Heather Cashman is a scientist, writer, avid reader, and author cheerleader. She cheers on her clients and their projects at Storm Literary Agency where she's an Associate Literary Agent and Agent Mentor.
Heather grew up with a with a book in one hand and a microscope in the other. She loves science and has a degree in biochemistry. Her fascination with science and the world around her is one of the reasons she enjoys working with nonfiction authors and their manuscripts. She also enjoys reading and writing syfy and likes to use her science knowledge to build unique and compelling worlds.
Before joining Storm Literary Agency, Heather interned for three years at The Bent Agency and Entangled Publishing. She’s helped authors from the pre-query stage to acquisitions, and she’s also worked as a freelance editor and consultant for traditional and non-traditional publishing.
The Nonfiction Ninjas were excited to have the chance to ask Heather a few questions.
Why did you become a literary agent?
I loved editing and seeing my client and mentee manuscripts getting picked up and sometimes even getting six-figure deals. It was thrilling! I also love pitching from my days with Pitch Wars. SO FUN! And working with authors and editors is extremely enjoyable and makes me happy. It's like not working when I'm at work.
What excites you most about working in publishing?
Getting back edits that surpass my wildest imagination. Which is pretty wild.
What are you looking for in nonfiction projects?
I really enjoy a variety of topics and formats. The more creative the better. I enjoy narrative or straight nonfiction. I especially like books that teach in a fun and new way, especially books that would do amazing things or become something other than a book. Like Odd Dot has a book about bees and beehives that becomes a beehive!
Are there specific topics that interest you?
My biochemistry background leans me more toward STEM projects, I'm also fascinated with people and places and times in history. I love to learn!
What trends are you seeing in the industry?
Biographies are a really hard sell right now. Things need to be more out of the box, and it helps if they have a crossover appeal into the commercial side as well as school and library.
Who is your ideal client?
Someone who is Hardworking, creative, fun, easy to communicate with, appreciates me, and understands the ins and outs of the industry.
Are you more interested in PB, MG, YA, or all three?
All three for sure. Today's kids are very self motivated and love to learn.
What do you want to see in a nonfiction proposal?
The standard proposal with a pitch, bio, outline, platform, and sample chapters as well as bibliography. If you have extra ideas for backmatter, games, activities, so much the better.
What are some of your favorite kidlit nonfiction books?
Flower Talk: How Plants use Color to Communicate by Sara Levine, Ill. Masah D'Yans
Fly Girls: The Daring American Women Pilots Who Helped Win WWII by P. O'Connell Pearson
The Boy who Harnessed the Wind by Willian Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer
What advice can you give to people who want to break into the nonfiction market?
Do your research. I get proposals all the time for subjects and people that have already been done. It's okay to do something again, but it has to have a different twist or spin that makes it different information than what's already out there. And if you can research what's been sold on Publisher's Marketplace, that's important too. Imprints don't like to compete, so it's difficult to sell duplicates or overlaps.
And last but not least – are you a dog person or a cat person? And do you have a pet?
I'm a dog person with a cat. My sweet puppy who loved me as much as I loved her died a few years ago, and the kids went to college and left kitty behind. Yes, lots of sad sighs. But I still love her and care for her as if she were a dog even though she's very indifferent--unless I'm serving her. But I still brush her every morning with a real hairbrush that she stole from my husband.
If you think your work might be a good fit for Heather, please follow her submission guidelines.
By Peggy Thomas
Look on agents’ and editors’ wish lists and you’ll notice that middle grade nonfiction is in demand. Maybe now is the time to rethink that bothersome picture book biography that refuses to cooperate.
Maybe there’s a reason. Perhaps the subject matter is too complex for a young reader, or too exciting to be crammed into a tight 32 pages. If you want to upgrade to middle grade, here is a tip for you: Write your back matter.
All the tidbits that are important enough to be placed in the back matter is now necessary for your narrative. The family members you excised from the subject’s life can now make an appearance. Background history, what was happening at the time your subject was alive, can be woven in.
You still need to maintain a tight focus, however. This isn’t a license to pile on trivia. Instead, think about layering pertinent information and building a knowledge base for your reader. Picture book writers are stone sculptors chipping away material to reveal their story. Middle grade writers work in clay, carefully adding layers of information to create an accurate portrayal.
For example, here is a rough outline of key points in my picture book bio, Full of Beans: Henry Ford Grows a Car.
Drawing on information from my back matter, I could add information about his family, historical background of the times and of Ford’s success, key people who helped in his research, things related to his research including activities, and the future of Ford and soybeans.
Of course, this info would be woven in where needed, but this slide gives you an idea of how to build on a subject and still maintain the focus, which in this case is Ford’s soybean research.
So, give it a try. I’ll be back with more tips for writing middle grade nonfiction. Long may it live!
By Stephanie Bearce
Do you have an agent?
Those five little words used to strike fear in my heart. I would be teaching a writing class or attending a lit conference and invariably someone would utter those five horrible words.
Do you have an agent?
I would shuffle my feet in embarrassment and say, uh – well, no, I don’t.
Never mind that I have 28 published books, I’ve won the SCBWI Crystal Kite Award, and I’ve presented at major conferences. None of that seemed to matter the instant I admitted I didn’t have an agent. The person asking would pat me on the shoulder and say, don’t worry. I’m sure there’s an agent out there for you. I felt like I was some sort of pariah. Writers who had never published a book had agents, but I didn’t. What was wrong with me?
For a long time, I really didn’t feel the need to have an agent. I had sold 14 trade books on my own and had writing contracts with other companies that I liked working with. Like most nonfiction authors, I was able to send my book proposals directly to editors. Why would I need an agent?
But a few years ago, the market began to change. Big publishing houses gobbled up smaller houses. Everybody decided they needed to be lean and mean to survive. The publishers reduced their staff numbers. Editors started wearing so many hats they needed extra heads. And because their desktops were piled to the ceiling, they slammed the transoms shut. More and more editors closed to unsolicited submissions. Having an agent started to seem much more appealing.
So, I started researching agents who were looking for nonfiction kidlit writers.
This seemed like an easy task. Go through Manuscript Wish List, read the Publishers Market Place, check out Writer’s Digest new agent alerts. No problem.
BIG PROBLEM – nobody wanted kidlit nonfiction. Okay – it wasn’t really nobody, but it was a very very small list of agents who would look at nonfiction. The majority of the agents specifically said, NO nonfiction. What was a nonfiction writer to do?
That’s what I did.
One party size bag of Cheetos and two Dr. Peppers later, I decided to put on my big girl panties and start querying agents.
I’d like to say that it was a simple task of finding the right person. We magically clicked and are making book babies to this day. It was not that simple.
My ego took a lot of hits during this process. I got some kind responses – “Lovely writing, but not for me.”
I got a few – “I might be taking on some nonfiction people in the future – please check back.”
But mostly I got crickets. Not even the old-fashioned standard rejection letter. Just dead silence.
I ate more Cheetos. Downed more Dr. Pepper. Sent out more queries.
Eventually after many, many, many, ups and downs, I found a lovely agent who not only reps my nonfiction, she is willing to look at my fiction work, too. We do hope to make many book babies together.
After this experience, I think about that dreaded question differently. When people ask – Do you have an agent?
I answer a happy yes, but I also want to stop and have a conversation. I want writers to think about why they want an agent. Many nonfiction authors still sell their work without representation. They stay in control of their marketing and writing. They make all the decisions and do their own negotiations. Some writers prefer doing business this way. YOU may be one of these authors.
I took an informal survey of the Nonfiction Ninjas. Two the Ninjas represent themselves and do all their own negotiations. They have sold over 30 books on their own.
Eight of the Ninjas work with agents, but most of them have also sold numerous books on their own. (a total of over 200) I asked why they decided to seek representation when they have had publishing success without an agent. These were some of the responses:
Do you want an agent?
If your answer is yes – please join us next month for Agents of August! We will be featuring some amazing agents who are looking for NONFICTION authors. This will be a great opportunity to get some insight into who wants your work and how you can submit.
See you soon with our first August agent – Heather Cashman of Storm Literary
by Christine Liu-Perkins
How you define success will impact how happy you are as a writer. It will influence what motivates you and where you focus your energies. What do you consider markers for your success?
My sense of success as a children's writer has changed over time. When I first started, I was thrilled just to play around with ideas and capture them in a draft. Then I moved to seeking publication. I celebrated milestones along the way: personalized rejection letters! requests for rewrites! publication in children's magazines! book contracts!
But I also thought more than once about quitting – was I beating my head against a wall? Was it worth the frustration and disappointment? Fellow critiquers were publishing, and although I was genuinely happy for my friends, I just wanted the same for me. I felt immense relief from the pressure to prove myself when my first book was accepted.
At this point, I'm happy concentrating on two things. One, I love doing research. (Confession: I chose to specialize in nonfiction when I realized that, whatever I was writing, I always looked for excuses to do research.) Two, I choose projects that hopefully will inspire readers to love learning and to understand others better.
Two perspectives I found helpful are:
If you're ready to ponder how you define success as a writer, here are some articles that might help:
When I was a kid, I loved to go fishing with my grandparents. On a good day we’d bring home a mess of bluegill or catfish for breakfast the next morning.
Looking back, it seems that good anglers and good writers have a few things in common:
1. They learn from others. Like fishing, the craft of writing has a big learning curve. You likely won’t land a big contract the first time you toss your line out. Just as you might take tips from a more experienced angler, you can shorten your writing learning curve by seeking out more experienced authors, taking classes, attending conferences, and finding a good critique group.
2. They use the right bait. Successful anglers spend a lot of time choosing just the right bait or lure for their target fish species. Think of your submissions as your bait. Start by making them irresistible. And don’t send them out scattershot—take the time to research each agent or editor you are querying and make sure your submission is the right fit for them.
3. They keep their line in the water. If you pull out your line and there’s nothing on it, the best thing to do is to check your bait and toss it right back in. Writers need to do this too. If you get a rejection, don't let it stop you in your tracks. Consider any feedback carefully, and then send your story out again. It may take a lot of tries to hook an agent or editor, but it’ll never happen if you don’t keep your hook—that is, your book—out there.
4. They are patient. Like fishing, writing takes a lot of time and patience. But if you stick with it and keep improving your craft, you’re bound to find success eventually!
originally posted 1/15/2019
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.
original post 11/7/2018
By Nancy Churnin
In Howard Gardner’s groundbreaking 1983 work, Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences, he explains how people learn in different ways – musically, kinesthetically, verbally, interpersonally, intrapersonally, as well as logically. One form isn’t better than another. The important thing is to figure out a child’s best way of processing information and teaching with that in mind. Even within a smaller field such as nonfiction, we can see that there are different ways of presenting information about a similar subject.
Independence Day provides a perfect example. The Nonfiction Ninjas are all dedicated to the craft of nonfiction for children, but wow – the incredible variety in the stories they tell for July 4 should inspire writers to explore the many ways a topic can be explored and parents and educators to consider how different approaches might connect with individual kids. Pick a book and pair it up with a craft for a memory to treasure.
For the youngest children, Michelle Medlock Adams offers a board book, What is America? In simple, rhyming language, Illustrated by Amy Wummer and published by WorthyKids, it touches on symbols such as the flag and the Statue of Liberty, but concludes that the ideas of freedom and democracy are more important than symbols and monuments.
For elementary school kids ready to dig into thoughtful picture book biographies, Peggy Thomas offers two award-winners about our Founding Fathers, both published by Calkins Creek. Farmer George Plants a Nation (illustrated by Layne Johnson), draws from Washington’s letters and diaries, to focus on our first president not as a politician or even general, but as a farmer, inventor, and scientist. Similarly, Thomas Jefferson Grows a Nation (illustrated by Stacy Innerst) shows our third president as a planter who loved to watch things grow, making a connection with how he cultivated his garden and the expansion of the new nation.
Kids will find a compelling perspective on what patriotism means in The Impossible Patriotism Project by Linda Skeers. This fictional story, illustrated by Ard Hoyt and published by Puffin Books, has the ring of truth because Linda draws from a mix of real and personal experiences to craft this poignant story of a boy who has to come up with a patriotism project for class. Caleb longs for help from his father, who is away at war, and his solution reminds us of the tough sacrifices made by the families of those who serve to give us the freedom that we celebrate.
Middle graders can dig with delight into Top. Secret Files: American Revolutionary Spies, Secret Missions, and Hidden Figures from the American Revolution from Stephanie Bearce (Prufrock Press), and learn how George Washington had his own secret agents, hired pirates to fight the British, and helped Congress smuggle weapons.
by Peggy Thomas
Many of my fellow Ninjas have had new books released, but due to the coronavirus quarantine they haven’t been properly “launched.” Today, we’re celebrating Susan Holt Kralovansky’s newest title, How Fire Ants Got their Fire, which came out in March.
It was a treat for me to see this book in print because I got to see the story grow, or should I say take shape, during critique sessions. The key parts were there from the beginning: the main character appropriately named Ky-Anne; good ‘ole Texas expressions kids are likely to adopt; and a secondary story line. Susan’s story became leaner as she moved the secondary story line to the illustrations, which gave the story even more depth.
Unlike the rest of the Ninjas, Susan illustrates her stories with mixed-media collage. Take it from me, this won’t be a quick one and done read. Your kids will want to stop and examine all the little details, from the hundreds of ants to Granny’s army boots. Check out Susie’s process in this blog post – Even Illustrators Have to Do Research.
And like a true nonfiction writer, Susie couldn’t resist sharing a few facts with her readers. Each jalapeno on the end pages is literally peppered with a spicy tidbit. In the back matter she also shares Ky-Anne’s Prizewinnin’ Chili recipe, and where the idea for this story came from.
If any of you are thinking of writing an origin story, also known as a pourquoi tale, study Susie’s How Fire Ants Got Their Fire for a succinct lead, superb pacing, and a fun blending of facts and fable.
By Susie Kralovansky
Although it may not seem like it from the looks of my office, but I’m obsessed with Marie Kondo, her books, and her Netflix series Tidying Up With Marie Condo.
While reading her book Spark Joy: An Illustrated Master class on the Art of Organizing and Tidying Up, it occurred to me that her rules for tidying could also be the perfect rules for revisions.
The revision process is not about decluttering your story or making it look nice and neat for editors. Instead, it is about revising in a way that will spark joy when reading your final draft.
1. Commit yourself to the revision process.
Writing is revising and rewriting. And revising again. And again. Keep in mind the words of a pro: “I love revision. Where else can spilled milk be turned into ice cream?” – Katherine Paterson.
2. Imagine your ideal manuscript.
Paste your draft into a dummy. (If you’ve never made a dummy – take 8 sheets of paper, stack them landscape style and fold them in half. Staple along the fold.) Does your manuscript fit? Too much information? Too little? Your dummy will guide you as you make revisions.
3. Finish discarding first.
Go through your manuscript line by line. If it sparks joy (moves your story forward) keep it. If not, discard. This way, you’re not wasting time revising materials that could eventually be cut.
4. Revise by category.
Does your first page grab the reader? Do you have a satisfying ending? Will this keep your reader engaged from beginning to end?
Have someone read your story aloud. Is your writing sparkling? Did your reader get stuck or stumble?
5. Ask yourself if it sparks joy.
“In writing, you must kill your darlings.” – William Faulkner. This is the hardest part - hanging on to those elements you love. They may have special meaning but will probably have your agent or editor rolling their eyes.
Remember, you’re not choosing what to discard, but what to keep. And, you only want to keep the good stuff that makes you and your manuscript shine – with joy.
Repost from 5/2019
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.