By Wendy Hinote Lanier
Being part of the publishing world is a lot of fun. But it’s also a bit confusing at times. And frustrating. And overwhelming. And ever changing. Did I mention confusing?
When I first started writing for publication, things were simpler. There was no such thing as platform. The internet was a handy tool for research but not much else. Publishing houses had publicity departments that had actual budgets for each book. And each book was judged (at least in part) on its own merits—and not always on how well your last book had done.
And then things changed. A lot. Suddenly writers were expected to develop something called “platform” and be active in promoting their own books. We had to learn how to use Facebook and Instagram and Twitter and Pinterest and other social media tools to get the word out about new titles. We learned to make videos and create mailing lists. And for the first time we became concerned about something called “followers.”
Some of us gave up. Some of us are still treading water just trying to get a handle on things we don’t understand. (That would be me.) Some of us learned how to use at least one of these tools really well. And some of us figured out pretty quickly we couldn’t do it all and just hired a teenager. Some of us wish we COULD hire a teenager. And we ALL learned that just because you can write doesn’t necessarily mean you can navigate this platform thing—at least not alone.
We’ve talked about the value of a critique group before. Today we’re talking about the value of tribe. Your tribe is larger than your critique group. Your tribe includes your fellow authors. There’s power in tribe.
Even though the publishing industry demands it, we can’t possibly know all the tricks for promoting books and developing platform. In many ways, developing platform is completely contrary to the typical writer personality. But what we CAN do is learn to pool our resources and help out our fellow writers. Here are a few ideas on how we can do that.
By Pat Miller
Have you had the experience of pouring your efforts into a nonfiction project, only to read about a contract offered on a similar project in Publisher’s Weekly? Do you have to abandon your project? Does every writer need to come up with a unique subject? How does one do that? The answer is no, you don’t have to be the first to write on your subject, but you do have to be different.
For example, my public library has 122 juvenile titles about sharks. You’d think that was more than enough for the most avid shark lover. But last month, I made a surprising discovery in the new book section. There were FOUR new shark titles, all published in the last few months. And there were two copies of each!
So why would a publisher say yes to another shark book? Why would a librarian buy multiple duplicate titles from her tight budget? Because the topic is popular and each of these four books had a unique viewpoint. Here’s what I noticed about each that might have made an acquiring editor say “YES!” Could your work benefit from a closer look?
I Am the Shark. by Joan Holub, illustrated by Laurie Keller. Crown Books for Young Readers, 2021.
Who knew sharks could be funny? They are in the hands of Holub and Keller. Great White Shark brags that he is the greatest shark in the book. Before each subsequent page turn, a speech bubble says “No, you’re not.” Kids can guess what shark will be next and why. As the sharks argue, they share key shark facts with readers. This narrative nonfiction is not useful for report-writing, but is definitely a gateway book to the world of sharks and their cool abilities.
Everything Awesome About Sharks and Other Underwater Creatures by Mike Lowery. Orchard Books, 2021.
Unlike the previous title, this book was not intended to be read cover to cover. Mike Lowery starts his book with a note to readers explaining that his book is “totally loaded with info, weird facts, and jokes that will keep you hooked.” It is packed with labeled line drawings, fact boxes, and a breezy format that invites readers to skim and dip in. This is the type of book Melissa Stewart calls browseable nonfiction. At 124 pages, this book will keep even the most knowledgeable shark lover engaged.
The Shark Book by Steve Jenkins, illustrated by Robin Page. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2021.
This is another browseable nonfiction, though it has much less text, more white space, and colored illustrations. The facts are intriguing. Throughout the book, a silhouette of a man is shown next to each shark mentioned to give perspective. It ends with a comparison of how many unprovoked fatal shark attacks there are annually (seven) and which sharks are nearly extinct due to human interference. A last chart names each shark in the book with its conservation status, whether it’s dangerous to humans, and where it lives. Steve and Robin show what amazing animals sharks and make the case for protecting them.
Are You Smarter Than a Shark? by David George Gordon, illustrated by Josh Lynch. Quarto Publishing, 2021.
The title and humorous cover design are irresistible. Along with interesting facts about shark intelligence are shark illustrations spouting puns – Seal to shark: “How did you ever get so smart?” Shark: I grew up in a school.” But more than just a compendium of facts, this book has numerous simple experiments students can do to understand shark senses and how they think. Experimenting with tapping in the bathtub illustrates how sound travels in and is magnified by water. It, too, ends with a plea for shark conservation, stating that more people are killed each year by falling coconuts than by shark attacks.
Each of these books takes a different approach to the same subject. Several use humor and conversation bubbles, all use sidebars or labeled illustrations. The content is detailed and interesting, and the author talks to kids like they are young scientists. These are qualities that appeal to readers, publishers, and librarians.
Does your current NF project have any of these qualities?
By Pat Miller
Last week 5 of us shared photos of our writing buddies; pets we rely on for a cuddle, a laugh, and to keep us on track. Now, meet the rest of our furry friends.
LINDA SKEERS also has a Jack on her team. Her Jack is a busy cat. Linda writes, “Jack loves to ‘help’ me Zoom by leaning over the computer and swishing his whiskers across the screen. He also helps me organize piles of research by pushing them off the table and spreading them across the floor. I guess he wants me to look for new connections, or get the bigger picture. I bounce ideas off Jack. Purring means he likes the idea, licking his butt means I should move on.”
WENDY LANIER’s four-footed support group consists of a Jack Russell mix named Piper and a dachshund/yorkie mix named Penny. Both know when to let Wendy work and when to get her up and out for some healthy exercise and lots of cuddles. When the garbage truck comes, Piper and Penny are determined to come between that noisy threat and their writer. So far their talented barking has kept the trucks out of Wendy’s writing room.
As an agent and author, LISA AMSTUTZ spends a lot of time on the computer answering email. Bailey, her 3-month old Great Pyrenees puppy lures Lisa away from the keyboard with sheer cuteness. That and her efforts at potty training. One day this cute dog will be splitting her duties between being Lisa’s best writing partner and protecting her family’s chickens.
All these authors report that their best friends work for kibble, are always available, and are never critical. They don’t care about word count or submissions, nor do they judge based on research efforts or vivid language. They love without reserve and think their people are perfect writers! And that goes a long way in this writing business!
How about you? Share a photo of the pet that keeps you on “the write track”.
by Pat Miller
Who is a writer’s very best friend?
Not an agent, though they can be very helpful. Not a critique group, though they provide much support. For any of us, a writer’ best friend is their pet(s).
I checked with the Nonfiction Ninjas to see if any of them count on a dog or cat to help them with their writing. Here are the animals they depend on.
SUSIE KRALOVANSKY has a three-pet team. Maddie, a standard poodle, tested one of the toys for We Really, Really Want a Dog. Maddie gave it 4-paws up, so the toy went into the book. Sox is an artist at heart. Here she is preparing to inspect the illustrations for one of Susie’s books. Finally, Lynx claims the keyboard when she feels Susie needs a break.
Two cats have befriended MICHELLE MEDLOCK ADAMS. Theirs is a well-organized tag team. Mia has taken on the job of watching over Michelle, making sure she is hydrated and gets enough computer breaks. Michelle doesn’t need spellcheck when she has the sharp eyes of Motley, her personal catcheck. Both stay within petting distance to help Michelle focus or relax.
NANCY CHURNIN also has a feline who watches over both her and her writing with sphinxlike concentration. Aptly named, Gloria Swanson is a star in her own mind who thinks it is a CATastrophe that Nancy hasn’t written about her yet. But she’s also a kind cat. In the most frustrating of writing situations, Gloria reminds Nancy about what really matters—cuddles and treats!
PEGGY THOMAS’s pets report that she requires a lot of assistance. So they have divided up her care. Grace is an over-the-shoulder editor who not only supplies inspiration, but her body warmth is like a shoulder massage, keeping Peggy relaxed. Her comrade in orange fur was more of a paws-on kind of pet. No keystroke went unnoticed by Leo, who died last year. He felt like furry handcuffs, but kept Peggy on task. Peggy mentioned that Lily is a golden retriever and Bertie is an All-American knucklehead. Both remind her that there is more to life than writing. They break up her writing time by taking her outside to play.
PAT MILLER’s rescue dachshund-mixes team up to do two important jobs in her writing process. Pat writes next to a bay window that faces the front sidewalk, so Pepper and Jack are always alert for any distractions which may take her away from her writing. Second, they keep an eye on Pat in case she needs a warm lap dog, or some sloppy face licks to kickstart her thoughts. Pepper and Jack love to hear Pat read her drafts aloud.
Check back next week to meet Lisa Amstutz's 3-month old Great Pyrenees puppy, Linda Skeers' photo-bombing cat Jack, and more furry writing assistants. And share a photo of your pet. Who keeps you on "the writing track?"
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.