Nonfiction for children is a genre that has grown in the last few years. In the past, many people felt a children's author just did not have credibility unless she wrote and sold fiction. This is not the case today, as the nonfiction genre has opened up many doors for both authors and publishers. Prestigious awards are given to authors who can convey a subject in a clear and meaningful way, but still keep a child interested and even entertained. The opportunities to write and sell nonfiction are huge and continue to grow, but how does a writer just starting out "break into" writing for nonfiction book publishers?
- Know your publishers. There are two different kinds of nonfiction book publisher. Trade publishers like Dutton, Arthur A. Levine Books, and Boyds Mill Press accept nonfiction. As a writer, you would come up with the idea, write a book manuscript, submit to the publisher and wait for a response. It works the same way if you submit fiction to them. They buy what they like and need on a variety of topics. They sell to the general public through bookstores and online and your more traditional outlets.
The other kind of nonfiction book publisher is the educational publisher. These publishers focus on the educational needs of children. Publishers like Enslow, Capstone, and Facts on File are just a few examples, but this list is really quite long. They sell their books through libraries and schools and other educational facilities. The biggest difference though is not where they sell their books, but how they obtain material to create the books. Nonfiction educational publishers hire writers to write their books and this can mean a long, lucrative relationship for the author and the publisher. Many of these publishers create series around a specific topic. For example, a series might be about disasters. An author would be given a list of topics already chosen by the editor and asked to choose one or two titles to write about. Another series might be on mighty machines or famous scientists. The editor contracts with the author and the series gets under way.
- Do I have the right writing credits? Not all authors are suited to write for nonfiction educational publishers. If you are new to writing, chances are the editor at a publishing house will not consider you for a book. However, if you are an expert in your field and have done even a small amount of children's writing, you may be considered. However, editors know that it takes more than expertise on a specific subject to write a book. In fact, they use experts on the subject to "edit" the books. So why don't they have these experts write the book themselves? Simple - they just don't always understand how to take a topic and write it for a specific age group. Editors look for authors who have experience in writing for children, particularly nonfiction. Authors must understand reading and age levels of children, and having some practice at this is vital.
- How do I get writing credits? The best way to build writing credits is to write and sell nonfiction to magazines. Writing and selling nonfiction to magazines allows the author to write on a particular subject, for a specific target age or reading level, and often within a certain style or format. It takes some discipline to do this for the author needs to know a few things: What topics does the magazine want, need or publish? What is the target age of its readers? What is the magazine's style, format and word count? Does the magazine use graphics or photos? Does the magazine use sidebars? The more you know about a magazine, the easier it is to sell your work to them. The more you sell, the more writing credits you will gain and then you can approach a nonfiction book publisher with the writing experience needed. How many writing credits are enough? This is hard to say. Some authors have gotten jobs based on writing credits with a few magazines; others have had many writing credits. Chances are, you will know when you feel comfortable enough to submit your ideas to a book publisher.
- Create a writer's resume. Once you have your writing credits, put together a writer's resume. There are different formats you may follow in creating one, but for some ideas, do a keyword search in Google and type in "writer's resume." You will see many websites that focus on this subject. The most important thing to include on your writer's resume is the name and date of the magazines you are published with. Also, if you have work experience as staff personnel on a magazine, this may be used. Any writing experience you have should be put on your resume, but if you are a clerk at the supermarket, or a lawyer, or a doctor, or a salesperson, leave this out. Your focus of your writer's resume should be WRITING!
Once you have your resume finished, seek out publishers for whom you would like to write. Don't just rely on the book market guides either. Visit the library and check out books that the publishers have produced. Visit their websites, too. If you want to write books for young readers, you will not submit your resume to Chelsea House. They publish material for teens. You may be interested in submitting to Capstone or Enslow Publishers. With your magazine writing, you probably have discovered a couple of things about yourself - what topics you are most interested in writing and for what age group. This is important to know because you don't want to get an assignment writing a book for teens, when you struggle and find teen writing extremely uncomfortable. Find publishers that create the kind of books you not only like to read, but like to write.
- What do I submit to the publisher? You want to be as professional as possible and your submission to any publisher should always reflect this. First, read the guidelines that the publisher posts on his/her website. You can also find guidelines in book market guides. Follow the publisher's directions for submitting material closely. Most editors want to see a resume, sometimes with clips, and a cover letter. Clips are copies of published pieces--be sure you submit only nonfiction clips!
Your resume shows the editor your past nonfiction writing experience. Your cover letter tells the editor a little bit about you. Keep it under a page. Be sure to tell the editor if you are an expert on a particular subject, any experiences you feel are unique (maybe you lived in another country), and topics you are most interested in writing about and why. Send your resume, clips (if needed) and letter along with an SASE (self-addressed stamped envelope).
- How long should I wait to hear back? The time it takes to hear back from a publisher varies. Some will take just a few weeks, while others may take up to six months or longer. If the editor likes your work experience, he/she may write back and let you know that you will be kept on file for possible future assignments. Don't leave it up to them. Remind the editors every few months that you are still interested in writing for them. Editors receive so many submissions from authors that it is hard to keep track of authors. The old saying, "The squeaky wheel gets the grease" is true in this case. Don't be a pest, but don't let the editors forget about you and your resume lost in a file cabinet at the back of the room.
Writing nonfiction for children is a lot of fun. Once you write one book for a publisher, assuming you've worked well with the editorial staff, met their deadlines and wrote according to their style and format, the possibility of writing more books for them is great. Not only do you, the author, get a published children's book in the end, you get paid for it, too!