So, you want to write a STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Math) book. Awesome! Why not consider a book with a technology, engineering, or math focus. It’s a great way to introduce young readers to the possibilities of a STEM career and get them excited about new and ground-breaking technology.
These are the topics that I’m very passionate about. If you look at my list of books, you’ll see many of them are -TEM topics. I am always asked where I get my ideas and more importantly, how do you sell a topic that is mostly technology, engineering, or math?
Here are a few tips to do just that.
1. Find a BIG hook
A -TEM book needs a BIG hook, bigger than most books. That’s because they must be accessible. (If you write STEM books, you’ll hear this word a lot from your editor). Accessible means that this book must not only capture the interest of a kid who already likes science and technology but also that of one who might not. By “hook” I mean that the topic needs to be very obvious, unique, and something that makes kids stop in their tracks. Humor is a plus.
Let me give you an example. A few years back, I desperately wanted to write a book about the Google self-driving car. I wrote a proposal titled, “Engineering a Self-driving Car.”
Eh. Not that impressive is it? Editors didn’t think so either. So, I set about trying to come up with a really unique angle for the topic. One that would grab the reader right from the start.Two years later, I had it. My new title was Save the Crash-test Dummies. My book would follow the day in the life of a crash-test dummy as he goes through his job. The book would depict the history of car safety engineering and end with “Crash” driving off into the sunset in a self-driving car. Now that is a unique hook! And one, thankfully, editors loved.
You don’t have to put your hook in the title, but if you can, that’s awesome. It’s the first thing people see, so they immediately know what this book is about.
Most of my books have their hooks in the title:
Astronaut-Aquanaut: How Space Science and Sea Science Interact
Super Gear: Nanotechnology and Sports Team Up!
Beastly Bionics: Rad Robots, Brilliant Biomimicry, and Incredible Inventions Inspired by Nature.
How do you come up with a title as your hook? Be creative.
a. Do an internet search of terms associated with your topic. For example, when I needed a shorter ending to my Super Gear book, (a book about nanotechnology and sports), I looked up short sports terms and came up with Team Up!
b. Beastly Bionics came from me searching for words that would describe animals that started with a “B.”
You try it! – Have a topic in mind and need a short title? Search for synonyms for your topic, or look for terms that are in the same family (like sports or animals). Want your title to be alliterative, look for words that start with the same letter as your title.
2. Expository or Narrative?
Will your manuscript be expository or narrative? That depends on you. Either is acceptable. Some amazing -TEM narrative books have done very well.
Teresa Robeson’s Queen of Physics: How Wu Chien Shiung Helped Unlock the Secrets of the Atom does a fabulous job of telling the story of explaining the physics of beta decay that happens within atoms.
In her book, Numbers in Motion: Sophie Kowalevski, Queen of Mathematics, Laurie Wallmark takes us on a journey with Sophie Kowalevski as she mastered differential equations (math).
Both of these books have complicated topics, but they are brilliantly explained through their narrative stories. But not all -TEM books need to be narratives.
Pretty much all of my STEM books are expository. For example, my Beastly Bionics introduces the reader to cutting-edge technology about biomimicry, the science of using nature to inspire complex problem-solving. Many of these inventions are quite complicated and to explain them in a narrative way would take too many words. Instead, I had one invention per spread. I used 5 different sidebars, high energy words, and concise descriptive terms to explain the technology and intrigue my reader.
How do you decide which way is best for your story? Write it both ways and see which way works best.
You try it! – Take one section of your book. Write it in narrative form and in expository form. Compare them. Does one seem too wordy? Is this topic covered much better with shorter, snappier, sidebars with only a mix of narrative? Or does the narrative flow better? Which one works best?
3. Explain Everything
This is the most important part about a -TEM book. When you are tackling complex technology and engineering topics, you MUST explain them well. To do this, think like a kid! Use comparisons they will understand. And words that are their level. Illustrations help, too. For example, when you describe distance, don’t say 100 yards, say it’s as big as a football field.
In my Astronaut-Aquanaut, when I explain the extreme pressure you feel as you go down deep in the ocean, I tell kids to imagine themselves as a soda can being squeezed and crunched. They get the idea… ouch!
You Try it!- Explain to a 10-year-old how a ship floats without using the term buoyancy. (Not easy, is it?)
Whatever topic you choose, you can’t go wrong with a -TEM book. They are fun to write, amazing to research, and just might be the one thing that inspires a young reader to pursue a career in STEM. It doesn’t get much better than that. GO STEM!
Complete at least one of the Try-It suggestions.
ABOUT THE PRIZE
Jennifer will be giving away an autographed copy of Astronaut-Aquanaut: How Space Science and Sea Science Interact.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jennifer Swanson is the award-winning author of 40+ books for children, mostly about STEM. A self-professed science geek, she started a science club in her garage when she was 7 years old. Jennifer has spoken about her books and her passion for science at numerous NSTA conferences, SCBWI conferences, book festivals across the country, the Atlanta Science Festival, the World Science Festival, and the Library of Congress’ National Book Festival. She is also the creator of the STEM Tuesday blog, STEAMTeamBooks promo group, and has a science podcast called Solve It! for Kids. Find Jennifer at www.jenniferswansonbooks.com