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The Magic Word for Breaking into the Children's Market
by Susan Denney

“Open Sesame!” Those were the magic words that opened the treasure cave for Ali Baba. When I was a kid, I loved the idea that I could open a door just by saying some words. Now I know a word that can unlock the doors to the children’s market and I’m going to share it with you. Are you ready? The word is “nonfiction.”

Fiona Bayrock writes about science and has more than a dozen children’s books to her credit. If you think that writing about science sounds boring, check out the title of her latest book—Bubble Homes and Fish Farts. A Junior Library Guild selection and published by Charlesbridge just last month, it explores the unusual ways animals use bubbles. Fiona explains how she broke into the children’s market by writing nonfiction. “I first wrote for magazines, breaking into one at a time, beginning with YES Mag, a children's science magazine I admired.” (If you’d like to check out this great magazine, the homepage is www.yesmag.ca.)

She explains that before sending out her first query she did lots of preparation. “I read about a year's worth of issues to get a good feel for the style and then queried the editor with an idea. She promptly turned it down---ouch, my first rejection right off the bat—but she said she was looking for ideas for her math issue.” Rather than be discouraged, Fiona prepared a math query, the editor liked it and that turned into a regular writing gig for her.

From that success, she broke into Odyssey, WILD and other children’s magazines before moving on to the book market. She has proven that nonfiction can be just as exciting and fun as fiction and a whole lot easier to sell. How many writers break into print in a national magazine after only one rejection?

Nancy Masters Robinson has sold more than 100,000 books for children. She is currently working on a four-book series called  How Did That Get to My House? for Cherry Lake Publishing. How did she break into the children’s market? Nonfiction, of course. But her entry into children’s writing was more indirect. Nancy began by writing nonfiction for adults. She says, “I built a following by writing features about something I knew…aviation. And I built that readership writing features about flying, about travel or anything that would fit within those parameters. I wrote stories in magazines, newspapers, and columns,” she says.

Nancy has a gift for simplifying difficult concepts. She sold adult articles with her ability to write for people who weren’t experts. She explains that the transition to children’s writing was a natural step. A child, she says, is like an adult who isn’t an expert on a given subject. “It’s a person who has limited background knowledge.”

Like Fiona Bayrock, Nancy didn’t begin with books but with magazines. “People came to me and said, ‘You know, you made that sound so simple. I’d like to do something for children on this subject. Can you do that?’ Then from the magazines did come the book publishers.”

Most people want to write fiction for children but most editors want nonfiction. This creates a golden opportunity. Fiona explains, “There is a huge demand for children’s nonfiction writing, both in magazines and books. Writers who do it well will find many opportunities for repeat business. For instance, I have educational publishers and magazine editors who call regularly asking me to write for them. For nonfiction writing, that’s not unusual. It’s extremely rare for fiction.”

Unlike Ali Baba, you can’t just say the secret word to enter the children’s market. You have to write your very best. But you can increase your chances of breaking in by choosing to write nonfiction over fiction. Use the magic word “nonfiction” and you just might get into a lucrative market and find treasure.

© Copyright 2009, Susan Denney

Susan Denney is a freelance writer living in Pennsylvania. She has published children’s fiction and nonfiction as well as adult articles on a variety of topics. Check out her website at www.susandenney.com.

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