Children’s Nonfiction: What Are You Writing?

Sunday, April 25, 2021
When I get a new student in my nonfiction writing class, one of the first things I ask them is what they are writing. I don’t mean it as a trick question, but there are a lot of factors that go into identifying your nonfiction project. 

What is the age of your reader? 

When you give an age range, it helps to give a range that is similar to the ones recognized by publishers. Some of the ranges I see when I read marketing listings are 2 years to 4 years, 5 years to 8 years, and 9 years to 12 years. 

Figuring out the approximate age of your reader is only the first step but it is an important one. It impacts reading level, vocabulary and what they already know about your topic and the world. 

Are you writing a book or a magazine piece or something else? 

This seems picky but a book manuscript for ages 3 to 5 is going to be a picture book. That is going to be very different from a magazine piece, and it isn’t just the length. Picture books have more illustration possibilities. Magazine pieces need to fit the tone of the magazine. Something for a web site may need to include hyperlinks to videos or sound clips. 

What is the subject of your work? 

Knowing the broad topic is only the first step. Whether you are writing about bears, dinosaurs or Ancient Egypt, you are going to have to narrow your topic. It doesn’t matter if you are writing a magazine piece or a book, you simply will not have the word count to write everything there is to know about any of these topics. 

This means that you need to know your slant. A book or a magazine piece about bears could be about returning an individual animal to the wild or the evolution of the grizzly. If you are writing about dinosaurs, you might write about an artist and how science informs their illustrations or our changing understanding of the T-Rex. The great thing about a slant is that it narrows your topic and can help you fit in around the competition. 

I am writing a picture book (ages 8 to 10) about the formation of the Onondaga Cave system and what was simultaneously occurring on the surface. I am marketing a piece of chapter book nonfiction (3rd grade reading level) about the science of vomit in human beings and animals. How does it occur, why does it occur and why it is vital to life. 

So what are you working on?


Sue Bradford Edwards' is the author of over 27 books for young readers.  To find out more about her writing, visit her site and blog, One Writer's Journey.

Sue is also the instructor for  Research: Prepping to Write Nonfiction for Children and Young Adults (next session begins May 3, 2021) and Writing Nonfiction for Children and Young Adults (next session begins  May 3, 2021). Her new course, Pitching, Querying and Submitting Your Work will begin on June 7, 2021).


Sioux Roslawski said...

Sue--You gave me a load of great advice on article-writing in just six words:

You need to know your slant.

I mean, I know enough to narrow my focus when it comes to memoir pieces. But when I've contemplated writing an article for a kids' magazine (and I've done nothing more than contemplate), I've thought in broad strokes.

Narrowing it down, so I can go more narrow but also more deeply... well, it was a "no duh" moment for me.

Thanks Sue. Over 27 means you're a certifed expert.

Sioux Roslawski said...

Whoops. I forgot to answer your question. What am I working on? I SHOULD be working on a YA novel that's barely begun. I SHOULD be revising a picture book manuscript that's been edited and needs major deconstruction.

However, what I will be taking to a writing retreat is material to write a screenplay. I see a certain book becoming a movie... (I'm teaching myself how to do it, dreamer that I am ;)

Jeanine DeHoney said...

This is great information to know Sue for writing a nonfiction children's book. As for me, I have a laundry list of projects, but I am finally prioritizing two main ones.

Sue Bradford Edwards said...

I had to laugh. So often there is a big gap between what we should be working on and what we are enthusiastic about right this moment.

Loved your piece in Funds for Writers. So I'm wondering if one of the pieces you are prioritizing is for your fellow writers!

Renee Roberson said...

I write nonfiction for my day job, mostly in the form of magazine articles, but nothing for children. These are all excellent tips on the necessity of narrowing down your topic, though! I would highly recommend your class to anyone wanting to work on writing nonfiction for children! Where do you get a lot of your ideas? :-)

Renee Roberson said...
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