By Susie Kralovasky
there are so many mysteries in writing, whether you're on your first book or your hundredth. This month, I decided to collect the biggest surprise in the publishing process from the Nonfiction Ninjas.
I was surprised that editors/agents have a different concept of "time" than writers do. To me, "soon" is about 2 weeks. To them, it can mean 2 weeks to 6 months. Or longer! And when they ask how long it will take me to complete a project, I'm thinking 8-12 months. And they ask if 12 weeks is enough time. And I say yes. And do it. How do you cope while you wait for a reply? You just keep writing.
Wendy Hinote Lanier
I never dreamed it would be so hard to find your GROUP. We all recognize the need for a good critique group, but finding one is another matter altogether. I am eternally grateful to Pat Miller and Christine Liu Perkins for sending out a call to nonfiction writers several years ago. From our first meeting, I knew I'd found IT...that elusive blend of people who encourage you, inspire you, and provide the honest feedback you need. The Nonfiction Ninjas have been the one thing that keeps me writing. Without them, I'm fairly certain I would have given up by now.
Christine Liu Perkins
Michelle Medlock Adams
I think my biggest surprise was the difference in going through the publishing process with various publishers. Some that I’ve worked with have been very good to include me in the process from beginning to end. For instance, I am currently working with Endgame Press on a Christmas picture book, “Dachshund Through the Snow” and the publisher has allowed me to be involved at every turn. I was even allowed to see the storyboards and offer art suggestions. Yet, when I have worked with some of the very large publishing houses, I never saw anything after I turned in my manuscript. In fact, in a few cases, I didn’t even see the cover art or any of the artwork until my author copies arrived. I just never realized when I began this journey over 20 years and 100 books ago that my involvement in the whole book publishing process could be so different depending on the publisher.
My biggest surprise was how much patience It requires. Coming from the world of journalism where everything is fast, faster, fastest, and needed yesterday, it has been an adjustment to live in a world where people expect you to wait, deliberate, and take time planning for tomorrow. What I have learned to love about the slower pace is how it helps us carefully and collaboratively craft books that last.
My biggest surprise has been the insecurity of the business. I thought that once I had several books published I would feel like my career was established. But in reality each book is a separate project and is evaluated on it's own merit. It's like applying for a job over and over again. And it's always a job I want!
Susan Holt Kralovansky
I was also surprised by everything my fellow Ninjas said, but marketing was my biggest surprise. I thought that when I signed the contract, I was free to move on to another project. I had no idea that I was an important element of the marketing team. And, another surprise, after that initial shock, I realized that I love marketing – and this is from a girl who hated selling anything, even her Girl Scout cookies!
Susan Kralovansky is the author of We Really, Really Want a Dog! (Pelican Publishing, 2021)
"But what do I write about?!"
That was the whiny lament I often heard from my fourth grade students. And sometimes it’s what I hear in my own head as I stare at my blank computer screen.
Unlike writing fiction, where you must create everything in your own head, nonfiction ideas are everywhere. You simply have to be tune your mental radar to find them.
Here are five places that NF ideas pinged my mental radar.
1. Television. Your best bet are channels devoted to documentaries like A&E, Animal Planet, Discovery, The History Channel, and National Geographic. On Pacific Warriors, men and women were out fishing in the Pacific in kayaks, catching fish as big as their boats. The narrator mentioned that the swordfish is the fastest in the ocean, and that the ono is the most vicious fish pound per pound. Ping!
CBS Sunday Morning yields several pings each episode. In the most recent, I was curious to learn more about Nick Benson, the slowest writer in the world. Nick is a third-generation stone carver whose family has engraved many of the monuments and markers at famous tombs and memorials. Their shop was built in 1705—they are the second owners. You can view episodes online--be sure to have paper or keyboard ready.
2. Magazines. One I like is The Smithsonian. They have an online version. How can you resist an article about how “thousands of dead bugs became a mesmerizing work of extraordinary beauty?” In September, there was a short article about another fish that intrigued me. It's warm-blooded! The October, 2015 issue has an article about Armstrong Custer—not as hero but as horse thief. Ping!
3. Read newspapers. Read with an eye for something that makes you think, "Say what?" For example, in one of my local papers, an article mentioned there had been a German POW camp right here in my small Texas town. Ping!
4. Travel. I found the subject of a current project in a Texas museum that's smaller than my house. A recent trip to New Orleans yielded ideas garnered from a sugar plantation, a cemetery, a paddle wheeler, and a church. Your radar will be busy if you are aware and focused!
5. Wonder. Catch yourself every time you wonder--write it down. Waiting at a traffic light, I wondered how the mechanism worked that allowed longer green lights during peak traffic and skipped the turn light when no car was in the lane. Hmmmm... Yesterday I wondered how mosquitoes could find me even on a sunny day with a breeze in a wide open space. They bit me through my clothes! BONUS: If you are around children, their questions can be inspirations.
Once you get yourself attuned, the pings will become so frequent you might feel like a xylophone. You will need to use the note function on your phone, or keep a number of small notebooks stashed in your car, near the shower, in your purse or briefcase, and in the kitchen. Your pile of pings could lead to an essay, an article, a book. Or possibly, a blog post!
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.