Welcome to my book blog, Blissfully Bookish. For this Q & A, please welcome a nonfiction author I consider both a mentor and a friend- Melissa Stewart. She just released Nonfiction Writers Dig Deep: 50 Award-Winning Children’s Book Authors Share the Secret of Engaging Writing published by the National Council of Teachers of English. This is a MUST HAVE for all nonfiction authors!
Please describe the journey to publication for Nonfiction Writers Dig Deep: 50 Award-Winning Children’s Book Authors Share the Secret of Engaging Writing.
The idea for this book traces back to the 2017 National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) Annual Convention in St. Louis, Missouri, when I was fortunate to participate in a panel titled “The Secret of Crafting Engaging Nonfiction” with two of the most talented children’s nonfiction authors of our time—Candace Fleming and Deborah Heiligman.
During our discussion, moderated by educator and children’s nonfiction enthusiast Alyson Beecher, we dove deeply into what fuels our work and why we routinely dedicate years of our lives to a single manuscript. As we compared our thoughts and experiences, we came to realize something critically important—each of our books has a piece of us at its heart. And that personal connection is what drives us to keep working despite the inevitable obstacles and setbacks.
Several other nonfiction authors attended our presentation, and afterward they praised our insights. That conversation helped us all understand our creative process in a new and exciting way. I wanted to bring this important discovery to teachers, students, and aspiring writers, so during the 2018-2019 school year, I invited a wide range of nonfiction writers I admire to discuss the topic on my blog.
Educators loved the essays and almost immediately started asking me to compile them, so they could be read as a group as used to inspire young writers. Eventually, my effort to fulfill their request led to this anthology.
This book is a wealth of knowledge, how long did this project take?
It took me a while to find a suitable publisher for the project and way to finance it, but since the essays were already written, once NCTE expressed interest, things moved pretty quickly.
After sorting the essays into three broad categories—choosing a topic, finding a focus, and making personal connections—I wrote an introduction to the entire book and introductions to each of the three chapters. Then I developed three sets of activities and teaching strategies to round out the presentation. This process took about 6 months. And then production took another 6 months or so.
I’m dying to know—what is the secret of engaging nonfiction? What can readers learn from this anthology?
The book’s primary audience is educators, who we hope will use it as a teaching tool to help their students become stronger nonfiction writers. But the book also has A LOT to offer aspiring children’s book writers. First of all, it can provide inspiration. But it also includes practical activities to help writers find a hook, theme, or central focus that will engage readers. And it emphasizes the importance of writers at all levels having skin in the game—that’s the secret.
I think author Laura Purdie Salas really captures what the book is all about in this quotation from her essay:
“There’s a common, crushing misconception that fiction is creative writing drawn from the depths of a writer’s soul, while nonfiction is simply a recitation of facts that any basic robot could spit out. The reality is very different. My personality, my beliefs, and my experiences are deeply embedded in the books I write.”
In the end, the underlying message of Nonfiction Writers Dig Deep is simple but powerful: To create nonfiction that delights as well as informs, professional writers as well as student writers have to dig deep to make the writing truly their own—something that only they could create. The goal of the anthology is to share personal stories as well as tips, tools, and activities that can help writers at all levels feel personally invested in their writing, so they can craft prose that sings.
100 percent of the proceeds from Nonfiction Writers Dig Deep will be divided among the National Council of Teachers for English (NCTE), We Need Divers Books (WNDB), and the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI).
What is the best (one) piece of advice you would give to other nonfiction writers?
Enjoy the journey and celebrate successes—even the small ones!
So many things about book publishing are out of our control, and there are lots of challenges and disappointments along the way. That’s why it’s important to make a big deal out of every single bit of progress, from a “good” rejection to a starred review.
That’s easy. I’d be a chipmunk. I love the way they zip around during the summer, and I’d love to be able to hibernate all winter long
Melissa Stewart has written more than 180 science books for children, including the ALA Notable Feathers: Not Just for Flying, illustrated by Sarah S. Brannen; the SCBWI Golden Kite Honor title Pipsqueaks, Slowpokes and Stinkers: Celebrating Animal Underdogs, illustrated by Stephanie Laberis; and Can an Aardvark Bark?, illustrated by Caldecott Honoree Steve Jenkins. Melissa maintains the award-winning blog Celebrate Science and serves on the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators board of advisors. Her highly-regarded website features a rich array of nonfiction writing resources.
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