Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Nonfiction Now: One Publisher’s View

This month I decided it was high time to query a publisher about nonfiction. My contact at Holiday House prefers to stay anonymous but has graciously provided the following responses to my questions:

What is unusual or surprising about nonfiction vs. other types of books?
The thing that still surprises me about nonfiction is that despite many novel and inspiring attempts, booksellers have yet to figure out how to get customers to buy nonfiction for children that does not include some sort of novelty element.

Does nonfiction seem to be viewed differently than other genres by the reading public? If so, in what way?
The Internet has made the reading public view nonfiction differently. Publishers, authors and illustrators of nonfiction, and booksellers now need to explain to consumers that books can offer things that the World Wide Web does not. It's not just about the information—although that is certainly a crucial part of what nonfictio
n can provide. We need to figure out how to engage young readers with excellent writing, innovative approaches, critical thinking, and innovative formats.

What innovations in presenting nonfiction have been significant in recent years? (Photos vs. illustration, length of book, graphic design, etc.)
Technical advances have been changing nonfiction for some time, particularly in the area of illustration and graphic design. From pop-ups like Encyclopedia Prehistorica Dinosaurs by
Robert Sabuda and Matthew Reinhart to new manufacturing techniques that allow the use of “scanimation” in Gallop! by Rufus Butler Seder to ever more amazing techniques in taking photographs and reproducing them such as in Wolfsnail: A Backyard Predator by Sarah and Richard Campbell, nonfiction is constantly becoming more sophisticated, more innovative, and more novel.

Do you receive many nonfiction submissions vs. other genres?
Holiday House is known for nonfiction, so we receive many nonfiction submissions from authors who have done their homework. [See their submission guidelines here.]

How do nonfiction sales compare with fiction? Has that changed over the years?
Nonfiction does well for Holiday House, but it is a specialty for us and consumers look to us for nonfiction. Most of our nonfiction ends up in schools and libraries.

What have been some top selling nonfiction books for you?
There's a Frog in my Throat! by Loreen Leedy and Pat Street, Coral Reefs by Gail Gibbons, and Freedom Walkers by Russell Freedman.

What are the most and/or least popular areas of nonfiction in your experience?
Any topic can be made interesting and popular if the book in inventive enough and extremely well-executed. However, some topics seem to be of perennial interest such as dinosaurs and natural disasters.

Any other thoughts?
Because nonfiction is competing against the Internet and other new forms of technology more so than against picture books or fiction, it needs to be constantly improving in every way possible and distinguishing itself from other ways of getting information.


Many thanks to Holiday House for a thought-provoking perspective on nonfiction. I just saw the guest post by editor Jean Reynolds and am looking forward to reading the second installment. Hopefully additional publishing insiders will contribute to future I.N.K. posts.


Linda Zajac said...

Thanks for posting this. It's always helpful to read info from an editor's perspective.

Mark Herr said...

So I need to come up with a non-fiction book about a dinosaur who lost his tooth during a visit to a coral reef and started a ntural disaster. This is going to take some research...

Unknown said...

For some odd reason, one sentence in this post got scrambled, although it looks fine in the composing/preview window. The second sentence in the response about innovations in nonfiction should read:

“From pop-ups like Encyclopedia Prehistorica Dinosaurs by Robert Sabuda and Matthew Reinhart to new manufacturing techniques that allow the use of “scanimation” in Gallop!...“