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Five Questions Everyone Asks about Writing Nonfiction for Kids

We’d like to thank Jennifer Swanson for this blog post! Jennifer is co-faculty, along with Teresa Robeson, for Becoming a Nonfiction Writer, which is online September 16-24. Thanks, Jennifer!


Five Questions I’m Always Asked about Writing Nonfiction for Kids

As an author of almost fifty books for kids, I’m asked a lot of questions. After all, that’s pretty much what I specialize in–nonfiction. I’ve written biographies, history, concept books, but most of all I focus on STEM and STEAM.

In Becoming a Nonfiction Writer, Teresa Robeson and I tackle these questions in-depth by providing specific examples and offering suggestions for how to break into or continue your career in the nonfiction market. Here is a small sampling of what we’ll discuss:

1. Where do you find your 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. Do you need to be an expert in the topic you’re writing about?

No. You just need to have 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. You can learn any topic if you just spend the time and effort to do it.

3. Should my book be expository or narrative nonfiction?

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 them, too.

4. Should I write a picture book or a middle grade/YA?

Again, it depends. 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 writers 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.

We hope you’ll consider joining us to learn more about the fabulous world of kidlit nonfiction. The world is always in need of more writers of amazing nonfiction for kids!


Photo of Jennifer SwansonJennifer Swanson is the award-winning author of over 40+ nonfiction books for children, mostly about science and technology. Jennifer’s passion for science and technology resonates in all her books but especially, Brain Games (NGKids) and Super Gear: Nanotechnology and Sports Team Up (Charlesbridge), Astronaut-Aquanaut, and Parents’ Choice Gold Award Winner, Save the Crash-test Dummies. An accomplished and exciting speaker, Jennifer encourages kids (of all ages) to engage their curiosity and DISCOVER the Science all around them! Learn more at www.JenniferSwansonBooks.com.
Becoming a Nonfiction Writer

Posted on: August 11, 2022

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