People are always asking me where I come up with ideas for my STEM books. After all, if you’ve seen my books, I tend to use out-of-the-box angles to get kids excited about some interesting STEM topics.
Take my Astronaut-Aquanaut book. This one compares and contrasts SPACE and the OCEAN. Pretty cool concept, especially when you learn that while these two places are very extreme enviroments, it takes a lot of similar training and equipment to go both places. Which would you rather be?
Then there’s my Save the Crash-test Dummy book. It’s the history of car safety engineering, told through the lens of a day in the life of a crash-test dummy. Yes, you read that right.
A crash-test dummy. Probably NOT a job you want to have. But it’s a great way to get kids interested in car safety. (Shhh… don’t tell the kids they are learning about Newton’s Laws of Motion)
So HOW do I come up with my ideas? And then HOW do I turn these ideas into books? Well, I’m going to give you a peek inside my creative process. It’ll be fun. You might even say, SPORTS-tacular. 🙂
Yep, I’m going to use my new book that releases next Tuesday, July 20th, from Black Dog & Leventhal, as my example. I’ll take you through how this book started as an idea, then a proposal, then… a book. (With amazing illustrations by Laurène Boglio)
STEP 1: Come Up with an IDEA
- The easiest thing to do is write what you KNOW. — For me, I grew up with 3 brothers and a father who love sports. It was natural that I would as well. After all, I spent most of my days playing baseball in the backyard with my brothers, shooting hoops in the driveway, swimming laps in the pool for swim practice, running, hiking, biking, etc. You name it, I’ve played the sport. It only seemed natural that I write a book about something I know and love.
- Write something that INTERESTS you. This one should also be easy. If you know the topic, hopefully, you’ll like it. I do happen to like sports, which is good.
- Find the HOOK– This can be the tough part! After all, just because YOU like it and find it interesting, does not mean that others will. You need to think about how you can make this topic exciting to others. For this book, it was natural to combine my love of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) + Sports = STEM Sports Book (Exciting!)
WHY STEM and Sports? To me, combining STEM and sports seemed natural. Many people watch sports and just look at the game, but I see the physics, the technology, and the math everywhere. I thought if I could get kids (of all ages) to see that, they might find it cool to know as well. Besides, using something a lot of people love (sports), with something everyone learns (science and STEM), that just seemed logical to me. Good thing my editor agreed. 🙂
STEP 2: Write the proposal and a really good pitch
Writing middle grade nonfiction book proposals are not for the faint of heart. They take a lot of time and research, but are totally worth it. Here is a great place that offers tips just for this: https://www.dystel.com/nonfiction-proposals
Writing pitches is not easy either. You need to include enough information to make the editors interested, but not too much to make it boring. Keep your voice fun and entertaining (it should match your voice in the book) and have LOTS of energy.
Here is my first pitch: Hey! Want to know the secret to winning at sports? It’s not what you’d think. It’s… SCIENCE! Yep. To be great at sports you need to know about physics, biology, neuroscience and even a little engineering. Who would have thought that science class would be the best place to learn how to be a better athlete. Shh…. don’t tell anyone.
STEP 3: WRITE the manuscript!
So now that you’ve sold the book. Yes, I skipped over the hardest part, selling it. It can take awhile or in the case of this book, it was relatively short. An editor happened to be looking for a book on this topic at just the right time that my proposal was ready. Pretty great, huh? That does not happen all the time. But let’s face it, part of this career is just plain luck, right?
Anyway, as I began writing, I knew I wanted this book to be different. First of all, it had to have a cool kid-friendly voice. Here are the first few sentences:
If you picked up this book, it’s probably because you like sports. Maybe you want to see if it has tips for how to improve your game (it does), or how to become more fit (it has that, too), or just because you want to learn more about different types of sports (also there). But wait, the title says, the Science of Sports. That means that this book also teaches you about science. What does a sports book have science in it? Those two subjects seem so different. It’s not as if sitting in a science class can teach you more about your sport than practicing it. Actually, it can.
©Jennifer Swanson, Secret Science of Sports
But most of all, I wanted kids to USE this book. After all, science is best when it’s in action. So, I as I wrote about the science and STEM, I had the readers DO activities like these:
I also included images that showed the readers how the STEM was actually happening.
Again, my editor was totally on board with all of these ideas, thankfully. When you add in the amazing illustrations by Laurène Boglio it is really COOL! Readers get their own STEM sports-tastic view of the world!
So, THAT’s how I created my latest book. It was tons of fun and easy to write. For me, it was simply a trip through my sports-filled life. My hope is that readers of all ages find this book interesting, exciting, and useful. I want this book to get taken outside, sloshed through the mud-filled soccer fields, have sports drinks from tennis and football players spilled on it, and yes, even get a little wet from being beside the swimming pool.
It’s also a PERFECT companion for those of you that will sit down to watch the 2021 Summer Olympics
Finally, there NEEDS to be more STEM Middle grade books in the world, consider writing one. Kids of all ages will love you for it. GO STEM/STEAM!
I am giving away one copy of my Secret Science of Sports book. Leave a comment below with your favorite sport or favorite sports memory to be entered.