"Teachers are clamoring for good nonfiction they can use in their classrooms. Librarians want nonfiction for their students doing reports. Publishers want nonfiction that is exciting and different. Kids love nonfiction. It's a huge market," says Brandon Marie Miller, author of award-winning middle grade nonfiction titles like Buffalo Gals and Just What the Doctor Ordered. Here are seven tips from Miller on researching and writing children's nonfiction:
- Start broad. Start at the library and search by subject. Look for recent books to help you get a broad idea about your subject. It's helpful to look at footnotes, bibliographies, acknowledgments, prefaces — they point you to other sources. Read everything.
- Use primary sources. Read journals and diaries as well as old newspapers, paintings, photographs and catalogs, and even advertisements, popular songs and period literature.
- Narrow down your topic. Start with a broad base then focus as you research. You can't write an 800-word article on the Civil War, but you can write a great piece on Civil War nurses, soldiers' uniforms or the biography of a general. Take a topic in a new direction. That's what editors look for.
- Be organized. Everyone has her own system; writing information on index cards works for me. Outlines help keep you on track and helps set up a theme for your book. But remember that an outline is never written in stone — go where the research takes you.
- Don't pass up quirky facts. Kids find quirky facts fascinating — they love juicy details and can see humor in things.
- Enjoy your research. I've been assigned topics I thought weren't the least bit interesting. But when you start doing research you will find something interesting. Enjoy the process.
- Write about what interests you. You can't catch a trend. Write about what you like. Children's nonfiction is wide open when it comes to topics. If you're interested in cooking, write an article about the history of a type of food. If you have tips on how a teenager can organize her bedroom, that's a great article. You can explore science topics, holidays, careers — the possibilities are endless.
To find listings for hundreds of publishers of children's writing for any genre, check out the current edition of Children's Writer's & Illustrator's Market.