Posted in Craft, Guest Post, The Nitty Gritty of Children's Writing

Nancy I. Sanders on Writing Nonfiction

June 5 SandersI keep running into writers who want to write nonfiction and have more questions than I can answer, so here’s an interview with Nancy I. Sanders who is well-established in this area:
What led you to write nonfiction?
In my book, Yes! You Can Learn How to Write Children’s Books, Get Them Published, and Build a Successful Writing Career, I explain a strategy I call the “Triple Crown of Success.” For this I always recommend writers be working on three separate manuscripts to meet three separate goals:
1) the goal to get published,
2) the goal to earn income, and
3) the goal of writing for personal fulfillment.
As I started to build my writing career, I discovered I could earn nice income writing nonfiction so I always try to be working on at least one nonfiction project while I’m working on manuscripts to meet my other two goals.
How do you usually get to write nonfiction books? Do you come up with the idea first or does the publisher? Or does it vary?
Sometimes a publisher sends an idea my way. The way I got the idea to write Frederick Douglass for Kids, however, was very typical of the way I come up with ideas for nonfiction books. I was browsing through a current catalog of this publisher and exploring the titles of their “For Kids” series. I noticed they had various famous Americans in their series such as George Washington for Kids and Benjamin Franklin for Kids. I realized they had a hole in their series and didn’t yet have a title on Frederick Douglass, one of the greatest leaders in America. So I queried the publisher and asked if they’d like to see a proposal on a potential new title called Frederick Douglass for Kids. They said “Yes!” and the rest is history.
What chances does a nonfiction children’s writer have of writing another book about a topic that already has numerous books written about it?
Actually, the chances are quite good, if you do your homework.
First, check the product line of the publisher you’d like to target. If they already have a book on this topic, perhaps they’d like one written with a fresh, unique angle.
And if your publisher doesn’t yet have a book on the topic you want to write about…chances are that if it’s a common topic, your publisher would like to have a book in their product line written on that topic, too! That was the case with this book.
In the books you write, do you use both primary and secondary sources?
It depends on each project. For this book, I used numerous primary sources that included Frederick Douglass’s autobiographies as well as many little-known books written by African American solders who fought during the Civil War as well as African American women who supported the troops as nurses or spies. I found amazing facts and stories I’d never read in any other history book about the Civil War! Plus I had lots of secondary sources of more current books that helped give an overview about the history of this era.
Do you have any favorite “go to” sources when you start a new project?
I like to gather other children’s nonfiction books on my new topic. This helps me develop my outline by referring to the table of contents in these books. Children’s books capture the top ten essential ingredients about a topic, so they’re great resources for developing an outline and a proposal in a short amount of time.
Then, if the proposal is accepted, I gather encyclopedias and primary sources on my topics to really dig in depth. Since I specialize in writing African American history for kids, I own over 200 research books in my own personal library that I’ve built over the years. It’s so helpful when I start a new project because I already have these resources at hand. My favorite resource is numerous books by Dr. Henry Louis Gates, Jr. including his encyclopedia set I own, African American National Biography.
How do you organize your research notes? On 3×5 cards, a notebook, on your computer?
The system that works best for me is that I first sit in a comfortable chair to read research books and jot down notes by hand on paper for about an hour to start my day.
Then I move over to my computer and type these notes into an ever-growing working outline. Then I print out these notes and other important notes such as information I’ve found and printed out from the Internet that day. I store these notes each day in a file folder, one file folder per chapter (or section within a chapter for a really long book). I store all these file folders in a pocket folder for handy reference when I need something from a specific chapter that I’ve printed out. This usually takes me another hour.
Then I sit at my computer and type new material for my book project for another hour or so, based on the research I just did.
This gives me at least 3 solid hours of writing each day.
Do you have any advice you’d give to someone who is just starting out and wants to write nonfiction?
Don’t be a “Lone Ranger” writer. Learn how to be a “piggyback” writer. I explain all about how this works in my book for children’s writers, Yes! You Can Learn How to Write Children’s Books… In a nutshell, if you want to experience breakthrough as a nonfiction writer, study publishers’ catalogs and look for series that are written by multiple authors and the copyright to each book is in the author’s name. Brainstorm 3-5 ideas for topics that can fit within that series. Then send a query to that publisher asking if they’d like to see a proposal on any of those topics to fit into their current series.
Not only does this help you land a contract to write a nonfiction book, but when your book comes out, everyone who is already buying the other books in the series will buy yours too, and you’ll see great sales! This is what I call being a “piggyback” writer. It’s in stark contrast to what I refer to as a “Lone Ranger” writer who just tries to find a publisher for her own idea and if it does get published has to try to market it on her name or that title alone with slow sales as a result.
What are you doing to celebrate the release of your book, Frederick Douglass for Kids?
I’m hosting a two-week virtual Book Launch Party! There are prizes to win, fun facts to learn, and lots of inside peeks and helpful tips about how a book is born. Stop by my site today to join in the party.
FrederickDouglassCoverBook Synopsis
Few Americans have had as much impact on this nation as Frederick Douglass. Born on a plantation, he later escaped slavery and helped others to freedom via the Underground Railroad. In time he became a bestselling author, an outspoken newspaper editor, a brilliant orator, a tireless abolitionist, and a brave civil rights leader. He was famous on both sides of the Atlantic in the years leading up to the Civil War, and when war broke out, Abraham Lincoln invited him to the White House for counsel and advice.
Frederick Douglass for Kids follows the footsteps of this American hero, from his birth into slavery to his becoming a friend and confidant of presidents and the leading African American of his day. And to better appreciate Frederick Douglass and his times, readers will form a debating club, cook a meal similar to the one Douglass shared with John Brown, make a civil war haversack, participate in a microlending program, and more. This valuable resource also includes a time line of significant events, a list of historic sites to visit or explore online, and web resources for further study.

More About Nancy
Nancy I. Sanders is the bestselling and award-winning author of over 80 books including America’s Black Founders, A Kid’s Guide to African American History, and D Is for Drinking Gourd: An African American Alphabet. She teaches other writers how to launch their career to the next level based on material found in her book for writers mentioned above. Nancy’s writing buddies, Sandman and Pitterpat (who just happen to be cats–see picture above) help bring laughter to her days. You can visit their site for practical tips, writing worksheets, and a light-hearted look at the writer’s life.
See what’s happening at Nancy’s launch party.

Posted in Guest Post, The Nitty Gritty of Children's Writing, The Publication Process


heartbroken.jpgIf you’re heartbroken, don’t let it stop you from writing and submitting, at least without great thought. Be encouraged by this guest post by Krista Van Dolzer:

When Cupid* asked me to share a little advice and encouragement about the querying process, my first thought was that I was the perfect person to write this post 🙂 I queried my first manuscript in 2008, and here it is, 2012, and I’m just landing an agent, almost four years exactly after I sent my first query.
To be honest, I thought my last manuscript was going to be the One. It was the third manuscript I’d queried, so I definitely knew what I was doing, and my request rate was well over fifty percent. I received multiple revision requests and got all kinds of positive feedback, but in the end, nobody loved it enough to offer.
I was devastated, heartbroken. I’d thrown myself over the cliff, certain my parachute was finally going to open, but instead, I slammed into the pavement in full-scale freefall. The rejections hurt more because I knew how close I was.
I started querying my fourth manuscript in a weird in-between place. I felt good about the project, really good (one of my critique partners read the whole thing in one sitting, and another couldn’t wait to recommend it to her agent), but I was well aware of the fact that querying, like life, usually doesn’t turn out the way we expect it to.
And so it was with Steve. (That’s what I call him around the house, since THE REGENERATED MAN AND ME is a little more of a mouthful.) I’d imagined getting an offer within a couple of weeks from one of the fast responders I’d queried, but that didn’t happen.
As it turned out, what did happen was way better than anything I could have planned.
A few weeks ago, I signed with Kate Schafer Testerman, the agent who was literally at the top of my list, and I couldn’t be more excited. (If you’re not already sick of me, you can check out part one and part two of the story on my blog.) She’s the agent I would have picked if I could have picked anyone, and she picked me.
I’m not going to tell you to keep going, to never give up, because when you’ve been going for a while and you’re still waiting for that miracle, that’s the last thing you want anybody to tell you. Sometimes taking a step back, at least for a while, is the best thing to do, and that’s okay. But what I am going to say is that you never know when life will surprise you. We writers should know better than anyone that the best stories are the ones you don’t try to force.

*This post first appeared on Cupid’s Literary Connection on April 23rd and is used by permission.
Picture is courtesy of Anita Patterson on
Read more about Krista on her blog, Mother. Write. (Repeat.). And check out her Agent Inbox feature.

Posted in Guest Post, The Nitty Gritty of Children's Writing, The Publication Process

Ouch! Thin Skin!

Authoress2Guest post by Authoress
Excerpts* from her Miss Snark’s Next Victim blog on April 23rd:

Lots of people in this business won’t mince their words. If it’s something you’re not used to, it’s time to get used to it.
It doesn’t mean you suck.
It doesn’t mean you should give up.
It doesn’t mean the universe is ending.
What it means is: Some people won’t mince their words. That is all. You may be expecting something other than what you receive. You may feel stunned or numb or flabbergasted when you read someone’s response to your work–especially if that “someone” is an agent or editor with whom you were hoping to find some level of favor.
Welcome to the World of Showing People What You’ve Written.
It’s not fun. It’s not something that most of us can get used to overnight. But the Thick Skin is an important part of our journey, so if you haven’t started growing yours yet, now’s the time.
I don’t have a big magenta eraser for editing less-than-tactful critiques and comments. I may not like them, but they are a reality for us as writers.
fisherman-2576631_640We need to reel them in with the rest of the fish, and cast them away if they don’t serve a purpose. Interestingly, often they do serve a purpose–if only to teach us to rise above our emotions and keep pressing on.

*photo above and text used by permission

Isn’t that well said? I especially love the line about reeling those comments in with the rest of the fish.
I’d like to add this quote by another writer, Julia Sorel: “If you’re never scared or embarrassed or hurt, it means you never take any chances.” So take the chances that come your way, sort through the fish that are caught, and keep the ones that improve your writing. (Remember, they may not be the easy ones.)

Posted in Craft, Guest Post, The Nitty Gritty of Children's Writing

4 Ways to Make Your Characters “Talk Different”

Guest post by the wonderful Bruce Hale!
aka The Writer Guy

Have you ever read a manuscript where everybody talks alike, and you can’t tell the characters apart without a constant “said Jack”? I have. This problem crops up again and again in unpublished manuscripts I’ve critiqued, and it’s one of the things keeping those authors from getting published.

But it doesn’t have to be that way.

If you want to make your characters stand out and be unique (i.e.: see the light of day in a published book), first try running your dialog through the cliché detector. Figures of speech can be so common you don’t even notice them – phrases like, “we’re not out of the woods yet,” or “don’t count your chickens before they hatch” tend to slip right past our radar. Don’t let them.
Make your dialog better than that, more original. In your dialog revision, take the time to establish a voice, even a lexicon for each of your main characters. It’ll make them stand out from each other, and more, it’ll make them jump off the page. Here are four ways to make your characters “talk different.”

Is your character defensive, combative, a know-it-all, a joker? Make sure that her dialog consistently reflects this.
Let your character’s attitude inform every utterance. As an example, take Deborah Wiles’ EACH LITTLE BIRD THAT SINGS. The obnoxious little boy, Peach, could have just said, “Good morning, Comfort,” when he came into her room. Instead he says, “It’s morning and I’ve come to see you!”
That little tweak shows us his quirky personality, as well as his attitude. Is he excited to see Comfort? Oh, yes. (Is she excited to see him? Not so much — and her dialog reflects this.)


Your characters’ level of education determines so much of their speech, from word choice to sentence length and complexity. Make sure that you take this into consideration and use it to set characters apart from each other.
Have the smart characters use bigger words than the rest; have the not-as-smart-as-they-think-they-are characters MISuse bigger words. In my book, FAREWELL, MY LUNCHBAG, janitor Maureen DeBree aspires to a more sophisticated means of expression than her education allows. That’s why she says things like “Don’t cast nasturtiums” instead of “Don’t cast aspersions,” and advises the detectives to use their powers of “reduction,” instead of “deduction.”

What does your character obsess over? What kind of background did he come from? What kind of world does she live in? These considerations will inform what your characters say and how they say it.
For example, in EACH LITTLE BIRD THAT SINGS, Comfort’s older brother, Tidings, is obsessed with all things military. When he greets her, he says, “Easy, Private!” When asked where the visitors are, he says, “The troops are reconnoitered in the back parking lot.” It’s never a challenge to know when Tidings is speaking, and his dialog reveals a lot about who he is and what his aspirations are.


What kind of character would say, “Criminently”? What character would say, “Eeww, gross”? (Hint: probably not the same character.) Exclamations are a small touch, but if you use them right, they can help the reader zero in on the personality of whoever is speaking in a heartbeat.
For example, in the Dresden Files series by Jim Butcher, the hero, Harry Dresden, is a wizard/private investigator. He uses phrases like “Hell’s bells” and “Stars and stones” as exclamations, giving him a uniquely wizardly way of expressing himself. If he just said “damn” and “holy moley,” it wouldn’t have the same effect.
Take these four considerations into account, the next time you’re taking a closer look at dialog. And I guarantee, to paraphrase David Sedaris, that your characters will “talk pretty one day.”

bruce_hale.jpgEdgar-nominated author-illustrator Bruce Hale is passionate about inspiring reluctant readers to open books (and read them). He has written or illustrated more than 25 seriously funny books for children, including the award-winning Chet Gecko Mysteries series, Snoring Beauty (one of Oprah’s Recommended Reads for Kids),snoringbeauty.jpg and the comics-novel hybrid, Underwhere. Read more about the books on Bruce’s website.
An actor and Fulbright Scholar in Storytelling, Bruce is in demand as a speaker, having presented at conferences, universities, and schools all across North America.
Plus, he’s one nice guy.
And, you can get great articles like this one by signing up for his newsletter. It’s free here.

Posted in Business Side of Writing, Guest Post, The Nitty Gritty of Children's Writing, Writing for Adults

How to Evaluate a Good Blog Gig and Earn What You Deserve

Guest post by Jennifer Brown Banks:
Last year, when I landed a blog gig that boasted 100 bucks monthly for 300-word posts, I was tickled pink. Easy money I thought to myself.
Not only did this project seem exciting and effortless, scoring it, along with my other “regular” blogging clients, meant I could save time, effort, and angst from scouring weekly job boards and networking feverishly for potential leads.
But my joy was short lived. Not long after accepting this job, I realized that not all blogging gigs are created equally.
Blog listings are increasingly abundant on Craigslist, Freelance Writing Jobs, Blogging Pro, and Pro, to name a few. But what should you look for in “reading the fine print?” What makes for a profitable pursuit? Here are a few things you need to consider in assessing a blog job offer or ad:
5 Key issues to consider
Keys_Coloured1. The scope of your responsibility—This may seem like a no-brainer, but trust me, it isn’t. In other words, will you be required to do research? Will you have to make your posts Search Engine Optimized? Provide your own topics? These are things to consider. $50 per post may seem like a lot initially, but if the subject matter requires extensive research, tech troubles, and red tape, you’ll end up with very little earnings for your efforts.
2. The amount of expertise required—Some blog jobs call for you to know different content management systems to post your own work (i.e WordPress, Scrives, Blogger); with others, the blog owner does the actual posting upon approval. Additionally, some projects require you to provide your own photos, to be versed in things like anchor texting and social media. Make sure to be compensated equitably for your skill sets and your time. Just like you would in corporate America.
3. The method of payment—Will it be based upon performance metrics, like per clicks? Readership levels? Readers’ votes? Or perhaps per post? Per word? Be clear on the terms and how you’ll collect your pay. If it’s vague, steer clear.
4. What’s the standing of the blog and its owner? Is it a highly ranked site? Popular within its niche? Many ad placements? These tell-tale signs will determine how successful it is and the likelihood of future pay. For instance, I blogged for one client for a couple of weeks who decided to “close shop” because things were not materializing the way he had expected. If I had done my homework, I might have known of his struggles to stay afloat and devoted my energies elsewhere. As they say, “time is money.”

5. Interaction level with audience
—Creating blog posts can also carry with it the pleasant but time consuming task of
responding to readers and answering related questions. Will you be allowed to make a general statement of “thanks”, to bypass commenting, or are you expected to address each one individually? Depending upon your time constraints and personal blogging style, this may or may not be a concern.
As with any job, the proper “fit” is important for longevity, success, and career satisfaction. So keep these tips in mind to make the most of your blogging experience, and to make the most money for your efforts.

Jennifer Brown Banks has blogged for many of the top, award-winning sites such as PROBLOGGER, Technorati, Daily Blog Tips, and Search Engine Journal. When she’s not blogging, she’s likely in hot pursuit of a good bargain sale.
Thanks, Jennifer, for generously sharing this information!