Non-fiction is BOOMING! Last week I attended an online presentation by Melissa Manlove a senior editor for Chronicle Books. She gave a very insightful seminar on writing non-fiction picture books for children. The market for them is apparently BOOMING! Authors have a much better chance of having a non-fiction picture book published than a fictional one.
Melissa told us teachers are looking for exciting, engaging non-fiction books that will teach kids about scientific ideas, mathematical concepts and social studies topics. She suggested children’s writers should begin by closely examining the Common Core standards most American schools use. These standards tell you exactly what specific things kids are required to learn in each subject area and it’s those things picture books should address. In Canada, there are education standards in each province for schools as well. But to really have a successful book you need to capture the America market AND the Canadian market.
I have done quite a bit of work on a biographical picture book about famous Canadian female artists but Melissa made me think I should probably shelve that project. First of all, she told us there is a glut of biographies about famous people written for kids right now so to get a biography picture book published is extra tough. She also said they don’t publish that many art books because teachers tend to use visuals rather than text in art classes and…….. she added as a final blow to my idea for a picture book about female Canadian artists……. biographies of artists just don’t sell very well.
What does sell?
Melissa suggested we check out the picture books recommended each year by the National Science Teachers Association to get an idea of what kinds of books are popular with elementary school science teachers. The 2020 list includes intriguing-looking books about animals and oceanography, computer code and electricity, the senses, astronomy and evolution.
Melissa introduced us to the kind of non-fiction books publishers are looking for by reading quite a number of books to us. She read books about sharks, Hurricane Katrina, Albert Einstein, microbes, hibernation and locomotives.
Melissa’s seminar was courtesy of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators a professional group providing some wonderful on-line programming during the pandemic. I belong to the organization so I can keep abreast of what’s going on in the publishing world of children’s books.
It is nice to just follow your own creative ideas when you write picture books. I’ve finished manuscripts for quite a few but………..they haven’t sold and Melissa’s seminar helped explain why. She reminded me that we have to consider the MARKET when we write!
So it’s back to the drawing board! Melissa says at the top of the list for picture books that sell are those that really make kids ask questions and wonder. She encouraged us to write books that address scientific inquiry and engineering design. Mmmmmm I need to start brainstorming. Do you have any ideas for me?