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Want to Write for Children? Think Nonfiction!
by Lucile Davis

So you want to write for the children's market. Your kids always liked your stories and now that they're grown and gone, you'd like to share those stories with other children.

I have good news and bad new for you. I'll get the bad news out of the way first. Children’s fiction is about the hardest market to crack in the publishing industry. About 85% of the people, who want to write for children, want to write fiction.

The good news is -- 85% of the children's publishers are looking for nonfiction books and articles. A little quick math tells you there is a big market out there and only 15% of the writers are going after it.

If you want to be a published author, write nonfiction books and articles for children. Here's how.

Breaking into Print

1. Study the market. Go to the children's section of your local bookstores and libraries. Look at the nonfiction titles. You'll find history, biographies, social science subjects, science, geographies, and more. Read the books, see how they are written, and check to see who publishes these books.

2. Next, get copies of the children's nonfiction book publishers' catalogues. Sometimes librarians will be glad to give you copies just to get them out of her/his office. Or, plan to attend the next convention of your state Library Association. Publishers set up booths at these conventions. For a small fee, you can get into this book trade show and collect publisher’s catalogues.

3. Check these catalogues to see what the publisher has already printed and what is missing. Do some research on one of the topics you find the publisher does not have. Write a proposal for a book on this subject.

4. Make sure you look up the publisher in a writer's market book. Check for submission requirements, send for the guidelines, and make sure you know the name of the editor you need to send your work to for consideration.

5. Your query letter must be short and to the point. First graph: you want to submit a proposal for a book (title) you believe would fit their (name the series) line. Second graph: summarize the book and you approach. Third graph: give information about why you are the one to write the book (i.e. -- the book is about nursing and you are one), or your writing experience (enclose samples). Fourth graph: state clearly that you want to write for that editor's line of books, then thank him/her for his/her time -- then close the letter with "Sincerely," etc.

A Few Important Secrets

* Science and math are the best topics for breaking into print. Book and magazine publishers are desperate for writers who can make science clear and interesting to children.

* Attend writers’ conferences and conventions. As in any business, you are a step ahead if you meet a good contact (editor or publisher) and get permission to submit your query directly to that person. You will also be able to find out the publisher's current subject needs.

* When you send a writing sample, make it something that you've written for children. If you have not done so, prepare a sample that follows the publisher's guidelines. (It shows you've studied the market and can follow directions.)

* You don't need an agent to break into children's nonfiction.

* Never forget that writing is a business. Yes, it's an art and a craft, but if you expect to get paid for it -- it's a business. Be professional. Approach editors and publishers in a professional manner. They are busy people -- write to them, don't call.

Don't Give Up

Go through the five steps listed above. If your first queries come back negative -- do the five steps again (keeping the "Secrets" in mind, of course). The children's nonfiction market is huge. Keep submitting.

You don't have to give up your dream of writing fiction for children. But getting your fiction work considered is much easier if you are already working for the publisher. Sometimes it's as easy as having your nonfiction editor stand up and hand your fiction manuscript over her wall to the fiction editor in the next cubical.

Happy Writing!

© Copyright 1999, Lucile Davis

Lucile Davis is the author of 15 children's nonfiction books, 10 of them published in 1998. Her books are published through Capstone Press and Grolier's Children's Press. She is also a feature writer for local and regional newspapers and magazines. Currently, she is a feature writer for Fort Worth, Texas magazine published by Magnolia Media Group. In addition to her writing, she is a frequent presenter at writer's conferences and workshops. She teaches Writing for Children through Texas Christian University's Extended Education and is an instructor for the Institute of Children's Literature.

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