your feet wet writing for magazines, newspapers, and other periodicals.
To train in and sharpen your nonfiction skills, it’s okay (I even encourage you!) to write for the no-pay/low-pay market. This is where they pay you about three cents a word or nothing at all except complimentary contributor’s copies of the magazine you’re published in. Your key payback is that you watch your published credits build while your confidence and skills at executing published nonfiction grow.
I’ve written for the no-pay/low-pay market for years. An added perk? Most editors who work in the no-pay/low-pay market want to climb the rope and work toward the top of their game just like you do. Chances are, they’ll want to bring you with them.
For example, one day I got a phone call from a publisher I’d never worked with before. A publisher of nonfiction books. An editor I worked with in the no-pay/low-pay magazine market just got hired to work for this publisher and recommended my name as a potential author for their new project. Would I be interested in writing four holiday books for them?
The result? Four work-for-hire book contracts! True Books: Earth Day, Independence Day, Passover, and Easter. Four nice unexpected paychecks I hadn’t calculated into my income yet that year.
Do you want to be a professional ninja of published children’s nonfiction books, but aren’t sure how to take your career to the next level? Start landing assignments writing for the no-pay/low-pay market or other magazines and periodicals. For information on magazines and their writer guidelines, go to Evelyn B. Christensens's extensive listings at Writing for Children's Magazines. Go to Ev's site as well as look in a current children’s writers market guide.
You’ll soon be climbing your way to success!
You've Got an Idea. Now what?
by Peggy Thomas
Ideas are like radio waves. They are all around us, and you simply have to raise your antenna to tune in. That means being observant, reading widely, talking to people, and being open to the world around you. The more you practice being aware, the more ideas you’ll accumulate. Unfortunately, not every idea becomes a book (at least not my ideas).
Before you plunge head first into writing, ask yourself a few questions:
#1. Is the idea kid-friendly? You may love the idea of writing about the history of buttons or the 2008 economic crash, but what would a 4th grader think. Even if you suspect that a young reader’s eyes would glaze over, it doesn’t mean your idea is dead. Just figure out a way to make your story more relevant to a young audience. For example, you could focus on kids who lost their homes during the economic crash. Or compile the most bizarre and zany facts about buttons.
#2. Has anyone else written on this topic? Do a quick search on Amazon, or conduct a more thorough search on WorldCat.org, which contains the records from more than 10,000 libraries.
Don’t panic if another writer had the same idea. You can still write about buttons, especially if the competition is more than five years old. Librarians tend to refresh their nonfiction every few years to keep their collections current. However, you do not want to write the exact same book, so…
#3. Can I add something new to the conversation? Look for cutting-edge research. Approach the topic from a different angle. For example, rather than a book about all buttons, focus on one collector, one time period, or write from a button’s point of view. When I wrote about George Washington, I approached it from a farming viewpoint in George Washington Plants a Nation (Calkins Creek, 2014).
#4. Can I find enough information? I’ve had to drop several projects simply because I could not find material. Look for primary sources like letters, diaries, period news articles, and people to interview.
Then you will be able to write a well-researched book with a fresh slant that any kid will love.
Be a Ninja Sleuth
by Nancy Churnin
A nonfiction ninja needs detective skills. So, put on your Sherlock Holmes cap, and track down your subject. If your subject is dead, contact that person’s descendants or those who knew the person well.
What you learn can make the difference in unearthing details that will bring your story to vivid life or correct errors made in previous biographies.
How do you find these people?
Newspapers and magazine articles. If the person is alive, articles will probably tell you where that person was living as well as where the person was working at the time the article was written. Look up the place of work and if your subject is no longer working there, ask where the subject might be. If dead, obituaries will tell you the survivors or where the person donated records. Your subject’s alma mater can help track down heirs.
Universities and publishers. If the person and heirs are impossible to reach, look up experts on your subject. Often that person can be found teaching at a university where emails are easy to find. The expert may also point you to resources that can get you going on your own original research.
Travel. If you can, go to the actual place where your subject lives or lived and walk the streets that person walked, go to places that person might have frequented and talk to people who know or knew your subject.
What if the subject or the family WON’T support the book?
While it’s your legal right to write about people who are famous without their consent, I have always opted against that. It is hard to get a story right even with all the resources at your disposal. It’s also hard to market the best of stories. It’s a big help to go out there with support.
If your hunt leads to putting your manuscript aside, remember that even for the best of detectives, not all cases get solved. But with these tips, the percentage that you do solve should go up. Happy sleuthing!
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.
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.