Are you finding it difficult to ‘break in’?
Then let me ask you one more question: have you considered writing nonfiction for kids?
One of the things that my co-host Valerie Khoo and I discuss often on our podcast So You Want To Be A Writer is the importance of diverse income streams for authors and writer Brenda Gurr understands that concept very well.
Brenda’s work runs the gamut from the whimsical – her latest fiction series The Fabulous Cakes of Zinnia Jakes is just gorgeous – to the scarily factual (Monster Sharks: Megalodon and Other Giant Prehistoric Predators of the Deep, anyone?), and, as she points out here, writing nonfiction for children can be a brilliant way to expand your writing skills and your career.
And they can change a kid’s world.
Take it away Brenda Gurr…
Writing nonfiction for kids
What entices kids to read? Well-crafted plots. Characters they can relate to. Intriguing settings. Stories that whisk them away to incredible places.
Good fiction writing, of course, contains all of these things. But so can nonfiction writing.
Unfortunately, many children’s writers feel like they have only ‘made it’ in the publishing world when they have a picture book, chapter book or novel to their name. And it’s true that fiction books are the supermodels of the children’s book world. But their less glamorous counterparts can be just as fun and fascinating.
Nonfiction books can change kids’ worlds—and yours too!
As a nonfiction writer for children, you not only get to learn amazing things, you can also develop some great writing skills that are transferable to fiction writing.
So how do you get started writing nonfiction for kids?
My best advice is to begin by thinking carefully about your own interests. Do you love history? Are you sports mad? Are you an accomplished musician? Do you have a passion for gardening?
Make a list of everything, then brainstorm which aspects of these topics might hold interest for child readers of different ages.
If we take the musician idea as an example, you might consider writing a biography about a pop star or instrument-maker. Or perhaps a picture-rich book that tells kids about instruments from around the world or the biggest and smallest instruments ever made.
Keep your ideas firmly headed towards fun and quirkiness and you can’t lose.
It’s also worthwhile thinking about how themes, plot elements or character types in your latest fiction manuscripts could lend themselves to nonfiction writing.
For example, if your main character is a star swimmer, you could consider writing a nonfiction book about how swimming strokes were invented or one that compares human swimming skills to those of different animals.
One of the essential aspects of writing nonfiction is doing research – and it’s a huge amount of fun too! In fact, the hardest part can be knowing when to stop.
Make sure you only consult reputable resources – Wikipedia just doesn’t cut it, although it can be a great general starting-point (it can also provide you with useful links to excellent websites).
Read books on your topic that are aimed at adults as well as for kids. On this point, make sure you generally read plenty of nonfiction books for kids as part of your research, looking closely at the author’s style and tone, what information they chose to include and how they create a connection with their target audience.
Focus on books that have been published in the last 5 years so you become aware of changing trends. For example, creative nonfiction is very popular right now.
My number one rule for research is to have a clear focus. Ask yourself exactly what you want to get across to your readers, how you will make it relevant to their lives and which age group you wish to target.
Consider how you will treat the topic differently from other similar books you have read. This will be a familiar concept to fiction writers! You really want your book to stand out from others in the market.
Selling your work
As the published author of many short pieces of nonfiction for kids as well as books on topics ranging from prehistoric sea animals to World War I, I recommend that you make your start with the education market.
In Australia, this might include children’s magazines or educational publishers that specialise in photocopiable resources for teachers.
Outside Australia, a huge market to aim for is the American one, as there are many educational publishers who publish nonfiction books direct to school libraries.
Take a look at their websites and find out where the gaps are in their lists. You can then pitch your brilliant ideas to them. Quick, easy and often effective too!
So if you need a refreshing break from writing fiction, give nonfiction a try. It might be the perfect fit for you.
And just remember that many kids who are daunted by fiction books often devour well-written nonfiction books.
What could be more inspiring?
Brenda Gurr is an Australian author and editor, who writes both fiction and nonfiction for kids, including everything from magazine articles to entire box sets devoted to helping your kid learn to spell to picture books and novels. See her books here.
Her latest release is a junior novel called The Fabulous Cakes of Zinnia Jakes.
Would you love more writing tips and advice? Check out my book So You Want To Be A Writer: How To Get Started (While You Still Have A Day Job), co-authored with Valerie Khoo and based on our top-rating podcast.