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Pamela S. Turner: Seven Ways to Make Your Nonfiction Stand Out

Pamela S. TurnerA few weeks ago I attended a children’s writing conference in Los Angeles. I was struck by how many amazing, committed nonfiction writers are out there, all of them hoping that their project will get snapped up. Children’s nonfiction is part of a wonderful community…but it’s also very competitive.

How can you make your writing stand out? What does it take to grab the attention of agents, editors, reviewers, and award committees?

1. Don’t be satisfied with finding a subject. Look for an angle, preferably a fresh one. For example, “mountain gorillas” is a subject. “How wildlife vets keep gorillas healthy” is an angle.

2. Consider a non-traditional structure. A linear timeline is standard fare in biography, but it doesn’t have to be. You may want to start with an intriguing incident in your subject’s life and work backward to explain how it all came about.

3. Even if you think of yourself as “just a writer”, consider design. If you’ve got a great idea for how the book should look, mention it in your proposal or query letter.

4. If you write history, consider how to tie your subject to current events. Your project on 19th-century Chinese immigration could be a valuable curriculum gateway into the debate going on right now.

5. Remember that nonfiction can have a strong voice. Maybe you want to write in an essay-like style and let your own voice come through; perhaps you want to let the voice come from carefully selected quotes.

6. Share your bona fides. Editors are looking for stand-out books, and maybe YOU have a background that allows you to write this story in a unique way.

7. Don’t be afraid to experiment. Can’t decide on two very different story approaches? Write two sets of sample chapters using the different approaches. Test them out on critique partners and children of the appropriate age.

–Pamela S. Turner
Pamela S. Turner has written historical fiction, biography, and science on diverse topics. Read more about her.

Posted on: August 22, 2016

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