If you’re interested in writing and publishing children’s nonfiction, you’re probably researching the market. Ever notice that publishers can’t seem to get enough of certain subjects? Like, BIRDS!
For several reasons this subject is perennial: no matter where they live, kids can experience birds; birds are a great topic for teaching science curriculum standards; and, many book buyers (frequently grandparents and librarians) love sharing their passion for birdwatching with children.
According to a U.S. Fish and Wildlife survey, approximately 45 million people in the US enjoy birdwatching. Every year, binoculars come out and bird books get bought.
If you want to get published, write a bird book, right? If you’ve tried that, you might have received rejection letters with phrases like “too similar to books already on our list.” Submissions piles are full of competition. So, how do writers do it? How do they write on a common topic in a flooded market and still manage to get published?
Take a tip (or two) from this month’s STEM Tuesday book list:
Fun it up! You can’t read Superpower Field Guides – Ostriches by Rachel Poliquin and illustrated by Nicholas John Frith without enjoying the humor. I challenge you to find a single spread that doesn’t make you smile or chuckle.
Follow an Individual: In Moonbird: A Year on the Wind with the Great Survivor B95, Phillip Hoose gives readers a case study. Sure he presents technical information on data collection, life history, and conservation, but he does so through the lens of an observer (himself) spying on the life of one bird (B95). This does double duty, sucking readers in and letting them migrate with the birds, further supporting the scientific concepts.
Make it high concept: If listeners “get” your project with a single sentence pitch, it is high concept. Rebecca Hirsch’s Where Have All The Birds Gone? Nature in Crisis presents a problem that readers care about. Couple that with a sensory-filled opening scene, shocking examples, plus tips to empower young readers, and you may just get that acceptance letter.
Tell a Tale to Build to a Big Idea: In The Triumphant Tale of The House Sparrow, Jan Thornhill starts with a shocker: “Behold the most despised bird in human history.” Throughout the book, she uses storytelling devises like a trail of doors open just a crack to lure readers deeper and deeper into complexity: “At first, American was house sparrow heaven. At least for a while.” She builds tension: “A battle cry arose. The house sparrow had to be stopped.” She tells a tale that leads to an idea which will stick with readers: The power of resilience.
Get Personal: Sy Montgomery takes a personal approach when writing Birdology: Adventures with a Pack of Hens, a Peck of Pigeons, Cantankerous Crows, Fierce Falcons, Hip Hop Parrots, Baby Hummingbirds, and One Murderously Big Living Dinosaur. This unique approach appeals to readers who might not appreciate the same information presented in a more traditional expository fashion. Great writers experiment with different approaches to reach more readers.
Get Graphic: Sure Kyla Vanderklugt’s Crows: Genius Birds takes advantage of kids’ love of visual storytelling for the narrative, but it maximizes on that approach by using it to present expository information such as a family tree of corvids. When an author or illustrator can use one device to serve two purposes, that’s gold!
Pick another common topic: metamorphosis, or dinosaurs, or one of your choosing and brainstorm options for each of the above tips. It might surprise you just how much fun you can have when a flooded market forces you to get creative!
Heather L. Montgomery writes for kids who are wild about animals (including birds!). An award-winning author and educator, Heather uses yuck appeal to engage young minds. Her books include: Something Rotten: A Fresh Look at Roadkill, Who Gives a Poop? Surprising Science from One End to the Other, and What’s in Your Pocket? Collecting Nature’s Treasures. Learn more at www.HeatherLMontgomery.com
Such a clever way to get us brainstorming about new ways to tackle that topic, Heather! Having been a birder for 30+ years, I would love to write a book about birds but it feels like the topics been picked over and picked clean (like vultures on roadkill…LOL!). Now, though, you’ve given me inspiration!