Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Writing Nonfiction Books for Children: Market Research for #NaPiBoWriWee

#NaPiBoWriWee - National Picture Book Writing Week – is coming up, May 1-7. Perhaps you already have some ideas from STORYSTORM (formerly known as Picture Book Idea Month). If your ideas include nonfiction topics, you’ll need a good understanding of what editors are buying. Even if you are writing purely for your own enjoyment, or to share your memories with your family, studying other children’s literature will make you a better writer. It may also inspire new ideas!

The following is excerpted and adapted from You Can Write for Children: A Guide to Writing Great Stories, Articles, and Books for Kids and Teenagers.

Hit the Library

Maybe you are already an avid reader of recent children’s nonfiction. If so, great! If not, it’s time to start. You’ll learn a lot and get to enjoy wonderful stories at the same time. The library is an excellent place to explore children’s lit, but make sure you look for recent books or magazines. Styles have changed over the years, so it’s best to focus on books published in the last five years.

Try keeping notes on what you read, if you don’t already. Did you enjoy the book? Why or why not? What aspects did you think worked well, and what could have been stronger? The patterns you pick up will tell you something about the children’s book industry, but they’ll tell you even more about yourself. Maybe you are attracted to humorous articles for younger kids. Or perhaps you love picture book biographies with poetic language. If you are going to write, why not write what you love to read?

If you want to write for publication, you can also start researching agents and publishers here. When you read books you love, or ones that seem similar to your work, make a note of the publisher. You may also be able to identify the author’s agent in the acknowledgments, or from the author’s website. This will help you learn which publishers are producing what type of books. When you have something appropriate to submit, you’ll have a list of agents or publishers that are suitable.

Book Markets

Are you most interested in picture books? There are important differences between a picture book and an article, so you need to know which you are really writing and all the elements a picture book needs!

To prepare to write a picture book, you might review several of your favorite books, or see what’s new at the library or bookstore. It wouldn’t hurt to check out some of those magazines as well. They’re still a good source for understanding the interests and reading abilities of children at different ages. Plus, you might try comparing some magazine stories and some picture books to see if you can identify the differences.

Briefly, picture books are usually under 1000 words, often under 500 words, although nonfiction picture books may be up to 2500 words or so. They should have at least 12 different scenes that can be illustrated. Look for similar books at the library or bookstore and see who publishes them.

You’ll also find nonfiction in Easy Reader books, which are designed to help kids learn to read. They use simple vocabularies and short sentences, appropriate to a particular reading level. They may be a few hundred words long or several thousand words, depending on the reading level. Often they have a few illustrations, maybe one per chapter. Some publishers specialize in this kind of work, while others do not produce these books at all. They may also be called early readers, early chapter books, beginning readers, and so forth. For more on this kind of book, see Yes! You Can Learn How to Write Beginning Readers and Chapter Books, by Nancy Sanders.

Educational nonfiction, typically aimed at the school market, covers all school ages up through high school. Topics are usually chosen by the publisher based on what schools need. If you are interested in this kind of writing, the process is a bit different – you’ll probably need to submit a resume and writing samples instead of a manuscript or proposal. Then the publisher will contact you when/if they have a project appropriate for your skills and interests. You can submit new material every year or two when you have an expanded resume or fresh writing samples. You can still identify these publishers and get a feel for their preferred style by browsing books in the library.

Think about how to organize your notes so they’ll be useful in the future. Should you keep a reading notebook, set up a spreadsheet, or use color-coded index cards? Find a system that works for you.

Market listings:

Children’s Writer’s & Illustrator’s Market

Magazine Markets for Children’s Writers

Book Markets for Children’s Writers

The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) provides members with THE BOOK, which includes market surveys and directories for agents. The quarterly SCBWI Bulletin provides market updates.

Stop by next Wednesday for more advice on writing work for hire educational nonfiction – or subscribe to get posts automatically and never miss a post. You can use the Subscribe or Follow by E-Mail buttons to the right, or add http://chriseboch.blogspot.com/ to Feedly or another reader.

You can get the extended version of this essay, and a lot more, in You Can Write for Children: A Guide to Writing Great Stories, Articles, and Books for Kids and Teenagers. Order for Kindle, in paperback, or in Large Print paperback.

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