Excerpted from Writing and Selling Children’s Books in the Christian Market: From Board Books to YA by Michelle Medlock Adams and Cyle Young (New Hope Publishers, Available Now!)
You’re at your book-signing, Sharpie in hand, ready to sign one of the dozens of copies displayed on your table, and no one shows up. Even though you’re positioned in front of Starbucks, people find a path around you to avoid having to make eye contact with you in their quest for java. Ever been there? It can be the longest afternoon of your life; trust me, I speak from experience.
But it doesn’t have to be if you follow these six strategies for a successful book signing.
When you write a picture book biography, usually you start by studying a person’s life and looking for a theme that that captures the person’s essence. But not always. Sometimes, I start with an object or something that fascinates me – and search for the person that brought it to be.
That is the curious case of The Queen and the First Christmas Tree, Queen Charlotte’s Gift to England (illustrated by Luisa Uribe, published by Albert Whitman & Company).
I never set out to write about the wife of King George III, the British king during the American Revolution, who has become infinitely more famous after his featured role in Hamilton. Honestly, I didn’t even know King George was married, much less that he and his wife had 15 children together. But I was curious about the origin of the Christmas tree. How and when did that become a tradition?
Research led me to the story of this kind queen who dragged an entire tree into Windsor Castle and decorated it with lit candles, fruits, nuts and colored papers to delight a party of 100 children on Christmas in 1800, creating what would be an annual tradition that continues to this day.
Why did she do this? Working backwards from that event, I learned how she had grown up in Germany as a princess who cared about plants and children rather than fancy balls and jewels. When she married King George, the fancy ladies of the court made fun of her accent and her humble clothes that were not as fancy as theirs. She let her mother-in-law take charge of entertaining royal guests.
Instead, Queen Charlotte cared for children at court, patronized a hospital for mothers giving birth, expanded Kew Gardens, encouraged the arts – including young Mozart who named a composition for her, took a stand against slavery by boycotting sugar that grown by slaves on plantations, and became the first royal, along with her husband, to make charitable giving part of royal duties.
The only reason Queen Charlotte was not more famous for the Christmas tree is that it was not until there was a picture of her granddaughter, Queen Victoria, carrying on her grandmother’s tradition of the tree in a British and later American magazine, that her idea became more widely known. After that and ever since, Christmas trees have been lighting up the world.
They say books don’t grow on trees. But this one actually did.
Many people are surprised to learn that I love writing nonfiction. A frequent comment is, “But you aren’t a serious person!”
Yes, writing nonfiction is serious business… but it can also be funny! Here are five tips (and mentor texts) to keep in mind if you want to add a touch of humor to your nonfiction.
Choose a fun narrator.
Instead of just presenting information in the typical manner, let your subject take over and share their own story!
One Proud Penny – Randy Siegel
PENNY proudly explains how it’s made and offers lots of fun details about money – in his own voice.
Gross is good.
Dig deep for the most fascinating, gross, unusual, weird and amazing facts. Your readers will thank you for it!
Ick! Yuck! Eew! Our Gross American History – Lois Miner Huey
This book contains lots of fun historical facts and doesn’t shy away from the gross stuff!
Add a fun sidebar.
Even if your subject is fairly serious, if you do find a fun fact or light-hearted example, put it in a side bar. This can be a breath of fresh air or some comic relief.
Hot Diggity Dog: The History of the Hot Dog – Adrienne Sylver
Its sidebars are full of extra facts and anecdotes relating to the humble hot dog. Really stretch and think outside the box to come up with tidbits that will surprise and delight readers.
New angle or twist.
Look for a unique way to present your information. Turn your topic upside down and inside out and shake it all about! Love geography? Want to introduce readers to the Arctic? Instead of presenting facts and figures, make the reader feel as if they are there.
You Wouldn’t Want to Be…A Polar Explorer – Jen Green
This series focuses on the nasty and negative aspects of jobs, lifestyles, and places throughout history. Written in second person, it helps the reader get up close and personal with the subject.
Language, puns, inside jokes.
Use words and phrases that match your topic. And remember that kids LOVE puns and fun word-play!
I Fly: The Buzz About Flies and How Awesome They Are – Bridget Heos
Get it? BUZZ? Cracks me up every time!
No matter how serious you are, or how serious your subject is, a touch of humor can coax a smile, and maybe a giggle out of your reader. Go forth and be funny!
By Susan Kralovansky
One tough but necessary part of the writing process is receiving feedback. Unless you are a genius or an idiot, as my high school English teacher used to say, you can’t do your writing in a vacuum. It takes a village to produce print- worthy work, and your critique group is there to help.
You hope your manuscript will be universally loved. You want to hear, “This is perfect! Absolutely perfect!” but that’s not reality. Nearly every critique partner, editor, or agent will have an opinion on your work. Don’t get angry over the feedback given. Accept those nuggets you believe are valid and use those as a plan for revisions.
On the other hand, it’s not always easy to give feedback. The critiquer’s job is to be both helpful and honest. If you see a problem, say so, but be specific on why you find it awkward.
A great technique for constructive criticism is called the "sandwich method", in which you sandwich the criticism between two positive comments. Instead of saying "You did a lousy job writing this biography," using the sandwich method, you say "You did a great job on the introduction. The section on her childhood seemed to drag. With a bit more work, I'm sure you can tighten up that segment."
Remember: Critiquing makes you a better writer. And, being open to criticism also makes you a better writer.
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.