Thursday, March 12, 2009


A book is finished. It's been edited, designed, printed, reviewed, and delivered to stores. Perhaps the author has done some interviews and booksignings. And's time to start a new project. What'll it be?

In my case, it'll be very different from the last one. Here's why.

Some authors work on several books at once. I write one at a time. My most recent, Painting the Wild Frontier: The Art and Adventures of George Catlin (Clarion, 2008) was four years in the making. Just the illustration work--finding and choosing a hundred images, negotiating permissions and fees, writing the captions--took almost a year. For me, a nonfiction book for older readers is a huge commitment of time and energy, a true labor of love.

With that kind of production schedule, the book would have to be a bestseller to pay for itself, and as we all know, few nonfiction books are bestsellers. So I'm not planning to quit the day job anytime soon. I'm also not yet up to the mental challenge of another labor-intensive, multi-year nonfiction project. Fiction sells well, you say? I do have an idea for a novel, but that, too, would take a lot of energy and a couple of years to write.

If variety is the spice of life, then I like to spice up mine with nonfiction for different age groups. Right now, a nonfiction picture book is just the thing. I've found a story that's appropriate for a younger audience, one that can be told in about 1500 words. I'll enjoy the research, but I won't have to spend months and months doing it. Keeping my new book short and simple will be a refreshing challenge. And since it'll be illustrated with original art, there'll be no permissions to get or fees to pay.

But no, I'm not going to tell you what it's about. Maybe next time.

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