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Author’s copies

August 1st, 2017

Just got author’s copies of my latest nonfiction books. These are in Capstone’s Curious Scientists series.

And yes, #irony!

Work for Hire Part 3

July 20th, 2017

Between novel series, I’ve been writing nonfiction for kids on a work-for-hire basis. Recently, I’ve had several fellow writers ask me about how to get started in it, so I thought I’d post the info here on my site.  See Part I and Part II, if you haven’t already.

Part 3: What to expect when you get your first WFH gig.

Bear in mind, your experience will vary, depending on the publisher, topic, and other factors.  When working in educational nonfiction for kids, you’re going to deal with:

  1. Crazy tight schedules.
  2. Fairly strict guidelines.
  3. A lot of research. (Duh, but important)

Schedules

I’ll warn you. Schedules are very tight. Like crazy tight. That doesn’t mean they’re not doable, but you need to be able to write quickly (and smart)—and to guidelines. Usually, you have a month or less to write the book! Don’t panic too much, though. NF titles for kids are typically anywhere from 1K-10K words total, depending on age and topic.

Guidelines

The editor will give you series guidelines to follow and perhaps a sample from a similar series to look at. Guidelines (anywhere from 2-10 pages) usually include the series description, reading / ATOS level, word count, number of chapters or spreads, topics to cover, sidebars, back matter, citation formats, and so forth. (ATOS level, btw, is derived using a readability formula, and there are sites you can cut-and-paste text into to get a score.) Back matter can include glossaries, bibliographies, activities, etc. (You typically are responsible for everything except the index and illustrations!)

Research

Research is critical to nonfiction. Publishers require everything to be extensively footnoted—and from quality sources. (Quality sources mean no children’s books, questionable websites, or sometimes even popular magazines.) You need to have access to a good library, preferably with electronic databases. Most public libraries do give their patrons access to databases like Gale or Credo. Some colleges also give their alumni library access, too.  Luckily, I have access to a university library online as well as a solid public library. (Those librarians really wonder about my reading habits!) On occasion, I do have to buy a book (used) because I can’t find a solid source on something like the Airbus  a380 or building a stadium.

Final advice:  be prepared to write smart. These projects don’t necessarily pay a lot. So you need to balance the amount of time you put into them against what you get out.

Work for Hire Part 2

July 19th, 2017

Between novel series, I’ve been writing nonfiction for kids on a work-for-hire basis. Recently, I’ve had several fellow writers ask me about how to get started in it, so I thought I’d post the info here on my site.  See Part I, if you haven’t already.

Part II:  How do you get started?

1. Pick an area(s) to focus on.  

What do have a background in, for instance? I write about science and technology, particularly topics having to do with space, environment/energy, code, and the internet. Prior to writing full-time (for myself), I was a science writer (and online training developer) for NASA, Department of Energy, and the EPA. That gives me a bit of an edge (I think). But, remember, nonfiction covers a lot of ground. Your thing might sports (a big market), crafts, history, biography, grammar, animals, etc.  (btw, if you’re a teacher, look into assessment writing. That’s a whole other area of WFH.)

2. Research the market/field.  

Here are a few starting points:

  • Evelyn Christensen’s list of markets for educational publishers:My advice is to check out the publisher/packager’s website for submission or freelance guidelines and request catalogs. (Or check them out online, if available.) The latter are usually free and will give you an idea of kind of things a publisher does. The catalogs can also give you an idea of what they’re missing. Some pubs are open to proposals.
  • SCBWI Blueboard’s Work For Hire forum.If you’re an SCBWI member and/or belong to the old Verla Kay Blueboard, check out the forum on WFH. Members occasionally post calls for submissions and discuss specific packagers/publishers.
  • Misc. Blogs / Articles:

3. Put together some samples.

Some publishers / packagers will require that you submit a few pages of either published and/or unedited nonfiction.  It helps to have some for different age groups, too. Writing for 2nd graders is different from writing for 4th If you don’t have any published samples or clips yet, you’ll need to write some!

4. Send out a cover letter, resume, samples to pubs and packagers.

Just like querying an agent or publisher, your “package” to potential WFH will differ according to the publisher’s guidelines.  Some might just want a resume; others want just samples.

5. Wait.

You might not hear anything for a long, long time. Or you might hear immediately. It all depends on what the pub/packager is working on for this season. There might not be titles that fit your skillset. Yet.

Tomorrow I’ll post about what to expect from a WFH gig.

Work for Hire Part 1

July 18th, 2017

Between novel series, I’ve been writing nonfiction for kids on a work-for-hire basis. Recently, I’ve had several fellow writers ask me about how to get started in it, so I thought I’d post the info here on my site. 

Part I: What the heck is work for hire (WFH)?

All About Coding

WFH is basically writing a book or a shorter piece directly for a publisher or book packager. In other words, they hire you to write something they’ve already spec’d out—to some degree or another. In most cases (not all), the publisher retains copyright.

Here’s an example of the kind of thing I do. Publisher A is planning a series on turning points in history for 4th grade readers. The publisher (or a packager) decides the topic of each book, draws up guidelines for what they should include, and then contracts writers and illustrators to do each one. Most of these gigs pay a flat fee. A packager or producer, btw, acts as middle man for publishers in the process. Not all publishers use packagers/producers. I’ve worked with both publishers and packagers. I would guess that most nonfiction in the library market is done this way—as is some of the bookstore market NF.

Amazon Rapids

I’ve written a number of short stories for reading apps.

This is just one flavor of WFH, though. Educational writing is a big market that includes shorter content and assessments. For instance, some testing companies need text for standardized tests. Or a publisher or app developer might need material for a reading app or game. The text can be nonfiction or fiction. Some publishers and educational content producers need tests, lesson plans, and so forth to accompany books or apps. Assessments are not my strong suit, but I have written short stories for reading apps.

Fiction WFH is similar. (Except that some fiction WFH pays royalties.) Many, many series and media tie-ins are WFH. In fact, WFH has a long history in children’s lit. Think Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys. WFH fiction is certainly not limited to children’s lit, though. I know writers who do Stargate SG1, Star Wars, and other media-tie-in novels.

I’ve never written a WFH novel, but I have done a couple of tryouts for MG series. The requests for those came through my agent. So sometimes publishers have a series in mind and then ask agents (and probably editors) whom among their authors might be interested. Don’t despair if you don’t have an agent, though. Probably (again a guess on my part) most WFH fiction is done through packagers. Those packagers hire writers based on try outs. For those, the publisher or packager might give you story/series description, character profiles, and a detailed outline to write from. You’d then write three chapters as your try out.

I’m not going to mention the game market because I know nothing about writing for it. But I do know writers who make a living writing doing just that. Every type of game, from video games to RPGs, has writers. And there are folks who write game-tie-in novels!

I’m sure I’m missing many types of WFH writing. Let me know in the comments!

In Part 2, I’ll let you know how to get started in nonfiction WFH for kids—with some links—and in part 3, I’ll talk a bit about what to expect when you get a gig.

My Big News!

June 29th, 2017

My three-book deal with Boyd’s Mill was announced this week! (Finally!!) From Publisher’s Weekly:

Rebecca Davis at Boyds Mills has acquired three historical middle-grade novels from Memento Nora author Angie Smibert. The first, Ghosts of Ordinary Objects, is about 12-year-old Bone, who has inherited her family’s Gift that allows her to see the stories in objects around her—a Gift that she believes killed her mother. The next two novels will continue Bone’s story. Publication is set for spring 2018; Susan Hawk at Upstart Crow Literary brokered the deal while at the Bent Agency, for world English rights.

Actually, I’ve been sitting on this news for nearly a year! The first book of the series is set to come out March 20th of next year, and I’m currently writing away on book 2.

Sidenote: even though the announcement says historical, the books are really (IMHO) ‘historical fantasy’ / magical realism. Maybe. Okay, they don’t fit neatly into a category. They’re set in 1942 in a small coal mining community in SW Virginia–with a bit of paranormal / magical realism mixed with Appalachian folklore. 😉

My thanks to Susan and Rebecca for believing in Bone!