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Children’s Nonfiction: What Are You Writing?


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When I get a new student in my nonfiction writing class, one of the first things I ask them is what they are writing. I don’t mean it as a trick question, but there are a lot of factors that go into identifying your nonfiction project. 

What is the age of your reader? 

When you give an age range, it helps to give a range that is similar to the ones recognized by publishers. Some of the ranges I see when I read marketing listings are 2 years to 4 years, 5 years to 8 years, and 9 years to 12 years. 

Figuring out the approximate age of your reader is only the first step but it is an important one. It impacts reading level, vocabulary and what they already know about your topic and the world. 

Are you writing a book or a magazine piece or something else? 

This seems picky but a book manuscript for ages 3 to 5 is going to be a picture book. That is going to be very different from a magazine piece, and it isn’t just the length. Picture books have more illustration possibilities. Magazine pieces need to fit the tone of the magazine. Something for a web site may need to include hyperlinks to videos or sound clips. 

What is the subject of your work? 

Knowing the broad topic is only the first step. Whether you are writing about bears, dinosaurs or Ancient Egypt, you are going to have to narrow your topic. It doesn’t matter if you are writing a magazine piece or a book, you simply will not have the word count to write everything there is to know about any of these topics. 

This means that you need to know your slant. A book or a magazine piece about bears could be about returning an individual animal to the wild or the evolution of the grizzly. If you are writing about dinosaurs, you might write about an artist and how science informs their illustrations or our changing understanding of the T-Rex. The great thing about a slant is that it narrows your topic and can help you fit in around the competition. 

I am writing a picture book (ages 8 to 10) about the formation of the Onondaga Cave system and what was simultaneously occurring on the surface. I am marketing a piece of chapter book nonfiction (3rd grade reading level) about the science of vomit in human beings and animals. How does it occur, why does it occur and why it is vital to life. 

So what are you working on?

--SueBE

Sue Bradford Edwards' is the author of over 27 books for young readers.  To find out more about her writing, visit her site and blog, One Writer's Journey.


Sue is also the instructor for  Research: Prepping to Write Nonfiction for Children and Young Adults (next session begins May 3, 2021) and Writing Nonfiction for Children and Young Adults (next session begins  May 3, 2021). Her new course, Pitching, Querying and Submitting Your Work will begin on June 7, 2021).

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