Friday, July 31, 2009

Ask the Author

Thank YOU to all the I.N.K. readers who have submitted questions. They are terrific. Isn’t it so interesting to see how different authors answer the same question?

Today we have a long question from Michael Ayers. It has been edited slightly below. Gretchen Woelfle has bravely agreed to answer it:

I recently completed a 40-month, 86-thousand kilometer bicycle tour of the southern hemisphere. Many people have said to me: "You should write a book," but I never thought much of that idea because: a) there are plenty of travel books available already, and, b) everything I want to say is available on my Web site.

However, I would like to produce some sort of educational content for schools, or school-age children. I’d like to relate my travel experiences to some of my favorite topics: geography/geology/natural history/environment/sustainable cultures, etc. I would not think this would be anything like a textbook, but rather, more like the types of works listed on this blog.

My questions are: What age group would you think such topics would be of interest to? Would I be likely to get a good response from educational publishers, or would the trade market be more appropriate? Do schools still use this sort of thing?

Gretchen responds:
When I wander far from home I also get the comment, “You should write a book about this.”

My answer: “I will, if I can come up with a good story.”

I haven’t done much writing for educational publishers, but I have done travel journalism, and I found that advance research was crucial. In other words, I already had the outline of a “good story” before I left home. When I got to where I was going, I filled in details, anecdotes, and unexpected surprises. But I knew what to look for.

You’ll want to supply your own photos, which is another reason to know your story in advance. You’ll need a few long shots and lots of close-ups. Architectural details, clothing details, street signs, shop signs, market stall close-ups, plates of food, familiar things, exotic things, etc.

In writing books you should do further advance research. Go to the children’s section of a large urban library and see what’s already out there in series and single titles. Look on Amazon too. They have the best “card catalog” in the world, including new books which impoverished libraries —and they all are these days—might not own. When you know what’s out there, you can better decide if you want to write for the school and library market or the trade market.

Make sure your books are tied to school curricula. For example, kids study world history in sixth grade, so you might want to write a book, say, about the Inca Empire at that level. will give you national and state curriculum standards. You also might ask a school librarian about what kids and teachers check out most often.

Children’s Writer’ and Illustrator’s Market lists all publishers and what they are looking for. Your library probably has a copy. Earthquakes are occurring weekly in the publishing industry, and since CWIM is published each January, the 2009 edition may already be out of date. When you locate a publisher that seems promising, check their website to see that they are still in business and accepting submissions.

Good luck!


Vicki Cobb said...

Gretchen's response is spot-on. I have done a series of travel books that took me all over the world. The series, entitled "Imagine Living Here," explored each destination from some overriding point of view that shaped the lives of the plants, animals, people, habitats and culture. Without that theme, or as Gretchen calls it "story" there is no compelling reason for anyone to read the book.

Michael Ayers said...

Thanks to Gretchen and Vicki for your responses. :)