By Jennifer Swanson
As an author of almost fifty books for kids, I’ve written biographies, history, concept books,
branded books and series, but my main focus is on STEM books for kids. I love what I do! Being
a nonfiction children’s author is so fulfilling and exciting. Kids LOVE nonfiction!
I’m often asked if I have advice to aspiring nonfiction authors. In response, I came up with these
1. Where do I find a topic?
Anywhere! Start with something that interests YOU. After all, you are going to be spending a lot
of time with this topic as you research, write, edit, submit, and more. It’s always a good idea to
see if there are events that might tie to your topic, like a big anniversary or a holiday, or
something like Earth Day. But in the end, pick what you like and write it so well, that others will
be intrigued, too.
2. You don’t need to be an expert in the topic you’re writing about
This is a myth. What you need to have is a curiosity and the willingness to dive in and do the
research. As an author of many STEM/STEAM books, I can easily say that my degree in
chemistry didn’t help me with most of my book topics, well, except for my Big Fat Chemistry
Notebook. But even then, I had to do a lot of research for that book because chemistry has
changed since I took it in college. The best way to approach research is to start at the library.
Check out as many books as you can find on the subject. Then head to the internet. Research
legitimate sources, including universities, museums, professional associations, and maybe even
find an expert to help you. Primary sources are awesome! But just remember, you can learn any
topic if you just spend the time and effort to do it.
3. Narrative or Expository?
It depends. I know that’s not a definitive answer, but it really is up to you as the writer to decide
the best way to present your story. Typically, a narrative book tells a story. Not always from
beginning to end, but a definite story arc. You want to show progression in your story and not
just give informational facts. An expository book is mostly about the facts. Remember they are
FUN facts, not boring facts. You might use this to talk about a difficult concept by breaking it up
into smaller, more easily digestible facts, or perhaps you just want to bring attention to a
particular topic by going more in-depth and explaining how it works. Expository books are not
always straightforward, they can be lyrical, poetic, or even have a bit of narrative writing in
4. Picture book? Middle grade? YA?
Again, it depends. Sometimes the topic tells you the age of your reader, but not always.
Sometimes the topic tells you the age of your reader, but not always. The big
factor is how you want to approach the topic. Do you want to take a deep dive and get very
detailed? Then an older book might be better. If you want to give the reader a specific view into
the topic, and use fewer words, then a picture book is for you. To decide, my recommendation is
that you do a lot of research on the market. Make the decision to write what you feel is the best
way to present your topic to the reader.
5. What if another book about my topic comes out before I can sell mine. Will that affect
my manuscript from selling?
I’ll be honest, the answer is maybe. I think all of us nonfiction authors have had that happen. I
know I have. If someone writes a book about your same topic, especially if it sounds like it has a
similar approach to yours, is for the same age group, or with a bigger house, that can definitely
affect the sale of yours. That doesn’t mean you should give up. You can either keep working on
it, perhaps by tweaking it so that your book is different, or you can put it away for a while.
That’s what I did. I went out with a biography four years ago and it didn’t sell because another
book came out about the same person and won a ton of awards. Four years later, my newly
revised manuscript about that person sold. It just takes time.
You can do it!! The world is always in need of more writers of amazing nonfiction for kids!
Jennifer has been a featured speaker at the Tucson Book Festival, National NSTA conferences, the Highlights Foundation, the World Science Festival the Atlanta Science Festival, and the Library of Congress’ National Book Festival. You can find Jennifer through her website www.JenniferSwansonBooks.com.
Find Jen Here:
Facebook personal: https://www.facebook.com/jen.swanson.7737
Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100064360286922
We are so excited to be mixing things up at CBA, beginning with some delicious additions to the Blogfish. Meet our awesome bloggers!!
Here's our lineup:
1st Mondays begin with awesome Aussie debut author and former student Amanda Lieber who will be focusing on Aussie kidlit.
2nd Mondays will feature super smart Melissa Stoller whose career is taking off with several new books.
3rd Mondays will feature STEM, STEAM & SEL obsessed author Kourtney LaFavre sharing delightfully dorky, quirky, and fun info.
4th Mondays will be a mystery for right now.
And 5th Mondays we'll be taking a break