Sunday, March 22, 2020

Children's Nonfiction for Newbies: Trade, Mass, and Educational Markets

Are you stuck in the house because of Covid 19? Have you ever thought, "I could write a children's book? "

Well this is the time to start.

To help you along on your journey I will post some of the basic facts you need to know about children's book publishing, writing for children, and in particular, writing nonfiction for children. Because as my mother used to say, "Everyone has at least one true story inside of them."

Today, we'll talk about the three main markets for children's books: the trade market, mass market, and educational (or institutional) market. 

The trade market refers to bookstores. Trade books are typically hard covered and have a dust jacket (the paper covering with the front and back flap). Because these books are more expensive to produce, publishers tend to print a limited run. Perhaps a few thousand to start.  No topic is excluded, but the titles tend to be more literary.

Mass market books are found in big box stores. Think of a little kid flipping through a joke book. These books are usually paperback which makes them less expensive to make, and so can be "mass" produced. These titles are usually fun, eye-catching and made for a wide audience.

Educational books are made for schools and libraries. These publishers crank out hundreds of books in series on every topic and for every age group.  The books are usually hardcover or permabound which makes them extra sturdy for the wear and tear of a school library.

Over the years, these categories have shifted and blended, and sometimes it is difficult to tell the difference. Some publishers specialize in one or the other. The biggest publishers usually have three different divisions so they can sell to all the markets.

What does this mean to a writer?  Not much until you get to the submission stage.  Then you'll need to know in which market your manuscript fits.  It will also matter financially.  A trade publisher usually pays its authors an advance and royalties (10%). Any advance you get is "against your royalties" which means your royalties must earn up to and past your advance before you begin to collect.

Mass market may give advances and royalties, or they may pay a flat fee - one agreed upon price. You never make more than that even if the book becomes a best seller. 

The educational publishers usually pay a flat fee. This is also called work for hire. Writers usually get assignments, and have to hit tight deadlines. You might have just a few weeks to write a picture book. 

When you are able to wander free again, see if you can spot these three categories of books.  Do you notice any differences?  Do you prefer one style over the others? 

Next time, we'll talk about books for different age groups.

Sunday, February 2, 2020

Congratulations to the 2020 Sibert Winner and Honor Books

Every year the American Library Association awards the Robert F. Sibert award to the best nonfiction book. Look to these titles as mentor texts as you work on your own stories.

The 2020 winner is Kevin Noble Maillard and his concept book Fry Bread: A Native American Family Story.  Illustrated by Juana Martinez-Neal, it was published by Roaring Book Press. 
Honor Books include:   
All in a Drop: How Antony van Leeuwenhoek Discovered an Invisible World, written by Lori Alexander, illustrated by Vivien Mildenberger, and published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 
This Promise of Change: One Girl's Story in the Fight for School Equality, written by Jo Ann Allen Boyce and Debbie Levy, and published by Bloomsbury Children's Books.
Ordinary Hazards: A Memoir, written by Nikki Grimes, and published by WordSong, an imprint of Highlights.
Hey, Water! written and illustrated by Antoinette Portis, and published by Neal Porter Books, Holiday House. 

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Nonfiction Fest 2020

There is Rate Your Story, Storystorm, and 12 X 12 for fiction writers, but there hasn't been a place to inspire, educate and support the children's nonfiction writer -- Until Now!

Thanks to Pat Miller, director of several NF conferences and author of The Hole Story of the Doughnut, aspiring children's nonfiction writers have a place to go for the best advice from some of the best authors in the field.  Pat, along with Lisa Amstutz, Stephanie Bearce, Susie Kralovansky, Linda Skeers, Nancy Churnin, and me, Peggy Thomas, dubbed ourselves the Nonfiction Chicks, and are proud to present the first annual Nonfiction Fest.

Registration opens TODAY, Jan. 15th and runs until Jan. 31st.  To participate, go to
Blog posts begin Feb. 1st.
Join the growing and vibrant community of nonfiction writers.

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Singing the Praises of a Local Hero - Hosea Plays On

I am so excited to share a new picture book hitting the shelves this week -- Hosea Plays On by a wonderful friend, author Kathleen M. Blasi, and illustrated by Shane W. Evans. The story is based on the life of Hosea Missouri Taylor, a beloved musician and community activist in Rochester, New York. 

Recently, I asked Kathy what drew her to the story. She said, "I learned of Hosea Taylor when I read a newspaper article about him when he passed away. Had this been a standard obituary, I never would have noticed, so I credit Sarah Taddeo of the Democrat & Chronicle for spotlighting the work, advocacy, and impact Hosea had on the Rochester community. When I learned of his connection to and outreach with children, I thought I could find that nugget to tell a story for young readers."

That nugget or heart of the story is what transforms a "local" tale into a book that resonates with a larger audience. You don't have to be a Rochester resident to love Hosea.  From the bright colors on the cover to the author's note in the back, this is a gem.  And yet it is the simplicity of the story that I marvel at. Kathy captures Hosea's spirit by walking the reader through one typical day in Hosea's life. 

But that seemingly simple structure took hard work. "My first draft was the story of a fictitious grandfather (Poppy) and granddaughter (Georgia) who routinely visited the market," Kathy said. "The story was more about them, their interactions with various vendors, and how Hosea’s music bridged a connection to Georgia’s grandmother, who was sorely missed. But in that version, Hosea was not a focal point. So then I tried writing parallel narratives—Hosea and Poppy/Georgia—which eventually intersect. There was a lot of back and forth with those versions, and it felt like I was trying to cover too much ground. So, I decided to take out Poppy and Georgia, and keep the camera solely on Hosea. That’s the version that caught [the publisher's] eye. A-day-in-the life with characters who represent the spirit of the market and community afforded me the means to convey his impact in the space of a picture book."

A great tip for anyone writing a picture book -- Keep your lens tightly focused. 

Sometimes that means you have to leave information out. "One story I learned that did not make it into the story ," Kathy said, "was of the young daughter of a Market vendor, who placed coins in his saxophone case as he played. At end of his session, Hosea secretly returned the money to the little girl’s mother."  Even without this tender anecdote, the reader feels Hosea's generosity. 

Kathy hooks the reader on the first page when she writes, "Maybe--just maybe-- he would earn enough money." Enough money for what? We wonder. The mystery is soon resolved in a heart-warming ending. In between, the text sings with sound. From the ka-plink of coins to the smokey notes of Hosea's sax.  Hosea Plays On begs to be read aloud. 

January 11, 2020 at the City of Rochester Public Market from 9-12.  
280 Union St N, Rochester, NY 14609

February 17th, 6 pm, at the Arnett Public Library 
10 Arnett Blvd, Rochester, NY 14619 (listen to some of the musicians who played with Hosea)