Tuesday, June 4, 2024

Ninja Susie Kralovansky Interviews Donna Janell Bowman

 Today we are talking with one of my friends and favorite authors, Donna Janell Bowman, about her

newest book
WINGS OF AN EAGLE: THE GOLD MEDAL DREAMS OF BILLY MILLS, co-authored with Billy Mills and illustrated by S.D. Nelson. Donna, I was blown away by this wonderful story which will be released on July 2nd.

 How did you come to collaborate with Lakota Olympian Billy Mills on WINGS? 

 In some ways, like Billy’s Olympic journey and ultimate gold medal, my own journey with WINGS has felt like a long-distance test of endurance, stamina, and metamorphosis. Our collaboration, even more than the book itself, was my reward.

 I learned about Billy about ten years ago while researching for a different book. I couldn’t stop thinking about his remarkable come-from-behind journey to the Olympics. He had overcome great odds, from losing his parents as a child, life on an impoverished reservation, health challenges, and systemic racism. His was the ultimate underdog story, and it resonated with me deeply.

 At about the same time, I entered VCFA’s MFA writing program, focused on children’s and young adult literature. As part of my creative work, I drafted a picture book about Billy that showed promise. But I couldn’t consider submitting the manuscript until I reckoned with whether it was appropriate for me, a white woman, to tell Billy’s story. There was no legal reason why I couldn’t. But was it right? My agent and I agreed that the answer was no unless I had Billy’s blessings and input. But reaching Billy proved more challenging than I expected.

 Long story shortish, 49 months and 43 emails, phone calls, and social media direct messages after my 2015 first draft, my college athlete son and I sat in the Mills’ living room for an interview that lasted all day. During those glorious hours, Billy and his wife, Patricia, shared stories, photos, cultural artifacts, sacred items, family history. At one particular display case, Billy recounted memories attached to his Olympic souvenirs and memorabilia. He even slid his gold medal over my head and rendered me speechless.

 Ultimately, Billy not only invited me to tell his story, but he agreed to collaborate with me to ensure a narrative that was authentic to his truth. That moment, and the countless phone calls, Zoom calls, emails, and texts since then, have been the honor of my career. The rest, as they say, is history.

 This book is beautifully written. Why did you choose to write the narrative with a lyrical style and metaphors? In other words, how did you choose the voice?

 First, thank you! I think about voice a lot when I begin a new story. My goal is always to use voice as a soundtrack, of sorts, to set a tone and reflect the story subject. Even before Billy and I began our collaboration, I had been immersed in decades of his interviews and speeches that are preserved in print, audio, and video, so I had a base to work with. At the same time, I read a lot of Native literature and poetry. Native storytelling has some of the most evocative and powerful metaphorical language that I have ever seen. To honor Billy and his Native culture, it felt right to blend his voice with lyricism. At every step, I ran the text by him for approval. Well-placed metaphors and similes are used to stitch the highs and lows of his life together as throughlines. For example, the term “wings of an eagle” is attributed to an episode from Billy’s childhood. After his mother died, his father told him he had broken wings, but if he chased a dream, he could have wings of an eagle. That inspired the bird-related metaphors that evoke struggle, freedom, and flight in the story. Likewise for the Lakota prayer, “we are all related,” and the motif of footprints, which Billy often refers to in his speeches. Metaphorical language has layers that can pack an emotional and thought-provoking punch in few words.

 What is the research process like for a collaborative project like WINGS OF AN EAGLE?

 My initial pre-collaboration research was fairly typical: newspaper and magazine articles about Billy, U.S. census records, military records, Indian census, video and print interviews, witness accounts, books, broadcast footage of the 1964 Olympic race, etc. But that wasn’t enough. When I started communicating regularly with Billy and Pat, they filled the gaps that external sources couldn’t by helping me understand what made Billy tick as a young person, and by offering historical information not available elsewhere. Billy also reminded me that we are all shaped by the people and events that came before us. Among other discomforts, I needed to face the beast that caused generational trauma and generational poverty. That meant getting real about United States history: colonialism, western expansion, Manifest Destiny, Doctrine of Discovery, repeated broken treaties, etc. None of that is part of the WINGS narrative, but it all shaped the child from the Pine Ridge Reservation who grew up and chased his dream to the Olympics. For me to be a worthy collaborator, I owed it to Billy to personally peel back the curtain that had insulated me from uncomfortable truths for most of my life. In doing so, I realized just how deeply my generation was deceived. The history textbooks, curriculum, and media of my youth presented falsehoods, racist stereotypes, and revisionist history about Native Americans that persist today. I was/am appalled by the compounded injustices and the perpetuated ignorance about them.

 On a personal level, I’m surprised by how much I have changed since working on this book. I like to think that I have always been open and compassionate to the perspectives of others, but my journey with Billy and WINGS has changed me. I’m still a white woman who was invited into his world, but I now feel more connected, informed, aware, and sensitive. That, I think, is a benefit of deep research and close collaboration. It’s impossible not to be changed when we make concentrated efforts to listen, learn, and empathize.

How does Billy feel about the book and what does he hope young readers take from the story?

Billy and his family are delighted with the book! They are already actively promoting it globally and in association with Billy’s seemingly endless speaking engagements. With a bit of luck, he will even sign books in Paris while he is there for this summer’s Olympic Games. Which, by the way, will mark the 60th anniversary of his gold medal win. How cool is that?


The first prominent theme in the story can be summed up with Billy’s quote from years ago, “Follow your dream. Every dream has a passion, and every passion has a destiny,” even when the destiny doesn’t reach Olympic proportions. Also, he encourages kids to embrace their cultures, honor the past, and use their voices and their choices to make the world better, because we are stronger together when we lift each other up. When we collectively do that, we can reach global unity.

Donna Janell Bowman is an award-winning author of books for young readers, including Step Right

Up: How Doc and Jim Key Taught the World About Kindness; Abraham Lincoln’s Dueling Words
King of the Tightrope: When the Great Blondin Ruled Niagara; and Wings of an Eagle: The Gold Medal Dreams of Billy Mills, co-authored with Billy Mills. Donna’s books have garnered such accolades as starred reviews, state book awards, and honors from NCTE, NCSS, ALA/ALSC, and more. Donna has an MFA in Writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts. When not writing at her central Texas home, she enjoys speaking at schools and coaching writers.

Wednesday, May 29, 2024


 by Peggy Thomas

Most people think that books come out of an author’s head fully formed, perfect.

But we know the truth.

The messy truth.  

Writing can be agonizing, frustrating, time-sucking marathons that can leave a writer dithering and insecure.  At least that’s my process.

Here is the photographic evidence of my efforts to turn #*%@ into my newest picture book titled THE SOIL IN JACKIE’S GARDEN.

The idea came to me while preparing a conference workshop I led for Michigan Agriculture in the Classroom. I wanted novice writers to know that they didn’t have to reinvent the wheel.  They could use a traditional form like an alphabet book or The House That Jack Built to create their own stories. And I should probably give them a quick example. (Now, one thing you have to know about me is that I love soil and I wish kids knew more about how great soil is.)  So, I said, “For example, you could do something like The Soil in Jackie’s Garden, and lead kids from the soil to seed to roots etc, back to the soil.” That was it.

Like all good ideas, this one stuck with me, and I started to play around with it.

But I really didn’t know the traditional version of The House that Jack Built, so I did a little research.  It’s a lot wordier that I expected. Meter seems more important than rhyme, but the meter changes halfway through.

I created word lists to help with rhyming, and to keep words, especially verbs, fresh.

Then I had a vision. For the artwork. What if the book opened vertically like Tops & Bottoms by Janet Stevens or Mel Fell by Corey R. Tabor? The soil horizon line would start out high, then move down as the plants grew taller. I felt so strongly about it that I added that to the manuscript (something I normally do not do).

I’m a nonfiction writer so I had to add informational sidebars explaining all the cool stuff like how worm poop is called a casting, and leaves have little “mouths” they open and close to breathe.


My fellow Ninjas gave valuable feedback during critique sessions and helped fix problems with meter and rhyme. Other things changed, too.  Worm castings in the main text had to go, but stayed in the sidebar. Watermelon replaced  the "3 sisters" of corn, squash and beans, and I added some sound effects to make it more fun to read aloud. 

Finally it was ready to submit.  My agent sent it to Feeding Minds Press because I had worked with them before. They picked it up. Unlike most of my other projects this one sold quickly. (Don’t hate me. I can share later how another story of mine took 10 years to find a home.)

After several rounds of editing, the manuscript was given to the brilliant Neely Daggett to illustrate. Like all great illustrators, Neely added another level to the story. She gave Jackie a personality, friends, and helpers in a community garden. 

Okay, so there wasn’t a lot of angst and hair-pulling with this one, but I wanted to assure you that what may look like a mess in front of you today can turn into a beautiful book you will be proud of tomorrow.

Keep Writing!


Thursday, May 9, 2024

Talk to the Scientist! The Ultimate Primary Source

 By Darcy Pattison (MimsHouseBooks.com) 

I’m the author of twenty-four children’s nonfiction picture books, mostly about STEM topics. Most of the books require me to talk with a scientist who has done research on a topic. Today, I’ll talk about how to talk with scientists, credit them and use their information to enrich a story.


Here's some ideas for questions:

  • At what point in your research process do you contact a scientist?

When I think of a topic, I’m usually looking for a specific thing. ANOTHER EXTRAORDINARY ANIMAL is a series of animal biographies of a single animal, instead of a species. The latest story, PELORUS JACK, THE NEW ZEALAND DOLPHIN is about a dolphin who charmed a nation and inspired them to pass one of the first conservation laws to protect an animal. It took place in the early 1900s, so there wasn’t a scientist to interview this time. But that’s rare. Usually, the stories rely on first-hand information from a scientist. That means I contact them early in the process. I do preliminary research, and then zero in on a scientist who could answer specific questions.

For example, for DIEGO, THE GIANT GALÁPAGOS TORTOISE, I interviewed Linda Cayot, Ph.D, the
leading herpetologist in the Galápagos Islands for four decades. Along with her colleagues, she wrote a 1000-page book about the tortoises, detailing the species from each island. She allowed me to interview her by zoom, vetted the manuscript, and saw the book receive a starred Kirkus review before she passed away.

Linda’s information was vital to the story, and the accuracy of the information. The Española Island tortoises were down to just 14 individuals, almost extinct. The herpetologists sent messages throughout the world asking if anyone had another tortoise of this species. Amazingly, they found one in the San Diego zoo. When the tortoise was returned to the Tortoise Breeding Facility, he was named Diego. Linda provided photos of Diego from the time he first stepped foot back in the Galápagos. And details about the forty years it took to save this species from extinction.

  • How did you find and contact the scientists?

Contacting scientists can be straightforward or convoluted. When I contacted the scientist on Midway Island about a Laysan albatross, it was easy. I found his information online, emailed him and set up a phone call. The result was WISDOM, THE MIDWAY ALBATROSS. But the book also put me in touch with other conservationists working with albatrosses. When I needed to contact someone about the Galápagos tortoises, it turned out the albatross guy also knew conservation personnel on Galápagos and gave me contact information.

One great way to find contact information is to find scholarly articles by scientists. I use Goggle Scholar (scholar.google.com) which restricts results to journal articles. Often in the article, you’ll find an email address for the scientists. Sometimes, you’ll find the university or facility where they work listed and can search for contact information that way.

  • How do you get past feeling intimidated about approaching a scientist?

I’m not intimidated by scientists. I have a Master’s degree in Audiology, the study of hearing. I can read scientific articles and understand them in general. I know how to look up unfamiliar terms, do background research when needed, and understand even unfamiliar areas of research. And when I get stuck or confused – I ask the scientist to explain!

  • How did you prepare to interview the scientists for these books?

I do respect the scientists and their time. That means, I take the time to read their specific research and absorb what it means for the story I want to tell. Then, I create a short list of things that I don’t understand or questions specific to the story. Usually, I’m looking for what it was like for the scientist to do the research: the sensory details, the unanswered questions, the tidbits that didn’t make it into the research paper. I keep in mind that the scientist has spent years in specialized research, but they would also like their work explained to kids. I think about how to bring the scientist, their work, and kids together in an accurate, but entertaining way.

  • What questions do you find most important to ask?

I like to hear about their experiences! For example, when I talked to the scientist on Midway Island, it was about the 2011 Japanese tsunami. The tsunami waves had hit Japan and damaged a nuclear plant, killed thousands, and devasted the area. But the tsunami wave also sped across the Pacific Ocean, and would surely hit Midway Island. The scientist said they knew about when it would hit, and took refuge at the top of the tallest structure on the island, a e-story barracks. The scariest thing, he said, was that the tsunami wave hit about midnight when they could hear the water rushing in, but they couldn’t see it. That detail made the danger more poignant!

  • Are there questions you've learned not to ask?

There aren’t any topics that I avoid. But remember, that I’m usually dealing with research project associated with published journal articles. The public information is rarely sensitive.

  • What's one of your favorite experiences in interviewing a scientist?

One of my favorite experiences was to interview an astronaut. NEFERTITI, THE SPIDERNAUT is the true story of a spider that went to space on the International Space Station (ISS). First, I went to Colorado Springs and interviewed Stephanie Countryman, the person responsible for all live animal experiments on the ISS. She showed me prototypes of the spider habitat and explained the whole process. Vital information!

But then, she offered to have the astronaut, Captain Sunita Williams call me. Notice that this time, I didn’t get contact information! Instead, Captain Williams called me. We spoke for about five minutes in-between meeting at SpaceX. But her information was crucial.

We quickly discussed the science experiment involving Nefertit, the Johnson jumping spider. Then, Williams said that after the experiment she was supposed to just put the spider habitat back in storage to return to Earth. In other words, the spider would die in the dark. Instead, she put the habitat beside her workstation. It was fascinating, she said, to look over and see Nefertiti watching her work. Nefertiti’s eyes would track her movements. It’s a small detail! But it helped bring the story to life.

·       How do you credit scientists?


Often, the scientist is one of the major sources for my story, so I’ll mention them in the SOURCES section of the book. This may be listing an interview, but often I list their relevant publications, as well. Always ask if there’s an article they prefer to see listed. If that doesn’t work, you can thank them in the dedications. As with everything else, be sure you spell names correctly, and list their positions correctly.


·       What do you do when there are no scientists to interview?

For my newest book, PELORUS JACK, THE NEW ZEALAND DOLPHIN, the events took place in early 1900s. Instead of scientists, I relied on eye-witness accounts published in newspapers of the time. The New Zealand National Library (https://natlib.govt.nz/collections/a-z/papers-past)maintains an extensive repository of newspaper archives, searchable by topics and keywords. But I also sought out logbooks from captain and ship’s doctors of the time. I even found archival videos of Pelorus Jack! See this from the Archives of New Zealand. (https://youtu.be/AgFQul3rlLk?si=R3qGil55eNDol3l3)

Scientists are the ultimate primary source for many of my stories. But when they aren’t available, I look for other primary sources such as newspapers, journals, and audiovisual materials. The main goal is a primary source to underpin the story with veracity. Then, it’s up to me to bring the story to life for kids.

Thursday, February 29, 2024


 By Stephanie Bearce

What a great month of nonfiction learning! Do you feel pumped up? Are you ready to write your award-winning book?

Or are you feeling a little lost? Wondering what you should do next?

That’s how I feel after every great learning experience, whether it’s NF Fest, a retreat, or a conference. Now that I’m back at my computer, without the inspiration and encouragement of fellow authors - exactly what am I supposed to do?

Because the “After-Event-Slump” is REAL – (and probably diagnosable by your local critique group…) I’ve come up with a few brain and writing boosters. Try these tricks to get moving on that fantastic new nonfiction project!

1.     Get an accountability partner.

Find a fellow writer who is willing to check in with you at least once a week and make sure you are on track. It’s amazing how productive you get when you must give an accounting to another person. It doesn’t have to be an elaborate meeting or reporting system. Just take ten minutes a week to exchange writing goals and accomplishments with a fellow writer. Accountability builds success.

2.     BIC – Butt in Chair.

Okay – here’s the cold hard truth. Sometimes you need to glue that hinny in the chair and WRITE. It’s a job. Block out your time. Cancel extraneous appointments and start writing that story. If you don’t spend time with your fingers tapping on those computer keys, you won’t have a manuscript to critique or sell. Write the horrible, awful, disgusting first draft and then set it aside. Once you have SOMETHING to work with you can move forward. Revisions are what makes the story shine. But first you must WRITE!!

3.     Dig out old projects.

Use what you’ve learned from NF Fest to revitalize old manuscripts. You’ll be amazed what new ideas pop into your head for how to write that story with a new format. Can you add humor? Turn it into a layered text? Examine the story from a different perspective? Take what you’ve learned and apply it to those old stories, and you may be astonished at the shiny new manuscript you create.

4.     Plug into a writing community.

Part of the joy of NF Fest is learning that there are other writers out there working and struggling just like me. Carry that spirit into your everyday writing life and participate in writing communities.  If you don’t have a critique group – form one! Put out a call on NF FEST FB page to see who would like to form a critique group. Check out your local SCBWI region, and organizations like Storyteller Academy, Manuscript Wishlist, Highlights Foundation, Institute of Writers, Storystorm, and 12x12 challenge.

5.     Plan your next learning event!

Writers need to be learners. While it is a whole very l-o-n-g year until the next NF Fest – there are many other learning opportunities out there. Find a retreat, class, or event that will move you forward in your career and enroll! 

Most important of all – keep telling those true stories. The world needs your voice and perspective.

And keep in touch – let us know how the journey is going! The Nonfiction Ninjas care and we’re here to help.

Happy Writing!

About the Author: 

Stephanie is the award-winning author of 35 books for children. Her newest book, Mary Anning and Paleontology for Kids, will be released by Chicago Review Press in May. You can learn more about Stephanie and the world of writing on the Way-Word Writers Podcast. Waywordwriters.com or follow her X - @Stephanie Bearce,  Insta and FB - @stephaniemowrybearce.



Wednesday, February 28, 2024


By Steve Swinburne

Some books take years and years to evolve, mature, unfold. And some books are born out of spontaneity. For example, the idea for one of my new books, BIG TRUCK SUPER WASH, came to me by pure serendipity. A few years ago, we visited our daughter and her husband living in New York City. As you do, we went out for coffee and bagels one morning and we happened to pass Brooklyn’s Famous Car Wash. Watching the cars go in and out, a thought popped into my head, “Where do trucks get washed?”

I think all stories are born from curiosity. What if a shark played the ukulele? What do sperm whales eat? How large were T Rex eggs? Where do trucks get washed?

While the idea for BIG TRUCK SUPER WASH came out of the blue, my other new book, GIRAFFE MATH, was another matter.

I’ve been trying to write a book about giraffes for over a decade because I think they are ridiculously cool and one of the most unique creatures on the planet. My Vermont buddy, Peter Lourie, and I first proposed The Giraffe Scientist for the Scientist in the Field series with Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in 2009. Pete would take pictures and I would write. After HMH and others rejected our project, we tried a new hook, Tall Beauty-Desert Giraffes of Africa. This was to be an adult coffee-table-style book about giraffes living in the Namibian desert. After a year or so of submitting we realized it was not to be.

I couldn’t shake my obsession with giraffes so I tried writing a very simple and short nonfiction manuscript about giraffes. It flopped. About the time GIRAFFES CAN'T DANCE, I thought I’d try a funny book about giraffes. No go. Then I played around with a giraffe joke book. My manuscript was a joke! I even tried a young nonfiction book that I thought might work as a board book. My ingenious title for that one was Giraffes Are Tall. 

After over a decade of giraffe book trial and error, I hit the pause button. Shortly thereafter I was invited to Kenya for an author visit. After the school visit, my wife and I went on a 3-day safari. Seeing giraffes in the wild reignited my fascination for this creature.

When I got back home, I sat down with a blank yellow pad and began making a list of things I knew about giraffes. How tall they were. How long was their tongue. Their weight. How long they sleep. I looked at the page and realized it was all numbers. It was math! It wasn’t long before I connected Giraffe with Math and I had my title, GIRAFFE MATH.

Do you have a manuscript that seems to be stuck? Is it possible your younger nonfiction story is really mid-grade nonfiction? Would lyrical poems best suit your tale about baby dinosaurs? What if you told your examination of recycling practices from the first-person point of view? There’s no ironclad way to write your nonfiction manuscript.

Moral of the story: some ways to tell your story take a very, very long time to congeal, to crystallize. Be flexible. Be patient. Never give up. 

About the Author:

Steve Swinburne has worked as a national park ranger and is the author of more than 40 children’s books. His extensive travels to faraway lands such as Africa, Borneo, Bangladesh and Dubai along with treks through Yellowstone and the highlands of Scotland, have influenced his book projects. Steve researched sea turtles in the Caribbean Islands for Sea Turtle Scientist and Run, Sea Turtle, Run, and he went on safari in Kenya for his nominated STEM title, Giraffe Math. Steve visits nearly 70 schools a year across the United States as well as many international schools. He lives in Vermont with his wife, Heather. For more information, see www.steveswinburne.com
Steve blogs at https://stephenswinburne.wordpress.com/. 
Website: www.steveswinburne.com
Blog: https://stephenswinburne.wordpress.com/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/stephen.swinburne
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/steveswinburne/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/steverswinburne

Tuesday, February 27, 2024


Throughout my 30-year career, I’ve written nonfiction for major houses like Harpercollins, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, National Geographic, Random House and Lerner. It’s been fun to imagine myself a part of the big dog team. But publishing more recently with Sasquatch/Little Bigfoot--a smaller house in Seattle—has given me a big new win.

My first book with Little Bigfoot was CRYPTID CREATURES: A FIELD GUIDE (2019). My book about mysterious creatures, TALES OF THE CRYPTIDS (Lerner, 2006) has been a favorite among elementary school readers for almost 20 years. But as those readers aged out, they asked for a meatier bone—a bone I hoped to deliver. Lerner wasn’t willing, but Little Bigfoot was.

Instead of mimicking the 72-page TALES OF THE CRYPTIDS picture book, they allowed me to write the expanded 224 page paperback my older readers wanted. They even let Rick Spears, the illustrator who made TOTC a masterpiece, create original art for the project—a lot of it.

We offered well documented eyewitness reports on 50 different unconfirmed animals with three illustrations for each one—an adult, a baby and a skeletal feature. I loved the book throughout the process, but I expected it to take years to be discovered. Silly me.  

Almost immediately, the book—distributed by Random House/Penguin—sold like gangbusters. After 18 years, TOTC has 145 Amazon reader reviews. Five years into CRYPTID CREATURES, there are more than 700, most of them five stars.

Little Bigfoot promoted the book with gusto, in part because they had fewer titles to present than the major houses might have. My editor was exceptionally gifted and the publicist lined up the best television coverage I’ve ever enjoyed.

I attribute the success to Little Bigfoot’s willingness to take a chance on a book I was convince would find an audience, when the big houses refused. The partnership was so successful, I have another Little Bigfoot book on Washington State’s only dinosaur fossil discovery coming this fall. SEA MONSTERS: A FIELD GUIDE and BABY CRYPTIDS (a board book) will be available from Little Bigfoot in the fall of 2025—all illustrated by Rick Spears.

Publishing with any house is a win, and I’d still work for the big dogs if the opportunity arose. But I’ll never overlook the little guys again. Little Bigfoot may be small by New York standards, but the results have been super-sized for me!  

About the Author:

For the past 30 years, Kelly Milner Halls has crafted high-interest nonfiction books and articles for young readers. Known for well-researched topics, Halls delights in drawing even reluctant readers into the realm of discovery through the exploration of dinosaurs, Sasquatch, mummies, UFOs and dozens of other themes. She makes her home in Spokane, Washington with two daughter and a cat named Sue. She speaks at schools and conferences all over the world. 




Monday, February 26, 2024


By Lisa Amstutz

You’ve done the research. You’ve written, revised, and polished your manuscript until it’s as shiny as you can make it. Now what?

If you want to publish in the trade market, you may want to find an agent. It is possible to sell your work on your own, especially to smaller publishers, and many authors build successful careers that way. However, an agent can open doors for you. They handle submissions and contracts and may help edit your work, give marketing and career advice, offer a shoulder to cry on, and more.

Unfortunately, finding an agent is easier said than done. While agents are more accessible than ever before thanks to the Internet, competition is stiff. Agents receive hundreds if not thousands of queries during open submission periods, all competing for one or two spots on their list. It sounds discouraging, I know. But you can improve your odds!

1. Start with a strong manuscript. Study the market to see what is selling; read new releases to learn what styles are popular and what feels overdone. What will make yours stand out on the shelves?

2. Know your book’s genre and target audience. An agent or editor will have a hard time acquiring a manuscript if they don’t clearly know how to position it in the market.

3. Research agents who represent your genre. QueryTracker is a good place to start. Writer’s Market guides are another good resource. Find out who represents other nonfiction writers too. Google can help, or ask around in the writing community. Check out agency websites for current submission guidelines. 

One caveat here: I sometimes have to reject projects I like—even ones with offers!—because they are too similar to something else on my list. I can’t ethically set up competition between clients. So the ideal agent may represent clients whose work is similar—but not too similar.

4. Write a standout query letter. Start with a pitch that grabs the reader’s attention. Include the genre, age category, and word count of your book as well as several comps. These should be trade books published in the last three years, if possible.

Write a bio that highlights any relevant writing or educational experience. It’s nice to share a personal detail or two, but don’t overshare. Do mention if you’re a member of SCBWI, 12 x 12, or other professional organization.

Keep it professional. Don’t oversell or undersell yourself. Your book likely isn’t the next Harry Potter. But be positive about it—and yourself! Be polite and friendly.

5. Remember that while writing is an art, publishing is a business. Agents have to earn a living too, and many work on commission alone. So they look for books they think they can sell. That means books with an appealing hook, a clear market, strong writing, and a fresh take on a topic.

I see a lot of submissions that, while nicely written, feel vaguely familiar. They’re too similar to other books already on the market to really stand out. The ones that give me goosebumps are those that feel so exciting, lovely, or unique that I am still thinking about them the next day. Those are an easy yes!

Finding an agent is not easy, and it may take time. But if you hang in there and keep learning and growing as a writer and putting your work into the world, I am confident you will succeed!

Meet the Author:

Lisa Amstutz joined Storm Literary Agency in 2021 after sixteen years as a freelance writer and editor. She is the author of more than 150 children’s books for the trade and educational markets and a member of the Nonfiction Ninjas. See www.LisaAmstutz.com for more info.