Saturday, February 5, 2022

Which Category of Children’s NF is Best for Me?

By Lionel Bender  

Whether you are new to children’s nonfiction or wish to change direction within it, I believe your efforts to get published and established will be most successful if you target the most appropriate category in the marketplace. Each category has a unique set of characteristics, distinct types of publications, and specific editors, art editors, and publishers.

It can take a good deal of time and effort to become familiar with and break into a category, so it is important to choose carefully. But what are these categories, what is special about each one, and what criteria can you use to make your choice?

As part of the process, you should analyze and assess your circumstances, skills, expertise, creativity, and desires as a writer or illustrator.

These are main marketplace categories:

  • trade, or consumer books
  • school and library books
  • magazines
  • educational books
  • digital or online publications
  • packaged books and licensed publishing
  • self-publishing.

To help illustrate my belief, here are my definitions of the first three categories. My points are general, and there are certainly exceptions. Also, other editors, book packagers, publishers, agents, and booksellers, may define categories slightly differently.

Trade or consumer children’s nonfiction books 

  • seen in bookstores and featured at book fairs and book festivals
  • focused on by SCBWI, reviewers, writers’ and illustrators’ groups, and critique groups, so lots of practical help and advice available to newbie authors and illustrators
  • created by high-profile authors and illustrators
  • produced from ideas created by authors and illustrators, but mass market information books are initiated by the publishers
  • acquired by publishers from agents and rarely from authors and illustrators directly most with royalty contracts: authors and illustrators retain the copyright
  • contracts and royalty payments may be several thousand dollars ($000s)
  • take more than a year, sometimes two or three years, to produce and publish
  • win prizes and awards
  • one-off titles
  • authors/illustrators expected to publicize and promote their work. They should have active websites and blogs
  • publishers prefer authors and illustrators not to work for competing houses
  • good for authors and illustrators to do school and library visits
  • include picture books, literary or creative nonfiction, mass market information books, graphic nonfiction, chapter books, highly illustrated gift books, novelty books, licensed materials.

 School and Library children’s nonfiction books

  • seen in schools and public libraries but not often in bookstores or at book fairs and festivals
  • often glossed over by SCBWI, reviewers, and critique groups, but some coverage by writers’ and illustrators’ groups
  • created by authors and illustrators of all levels
  • ideas initiated by each publisher, which seeks out authors and illustrators directly or via book packagers to produce them
  • writers and illustrators pitch themselves and their skills to publishers: an active website and blog will be helpful but not essential
  • agents generally not involved
  • mostly work-for-hire and flat-fee contracts
  • fees range from several hundred to a few thousand dollars depending on length, complexity, and word count
  • publishers or book packagers hold the copyright
  • often produced for publishers by book packagers or creation houses, which commission the authors and illustrators
  • usually take less than a year to produce and publish 
  • occasionally win prizes and awards
  • authors and illustrators not expected to publicize and promote their books
  • mostly series of titles. Authors and illustrators likely to be commissioned to do several titles
  • publishers fine with authors and illustrators working for competing companies
  • good for authors and illustrators to do school and library visits
  • include informational books, easy readers, chapter books, activity books, makerspace books, reference books, lifestyle guides.

Children’s Nonfiction Magazines 

Print and online products

  • seen in schools, libraries, and homes
  • covered but not featured by SCBWI. Rarely dealt with by reviewers, critique groups, and writers’ and illustrators’ groups
  • created by authors and illustrators of all levels
  • work-for-hire and flat-fee payments
  • fees generally a few hundred dollars per article or illustration
  • publishers keep the copyright
  • ideas initiated by each magazine
  • publishers give authors and illustrators clear guidelines as to subject matter, word count, age range, text, and illustrations style
  • writers and illustrators pitch to win contracts
  • agents not involved
  • articles may take only days to write and illustrate
  • magazines, but not the contributors, may receive awards and prizes
  • authors and illustrators not involved in publicity and promotion: No need to have an active website and blog
  • no great interest for school and library visits
  • publishers fine with authors and illustrators working for competing companies
  • one-off articles but potential for authors and illustrators to produce many of them for various magazines
  • include magazines for all ages, interests, and subjects, both in print and online 

How can you determine the best category for you?

I trust you can see that a comparison of three categories highlights some significant differences that you can focus on to make your selection. I recommend you choose the category that:

  • contains books or other publications that you would most like to write or illustrate and that you will enjoy researching.
  • contains publications that you feel able to produce with your skills and expertise. This might be, first, with those skills and expertise you have now, then with additional ones you can easily acquire
  • fits your status of either having, not having, or not wanting an agent
  • contains publications that are produced within the time you have available to write or illustrate and to survive without an income from your publishing work 
  • gives you the income level you need or desire 
  • involves the amount of publicity and promotional support you can or want to give 
  • fits your status of either having, not having, or not wanting an active website and blog 
  • offers either royalty deals or projects on a work-for-hire, flat fee basis as you desire
  • is open to ideas from authors and illustrators or looks for authors and illustrators to produce ideas generated by the publisher or book packager
  • gives you the profile or status as a professional writer or illustrator that you desire or need.

Give It a Try

Some of these choices will seem obvious, but if you don’t consider them, you may go off-target. Once you get established, you may want or need to work in more than one category. Many authors and illustrators I have worked with do just that. But for now, focus on just one. Choosing your target category will be a major step forward. Next step will be to break into that category. But that’s another article, story, or webinar!


About the Author

Lionel Bender is a children’s nonfiction specialist. He has written more than 70 books, edited some 1,400 titles, and run a book packaging company for 31 years producing children’s illustrated nonfiction for several North American publishers. He gives talks, workshops, and webinars on all aspects of the “business” of being a self-employed writer, illustrator, editor, and book packager. His latest webinars are:




  1. Great breakdown of the different categories. Thank you.

  2. Thank you for clarifying the different types of writing.

  3. Thank you for including the educational market. It's a great market to write to for.

  4. Great breakdown for those just getting started.

  5. I've never really thought about all the different categories for NF (just books versus magazine articles). This was thought-provoking; thank you!

  6. Such an excellent explanation for the various nonfiction categories. Thank you,Lionel.

    Suzy Leopold

  7. Thank you for the great breakdown here!

  8. I love how you stated the points to consider when choosing a category. Thank you for showing the variety of options and pros/cons (depending on one's point of view) of each.

  9. So many ways to share our writing. Thanks for breaking them down, Lionel.

  10. Thank you for presenting such a clear breakdown of these niches in children's nonfiction. I especially appreciate your mentioning the degree to which having a website or blog is important for each area. Your webinar "Writing Nonfiction for the School and Library Market" was similarly straightforward, realistic and helpful.

  11. Lionel, thank you for this detailed information concerning categories of children's NF.

  12. I am most interested in reaching children in their home. I would enjoy seeing my books in bookstores. My goal is to concentrate on that market. Should one of my books be received well I would be proud to see them in a library.

  13. This information on all the categories is so helpful. Thanks!

  14. It is interesting to see listed all the types of children's NF. As an elementary teacher, I use most of them in the classroom. This year, I have seen more picture books involved thanks to the American Reading Company's program. Thanks for the insight!

  15. Thanks for sharing! Several years ago, my story was published by an educational press. Their model has since changed to work-for-hire. Just another twist in the pub world.

  16. Thanks for breaking this down so handily, Lionel. Very helpful!

  17. LIONEL: THANK YOU for showing us the IMPORTANCE of consciously choosing the BEST category of NF for us to write. I appreciate the help of getting on and STAYING on target. THANK YOU!

  18. Glad this is helpful. Getting such matters resolved should help you maximize your time writing and illustrating, and give you the best chances of getting published.

  19. Thank you, Lionel. I am interested in your classes on I'd like to know more about the book packaging industry.

  20. Lionel, thank you for breaking down these categories so as creators we can better target our path!

  21. What a wonderful post to help us think about goals and interests and where to put our energy! Thanks!

  22. This is a great resource post! Thanks, Lionel!

  23. Thank you, Lionel. Great summary.

  24. Thank you for this great breakdown!

  25. In June, for Writing Blueprints I'm slated to do a webinar "Getting Started As A Writer: 10 Steps to Success" in which I plan to give lots more hints and tips. It will be for Fiction and Nonfiction Writers alike. You're all welcome to subscribe.

  26. Thanks for the information about the various options available.

  27. I really appreciate your detailed breakdown as well as the additional categories to consider in publication. Thank you so much Lionel.

  28. Thank you for this information, Lionel. I will explore options never considered until seeing this post.

  29. Thanks for the information - really helps to know these categories

  30. WOW. What an elaborate interesting breakdown of categories.

  31. Thanks Lionel for laying out the differences and giving up pause to consider our focus.

  32. This content is most welcomed and informative. Thank you.

  33. Thank you so much for this detailed clarification of nonfiction works for children. Great information for new as well as seasoned writers.