Can You Make Money Writing Nonfiction Children’s Books?
CAN YOU MAKE MONEY WRITING NONFICTION CHILDREN’S BOOKS?
There’s a section in the library you use a lot if you have kids, but you may never really think about as a writer.
All of those books on sports, animals, trucks, helicopters, famous people, and every other topic under the sun are fascinating to kids. They love to learn, and as they read, they develop their passions.
In 2020, the children’s non-fiction market has seen the largest growth of any book market out there. Why?
Between quarantines and remote learning, people are stuck at home trying to teach their children and keep them entertained. And what’s better than books to help do the job?
Nonfiction children’s books are great, but have you ever found yourself wondering who writes them, and whether it’s something you could actually make money doing?
Wonder no more! Here’s what you need to know.
Breaking into the Market
There are a surprising number of publishers for children’s non-fiction books. In the publishing world, most fall into the category of educational publishers.
Some of the names you’ll see on the spines of books lining the shelves of grade school libraries include Capstone Press, Abdo Publishing, The Child’s World, Lerner Publishing, and Compass Point Books. But these are just a few.
Most of the projects children’s publishers release come in the form of book series. Take children’s sports books, for example. There may be a 32-book series that is entirely about football, with one book dedicated the history of each NFL team.
Kids have an amazing variety of interests, and they are eager to learn more about whatever they enjoy. So, for any topic, there are kids out there who are excited by it. In fact, I have written children’s books on everything from first ladies, sports teams, and wild animals to celebrity biographies, cooking, technology, and even Bigfoot and Stonehenge.
Children’s book publishers are always on the lookout for talented writers. And finding writers that can bring knowledge and authenticity to specific topics makes their job a lot easier.
To get your foot in the door, the first thing you want to do is to head to your public library and scan the children’s non-fiction bookshelves to find titles and topics that appeal to you. When you find them, take note of who published the books. Then, do a little bit of investigation on those publishers to find out who the lead editor or assignment editor is and try to find their contact info.
While some publishers may have an author signup form on their website, most don’t. Be bold and write to the editor, and don’t be afraid to brag about your writing credentials. It’s also to your advantage to list any expertise or special experience you have, such as writing about or caring for animals, sports writing, or writing about technology.
Those specialties in your background could be what sets you apart when editors start looking for new writers. You may get pigeon-holed into a category for a while, but you can worry about branching out once you’ve established the relationship.
It’s Not Child’s Play!
Writing for kids has to be easy, right? Not necessarily. There are many rules to follow, and a lot of hoops to jump through.
Because the publisher is putting together a series of books and, most likely, using several authors, they’ll have a general set of guidelines for the books.
These guidelines will include word counts, number of sections in the book, any sidebars or fun facts needed, and the reading level. They also may have requirements for outlines and draft deadlines.
Even a 350-word book for early readers can be challenging to put together!
You Don’t Have to Be an Expert
Do you need to be a topic expert to write a kids’ book on it? Nope. As long as you can research well, you can handle it. You’re not writing a dissertation.
But don’t underestimate the amount of time you’ll spend researching your topic. In fact, you can probably expect to spend three to four times as much time researching as you do writing.
I’m a big sports guy, but not all sports. I’ve written many books about baseball, football, and basketball because I know those sports very well. Hockey, soccer, and volleyball? Not so much, but I’ve written children’s books on those sports as well. I just needed to take a little more time and care with my research.
In fact, in an interview with Carrie Sheely, managing editor at Capstone Publishers, she agreed that having specific knowledge about a topic is not always necessary.
“Generally, if an author is a great researcher, they don’t need to have a lot of knowledge on a topic. However, it is very helpful to have a general background in the subject. That is part of what is so great about being in this field—you are always learning something! In an assignment where you don’t have a lot of knowledge, that research is going to be especially important.”
So, What Does Success Look Like?
While there is no way to guarantee success, there are things you can do to help facilitate a good working relationship with the publisher. And as a general rule, you’ll know you’re doing well if you continue to get more projects.
Chatting with Sheely about what makes for successful writers for Capstone Publishing, I came away with the following main takeaways.
- Adhere to guidelines – “Authors also should pay close attention to the project specs when writing. For example, don’t send in a draft manuscript that is much too long or much too short. If there are big questions about how to write a manuscript, those should be handled with the editor before writing even begins.”
- Hit your deadlines – “Missed due dates are also very problematic, as schedules tend to be very tight.” (And, take it from me, you’ll be more likely to meet your deadlines if you do an outline at the outset, even if the publisher does not require it and you consider yourself a proud pantser.)
- Work with your editor –”Being flexible and easy to work with through the revision process is extremely important. If there are a lot of requested changes, but an author is very willing to work through them with the editor with the result of a solid manuscript and then apply what they learned to the next manuscript, they are much more likely to get hired again than an author who is resistant to changes.”
“Along with the flexibility and deadlines being met, it is excellent to have an author who can write interesting, engaging content at level. A manuscript that has a voice that kids can connect with will keep them reading. Many readers are reluctant, and if there is no “hook” that keeps them going through a book, they will quit,” says Sheely.
There Are No Royalties
So, now that we’ve discussed how to get started in children’s nonfiction and tips for working with a publisher, you’re probably wondering what the pay is like.
Here’s the first thing I’ll tell you; you’re not going to get royalties and you won’t get rich. These books are generally done on a per-project contract. So, your pay will just be a set amount per book.
The main criteria that determine pay are the length and reading level of the book and the publisher. One publisher may pay $450 for a 400-word book for second to third graders while another publisher pays only $250.
From there, it depends on how fast you work. I’ve done rough drafts for shorter books in one day, but that doesn’t’ take into account the revisions that come down the line. If you can be efficient with your time, you can expect to make anywhere from $15-$40 per hour.
That’s the good news. The bad news is that assignments can be hard to come by.
To a great extent, you’re at the mercy of the publishers and their lists. If they have projects coming up and they think you’re a fit, great, but that doesn’t happen consistently.
The other not-so-great part of writing these books is how you get paid. The pay is specified in the contract, which usually offers half on the first draft and half on acceptance of the final manuscript. So, if you’re expecting a windfall upon signing a contract, you’ll want to adjust your expectations.
But There are Hidden Benefits
Writing kids’ non-fiction books is cool, and it’s interesting, even if it won’t let you quit your day job. There are many benefits that have nothing to do with the money. For instance:
Seeing your name on the spine of a book is very gratifying.
If you’re a writer, you’ve probably dreamed of that since you started, and this is one way to accomplish that feat. Your name will be on the book as the author.
If you have kids or relatives who are kids, they’ll love it.
They’ll go to their school library and show off their author relative to their friends. How cool is that?
Your books will be helping to educate kids around the country.
I can log into just about any public library in the U.S. and find one of my books, if not on its shelves, available in its system through inter-library loan.
It looks great on a resume.
When in a job interview, you are bound to be asked, “Can you tell me about these children’s books?” It’s an invitation to brag about your research skills, diverse knowledge, and ability to work closely with editors.
You learn a lot of fun stuff.
Did you know that Ladybird Johnson was a champion for wildflowers? Dropping ferrets down pants was once a sport (called ferret-legging). Not for the timid. I only know things like this because I wrote a book on Ladybird Johnson and one on bizarre sports.
If you love to write and you like the idea of helping kids develop their reading skills while satisfying their curiosity, you may find this type of writing very rewarding, regardless of the financial side of things.
Sheely sums it up nicely: “The coolest thing is knowing you are creating content that helps kids fall in love with reading. And you get to have fun in the process!”
So, go on, give it a try!
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