Tuesday, December 27, 2022

The Marie Kondo Method of Revising

By Susie Kralovansky

Although it may not seem like it from the looks of my office, but I’m obsessed with Marie Kondo, her books, and her Netflix series Tidying Up With Marie Condo.

While reading her book Spark Joy: An Illustrated Master class on the Art of Organizing and Tidying Up, it occurred to me that her rules for tidying could also be the perfect rules for revisions.

The revision process is not about decluttering your story or making it look nice and neat for editors. Instead, it is about revising in a way that will spark joy when reading your final draft.

1. Commit yourself to the revision process.
Writing is revising and rewriting. And revising again. And again. Keep in mind the words of a pro: “I love revision. Where else can spilled milk be turned into ice cream?” – Katherine Paterson.

2. Imagine your ideal manuscript.
Paste your draft into a dummy. (If you’ve never made a dummy – take 8 sheets of paper, stack them landscape style and fold them in half. Staple along the fold.) Does your manuscript fit? Too much information? Too little? Your dummy will guide you as you make revisions.
3. Finish discarding first.
Go through your manuscript line by line. If it sparks joy (moves your story forward) keep it. If not, discard. This way, you’re not wasting time revising materials that could eventually be cut.
4. Revise by category.
Does your first page grab the reader? Do you have a satisfying ending? Will this keep your reader engaged from beginning to end?

Have someone read your story aloud. Is your writing sparkling? Did your reader get stuck or stumble? 

5. Ask yourself if it sparks joy.
“In writing, you must kill your darlings.” – William Faulkner. This is the hardest part - hanging on to those elements you love. They may have special meaning but will probably have your agent or editor rolling their eyes.

Remember, you’re not choosing what to discard, but what to keep. And, you only want to keep the good stuff that makes you and your manuscript shine – with joy.

Tuesday, December 20, 2022

Take a "Write" on the Magic School Bus

By Nancy Churnin 

Take chances, make mistakes, and get messy.

Yes, some of the best advice I received about writing has been from a fictional character, Ms. Frizzle, created by writer Joanna Cole for The Magic School Bus books.

Many assume that writing non-fiction is safe. How are you taking chances when you’re sticking to the facts? How can you make mistakes or get messy?

Ms. Frizzle was talking about the scientific method – which requires anyone wanting to discover new things to take chances by opening your mind to new ways of viewing the world.

That doesn’t mean you make up a fantasy about the world. It means looking more closely, deeply, introspectively about something that’s always been there.

Whenever you are describing something in a new way, you’ll probably make mistakes. Get experts to fact check your details. Instead of being afraid of those mistakes, learn from them. If you got something wrong, chances are your young readers may be confused by those details, too. How can you explain it in a way that’s accurate and memorable?

Whenever you try to write something new, you have to get messy. It can take innumerable revisions before your story matches your vision for it.

I thought I’d finish my first picture book biography about William Hoy, a deaf baseball player of the 19th century, in one afternoon. I had the facts. He was fascinating. I’m an experienced journalist, used to turning out three stories a day.

Now, sixteen books later, I laugh at the steep learning curve I had with The William Hoy Story. That first book took me more than a decade to revise, polish and sell. It took me that long to learn the craft and understand I needed to go beyond a safe arrangement of established facts and take chances with a fresh approach to telling a story. What started out as a birth to death narrative became a story that revolved around William Hoy’s use of sign language.

So take chances. Don’t worry if you make mistakes and get messy. Because if you’re not making mistakes and getting messy, you’re not taking chances. And if you don’t take chances, you lessen the chance you’ll get to that thrilling new place where your book needs to go.

Tuesday, December 13, 2022

Picture Perfect

By Stephanie Bearce

One of my favorite parts of nonfiction research is poring through collections of historical photographs. From metal plate daguerreotypes and Victorian studio pictures to 1950s brownie camera photos, I love them all. It is like holding a tiny time machine in my hand. For a fleeting moment, I can see into a world that is gone.

Historical photos can add depth and dimension to your nonfiction books. Editors love it when an author can provide photo documentation of the topic, and some book publishers require a certain number of photographs for each book project.

BUT and yes, it is a big but--photos can be expensive. Purchasing editorial rights for some famous images can cost over $150 per photograph. Some publishers provide a modest budget for photographs, but others expect the author to purchase pictures with their advance. Either way, it is important for authors to find cost-effective sources for photos.

There are numerous repositories for copyright-free well-known historical photographs. Some are familiar names like Getty Open ContentLibrary of Congress, and Flickr Commons. But other treasure troves of photos are can be found in local historical societies, libraries, and family collections.

The first stop for photos about your topic should be the area where the person lived or the place the event happened. Contact the local historical society. You may uncover pictures that have never been seen by the public. The cost of editorial rights is usually minimal, or they may be willing to share them simply for recognition in the book.

Don’t be afraid to ask local citizens for help in your photo search. Great-Grandma’s photo album may provide an image that has historical significance and could make your book totally unique. You can negotiate with individuals to purchase the photograph outright or pay them a usage fee. Often families are thrilled to have their pictures included in a book or magazine article.
When looking at photographs remember the following copyright rules:​When looking at photographs remember the following copyright rules:

All works published in the United States before 1923 are in the public domain. Works published after 1922, but before 1978 are protected for 95 years from the date of publication. If the work was created, but not published, before 1978, the copyright lasts for the life of the author plus 70 years.

Check out these sources for copyright-free photos. The following sites are great sources of copyright-free images:

Tuesday, December 6, 2022

Writing Sprints

 By Christin Liu Perkins

When my children were young, I learned to fit writing into the corners of a busy schedule: during 15 minutes in waiting rooms, 20-minute nap times, 30-minute swim lessons, 45-minute music lessons. Amazingly, I got lots of writing done in those short but precious periods of time. How?

By focusing on small but significant tasks. By thinking strategically. By writing in sprints.
Knowing I have a limited period of time helps me concentrate on a single task, focusing my energy and attention. With a block of several hours, I can fool myself and fritter away an hour "warming up" or surfing the Web. But with only 30 minutes? I’m racing against the clock.
Even when I'm not waiting for someone, I can set a timer for 15 or 30 minutes to do a writing sprint. The key to making this period productive is to focus on one small, specific task that can be accomplished in that short time span.
What can be done in short sprints of focused writing?  Here are a few ideas:
  • Titles
  • Headings
  • Interview questions
  • Theme
  • Points to make
  • Possible structures
  • Topics for new projects
  • Search for sources
  • Peruse an article or chapter
  • Take notes
  • Identify experts
  • Search for photos
  • Opening sentences
  • Outline or table of contents
  • Section or subsection
Revising and Editing
  • Rewrite a section
  • Edit a chapter, focusing on a single issue
  • Pare word count
  • Do a writing exercise
  • Read an article or chapter on craft
  • Analyze a mentor text
  • Write a pitch
  • Compose a query letter
  • List publishers or magazines for your project
  • Analyze content of a magazine
  • Analyze a publisher's catalog or website
 Try mixing in sprints with your writing marathons. Like interval training in physical exercise, doing short, intense bursts of activity can build up your writing muscles and increase your productivity.

Tuesday, November 29, 2022

Fishing For Contracts

By Lisa Amstutz 

When I was a kid, I loved to go fishing with my grandparents. On a good day we’d bring home a mess of bluegill or catfish for breakfast the next morning.

Looking back, it seems that good anglers and good writers have a few things in common:
1. They learn from others. Like fishing, the craft of writing has a big learning curve. You likely won’t land a big contract the first time you toss your line out. Just as you might take tips from a more experienced angler, you can shorten your writing learning curve by seeking out more experienced authors, taking classes, attending conferences, and finding a good critique group.
2. They use the right bait. Successful anglers spend a lot of time choosing just the right bait or lure for their target fish species. Think of your submissions as your bait. Start by making them irresistible. And don’t send them out scattershot—take the time to research each agent or editor you are querying and make sure your submission is the right fit for them.
3. They keep their line in the water. If you pull out your line and there’s nothing on it, the best thing to do is to check your bait and toss it right back in. Writers need to do this too. If you get a rejection, don't let it stop you in your tracks. Consider any feedback carefully, and then send your story out again. It may take a lot of tries to hook an agent or editor, but it’ll never happen if you don’t keep your hook—that is, your book—out there.
4. They are patient. Like fishing, writing takes a lot of time and patience. But if you stick with it and keep improving your craft, you’re bound to find success eventually!
Happy fishing!

Tuesday, November 22, 2022

Five Fun Ways to Keep Readers (and Editors) Flipping Your Pages

 By Linda Skeers

Fiction writers can keep readers on the edge of their seats and flipping pages by creating exciting and compelling page turns. They do this by making sure there’s drama and tension and suspense throughout the manuscript.

But how do nonfiction writers do that when they are dealing in facts and information? The same way – by borrowing a few fiction techniques!

1. Ask a question
Readers are curious little beings and if you pose a thoughtful question that intrigues them, they’ll keep reading to discover the answer. Tease and tantalize them into wanting to know more and they’ll be hooked! Don’t rehash what they probably already know about your topic – dig deep for a tidbit that will surprise and amaze them. And then keep doling them out!

2. And then what?
Think about page turns and use them wisely. Mention a problem or obstacle and make readers wonder IF it can be resolved. Raise the stakes. Hint at what could happen if the problem isn’t resolved.

3. Make it fun
Use descriptive and lyrical language whether you are talking about rocks or rabbits. Sprinkle in action verbs and sensory details – make each scene come alive for the reader. Try to create compelling scenes that draw a reader in and keep them interested. Great nonfiction should be as exciting and interesting as fast-paced fiction! Avoid passive language and bland verbs. Reading it aloud can help you “hear” where you can punch up the language.

4. Use the element of surprise!
Forget the nonfiction from your youth – it’s a bright new day! Steer clear of dry, textbook explanations and find a unique way to present your information and your readers will be hooked. What about a unique narrator? Or unusual format? Fun sidebars? Activities? Humor? Look at your topic sideways and upside down – find a new angle or perspective that hasn’t been done before. Be adventurous! Be daring!

5. Kindred spirits
Remember what it was about your topic that first caught YOUR attention. That passion (and sometimes obsession) will shine through your manuscript and will spark the same desire for knowledge and need to know more about your subject in your reader. Enthusiasm is catching!

Tuesday, November 15, 2022

You've Got an Idea. Now What?

By Peggy Thomas

 Ideas are like radio waves. They are all around us, and you simply have to raise your antenna to tune in. That means being observant, reading widely, talking to people, and being open to the world around you. The more you practice being aware, the more ideas you’ll accumulate. Unfortunately, not every idea becomes a book (at least not my ideas).

Before you plunge head first into writing, ask yourself a few questions:
#1. Is the idea kid-friendly? You may love the idea of writing about the history of buttons or the 2008 economic crash, but what would a 4th grader think. Even if you suspect that a young reader’s eyes would glaze over, it doesn’t mean your idea is dead. Just figure out a way to make your story more relevant to a young audience. For example, you could focus on kids who lost their homes during the economic crash. Or compile the most bizarre and zany facts about buttons.
#2. Has anyone else written on this topic? Do a quick search on Amazon, or conduct a more thorough search on WorldCat.org, which contains the records from more than 10,000 libraries.

Don’t panic if another writer had the same idea. You can still write about buttons, especially if the competition is more than five years old. Librarians tend to refresh their nonfiction every few years to keep their collections current. However, you do not want to write the exact same book, so…
#3. Can I add something new to the conversation? Look for cutting-edge research. Approach the topic from a different angle. For example, rather than a book about all buttons, focus on one collector, one time period, or write from a button’s point of view. When I wrote about George Washington, I approached it from a farming viewpoint in George Washington Plants a Nation (Calkins Creek, 2014).
#4.  Can I find enough information? I’ve had to drop several projects simply because I could not find material. Look for primary sources like letters, diaries, period news articles, and people to interview. 
Then you will be able to write a well-researched book with a fresh slant that any kid will love.

Wednesday, November 2, 2022

News from the Nonfiction Ninjas

 Hello Nonfiction Writers!

We are busy working on the 2023 Nonfiction Fest and this year we'll be dedicating it to the memory of our good friend, Pat Miller, who had the vision for this event. We Ninja, know that Pat wanted the Fest to carry on because she gave us specific instructions to do so!! And so we will!

We are making a few changes that will make it easier and hopefully more fun. One of those changes is that we are moving our Ninja Blog to this site. You will be seeing posts from the Ninjas leading up to and after the NF Fest. This way we hope to encourage your writing journey all year long. 

We will also be announcing a new event for Fall 2023. It's going to be an exciting challenge!! Stay tuned for details.

But first, we would like to invite everyone who has benefitted from Pat Miller's kindness and generosity to participate in a book donation in her honor. We would like to encourage you to donate a nonfiction book of your choice to a school or library in your community. Then post a comment on our blog or a picture on the NF Facebook site.

Pat was devoted to children's literacy and worked as a school librarian for many years. This would be a wonderful way to celebrate Pat and her work with both readers and writers.

I'm going first -  I'm donating a classroom set of my Top Secret Files Series to my local elementary school here in St. Charles, Missouri.

Now it's your turn! 
Help us celebrate Pat Miller and Nonfiction!

Tuesday, October 25, 2022

NF Fest 2023 is coming soon!    

REMINDER: Join our NF Fest Facebook page for updates. 

This community answers questions, shares resources and good news, and has interesting discussions. It is active every month, not just during NF Fest. Come join us there!

Wednesday, March 2, 2022

You're A Winner!

Congratulations to the winners of the prize drawing! We have 16 sweet prizes from our amazing bloggers. May the prizes encourage your nonfiction journey.

If you are one of our lucky winners, please email us at nonfictionchicks@gmail.com no later than midnight Friday, Saturday March 5. If we do not hear from you, we will move on to the the next person on the prize list.

The winners are:

Julie Rubini  - an hour Zoom with Kirsten Larson that you can use for career coaching, an in-person critique, or just an “ask me anything” session.

Kelly O'Malley Cerra - A manuscript critique from Ann Ingalls.

Gail Hartman - 30 minute sky Q&A with Melissa Stewart.

Lisa Gaines - signed copy of Revolutionary Prudence Wright: Leading the Minute Women in the Fight for Independence by Beth Anderson.

Rhonda Roaring - signed copy of From a Whisper to a Rallying Cry: The Killing of Vincent Chin and the Trial that Galvanized the Asian American Movement by Paula Yoo.

Joyce Uglowone of the following: a critique of a full picture book manuscript, the first 10 pages of a longer manuscript, or critique of an introductory packet to an educational publisher—winner’s choice by Carol Kim.

Melissa Stoller - signed copy of Whooo Knew? The Truth About Owls by Annette Whipple.

Maria Marshall - signed copy of Fairy Tale Science by Sarah Albee.

Ruthie KirkChoose between a copy of Panel One: Comic Book Scripts by Top Writers edited by Matt Gertler sent via Bookshop.org or a half-hour ask-me-anything chat (phone or Zoom) Teresa Robeson.

Myra Faye Turner - signed copy of Our World: First Book of Geography by Sue Gallion.

Katie McEnaney - signed copy of The Vast Wonder of the World: Biologist Ernest Everett Just by Mélina Mangal 

Bettie Boswell - a 15 minute zoom session to help with research - Katherine House.

Kimberly Yavorski - a signed copy of VIP: Stacey Abrams – Voting Visionary by Andrea Loney 

Nicki Jacobsmeyer - PB critique or research brainstorm session to be used in the next 12 months with Anna Crowley Redding.

Amy Valore -Caplan - two titles sent by Abrams Books Diego Rivera and Funny Bones  (Jenny Choy) by Duncan Donatiuh.

Tonya Ann PemberThe Rise (and Falls) of Jackie Chan by Kristen Giang.

Congratulations to All!!


 By Kristen Mai Giang 

Did you read that right? Passion project? But we’re here to talk about nonfiction. Hours upon hours of research. Facts, not fiction. Is there really room for passion?

There is. There must be. Because you will spend hours upon hours researching your topic. Reading every book you can find, watching every video, scouring the Internet for creditable sources and annotating them all so you can cite them months and possibly years down the line when you can barely remember your own name, let alone the obscure source of the obscure photo you once obscurely found.

Then, once your book sells, you may go through rounds and rounds of revisions, cross-checking to make sure your facts haven’t morphed into fiction. And once the art is complete, you may – you guessed it! – go through rounds and rounds of reviews to ensure that the art and text still tell a true story

PLEASE DON’T STOP READING. If you find yourself slinking away from the idea of writing nonfiction, passion is the thing that will make that sly nonfiction idea rear its head and compel you to return to it. Over and over again. Picking a passion project will save you during the dark hours, when you’ve stayed up too late, and your eyes just don’t seem to see anymore. Because you will care so much that you must tell this story, and you must tell it right.

So how do you pick a passion project? Passion is a daunting word. Do we feel passion about many things in our lives? I like many things, but do I have passions? (Cue shrug emoji.) As it turns out, passion lurks in unexpected places. It pops up and surprises you when you aren’t really looking for it.

My first nonfiction picture book is a biography of Jackie Chan. I like Jackie Chan very much. I find him hilariously cheeky and charming. His stunts are perfectly timed blurs of speed and grace, power and precision. I grew up watching his movies and laughing at all his silly humor and punishing pranks. But was I PASSIONATE about him?

I wasn’t.

Until I happened to learn that before Jackie Chan became a global action superstar, he had been classically trained to perform Peking Opera. In painted face and colorful costume, he sang and performed epic Chinese legends. This seemed such a disconnect from the Jackie Chan I thought I knew – that icon of kung fu comedy – that I couldn’t help learning more. And before I knew it, I had read every book I could find, watched every video, and scoured the Internet.

What I learned, what became my passion, was the multidimensional truth of who Jackie Chan is. So often people of color, even those as famous as Jackie Chan, are only seen in one dimension. A stereotype. The kung fu fighting part that doesn’t represent the three-dimensional whole. The whole in whom we might see a universal truth, in whom we might see ourselves, no matter what our race or background. I wanted to tell that story. The whole story of Jackie Chan. I was passionate about it.

Along the way, I unexpectedly fulfilled another passion – for representation. When I was growing up, there weren’t many Asian actors in leading or even supporting roles on TV or in the movies. Only recently did I realize that I gained that representation – I saw those heroes – in Hong Kong movies. My mom would take us kids to the Chinese theater in San Gabriel, California, that played Hong Kong double features. Sharing sticky sweet fruit-flavored beef jerky, we laughed at Jackie’s antics and cheered a star, many stars, who looked like us.

Perhaps Jackie Chan was fueling a passion I didn’t even know I had those many years ago. And perhaps there is a passion in you just waiting to be sparked.



So how do you locate that lurking passion? How do you coax it out? Start with what you like. What interests you? What are you curious about? What do you enjoy? From there, research and learn more about a topic or a person related to that. If you love food or cooking, perhaps a chef or a pivotal moment in history related to food. As you research, take notes and free-write ideas that come to you. What themes arise? Why does this matter to you? The object of your passion may not be the topic itself, but an idea or theme or memory it represents. Something that makes you want to dig deeper. When an idea captures you, that’s when you know you have a book you want to write. Even better, you’ve done the work of figuring out the real story you want to tell – and that readers will want to read.



Kristen Mai Giang is a Chinese American author who emigrated from Vietnam when she was 18 months old. Her debut picture book biography, The Rise (and Falls) of Jackie Chan, releases March 29, 2022, from Crown Books for Young Readers.

She is also the author of Ginger & Chrysanthemum (Fall 2020) and the upcoming Last Flight (Spring 2023), both from Levine Querido.  

When not writing, Kristen has spent the past two decades creating Emmy Award-winning interactive media for Disney, PBS Kids Sprout, and Mattel, among others. She is currently developing a K-5 interactive learning platform funded by the NSF.

Tuesday, March 1, 2022


You persisted with NF Fest and completed at least 20 activities / posts / books by the bloggers. Congratulations!

To enter the drawing, please include 3 things in your comment.

1.    YOUR NAME (Add the number of items completed if you like.)

2.    YOUR LOCATION (state or country)


·       What authors/illustrators would you like to see in the future?

·       What post(s) benefitted you most?

·       How can we improve?

Your comment would look something like this:

Pat Miller-24, Texas, future-Jocelyn Rish, favorites-House/research, Mangal/maps, improve-do it again next year!

All responses must be submitted by March 2, midnight, CST/USA

Bonus: Kristen Giang will send us off on March 2 with her post on Finding Your Passion Project.

2022 Prizes

Kirsten Larson - an hour Zoom you can use for career coaching, an in-person critique, or just an “ask me anything” session.

Ann Ingalls - manuscript critique for a nonfiction levelled reader. She will draw a name from interested individuals.

Melissa Stewart - 30 min Skype Q&A.

Beth Anderson - signed copy of Revolutionary Prudence Wright: Leading the Minute Women in the Fight for Independence

Paula Yoo - signed copy of From a Whisper to a Rallying Cry: The Killing of Vincent Chin and the Trial that Galvanized the Asian American Movement

Carol Kim – one of the following: a critique of a full picture book manuscript, the first 10 pages of a longer manuscript, or critique of an introductory packet to an educational publisher—winner’s choice.

Annette Whipple - signed copy of Whooo Knew? The Truth About Owls

Sarah Albee – signed copy of Fairy Tale Science

Teresa Robeson -  Choose between a copy of Panel One: Comic Book Scripts by Top Writers edited by Matt Gertler sent via Bookshop.org or a half-hour ask-me-anything chat (phone or Zoom).

Sue Gallion - signed copy of Our World: First Book of Geography.

Mélina Mangal - signed copy of The Vast Wonder of the World: Biologist Ernest Everett Just.

Katherine House -  15-minute Zoom session to help someone with a research project.

Andrea Loney - a signed copy of VIP: Stacey Abrams – Voting Visionary

Anna Crowley Redding - PB critique or research brainstorm session to be used in the next 12 months.

Duncan Donatiuh - two titles sent by Abrams Books (two winners) Diego Rivera and Funny Bones  (Jenny Choy)

Kristen Giang – The Rise (and Falls) of Jackie Chan