Monday, January 30, 2023

Something BIG is Coming!!

The Nonfiction Ninjas are excited to announce our very first Writing Contest! 

Your job is to spend the next month soaking in the advice and writing instruction from our marvelous guest bloggers. And then - get ready to show us what you've learned!
We will be holding a nonfiction writing contest in 2023. You could win a mentorship from the Nonfiction Ninjas! More information will be coming.
In the meantime get ready for NF Fest 2023!
The fun starts TOMORROW!!!

Tuesday, January 24, 2023

Nonfiction can be - Funny??

By Linda Skeers

Many people are surprised to learn that I love writing nonfiction. A frequent comment is, “But you aren’t a serious person!”
Yes, writing nonfiction is serious business… but it can also be funny! Here are five tips (and mentor texts) to keep in mind if you want to add a touch of humor to your nonfiction.

Choose a fun narrator.
Instead of just presenting information in the typical manner, let your subject take over and share their own story!
One Proud Penny – Randy Siegel
PENNY proudly explains how it’s made and offers lots of fun details about money – in his own voice.
Gross is good.
Dig deep for the most fascinating, gross, unusual, weird and amazing facts. Your readers will thank you for it!
Ick! Yuck! Eew! Our Gross American History – Lois Miner Huey
This book contains lots of fun historical facts and doesn’t shy away from the gross stuff!
Add a fun sidebar.
Even if your subject is fairly serious, if you do find a fun fact or light-hearted example, put it in a side bar. This can be a breath of fresh air or some comic relief.
Hot Diggity Dog:  The History of the Hot Dog – Adrienne Sylver
Its sidebars are full of extra facts and anecdotes relating to the humble hot dog. Really stretch and think outside the box to come up with tidbits that will surprise and delight readers.
New angle or twist.
Look for a unique way to present your information. Turn your topic upside down and inside out and shake it all about! Love geography? Want to introduce readers to the Arctic? Instead of presenting facts and figures, make the reader feel as if they are there.
You Wouldn’t Want to Be…A Polar Explorer – Jen Green
This series focuses on the nasty and negative aspects of jobs, lifestyles, and places throughout history. Written in second person, it helps the reader get up close and personal with the subject.
Language, puns, inside jokes.
Use words and phrases that match your topic. And remember that kids LOVE puns and fun word-play!

I Fly: The Buzz About Flies and How Awesome They Are – Bridget Heos
Get it? BUZZ? Cracks me up every time!
No matter how serious you are, or how serious your subject is, a touch of humor can coax a smile, and maybe a giggle out of your reader. Go forth and be funny!

Linda Skeers loves to write funny nonfiction. You can learn more about her work at

Tuesday, January 17, 2023

Fun with Primary Resources - Seriously!!

By Stephanie Bearce

Being a nonfiction writer, I tend to geek out over research. I love digging through old photos, visiting historical sites, and delving into library stacks. The happiest of all research is when I get to dig into primary resources. So many cool things!!!!

I've read Alexander Graham Bell's laboratory notes, visited L.M. Montgomery's home, and climbed the same cliffs as Mary Anning. Primary sources can add a whole new dimension to your work.

For those of you who are new to nonfiction - primary sources are documents or artifacts closest to the topic of investigation and were often created during the period you are writing about. Diaries, newspapers, government documents, letters, memoirs, and oral histories are all examples of primary sources.

It's always exciting when you can make a trip to a historical site, but it's not always practical. Good news for when we have to be armchair researchers - the internet has some amazing websites that bring the primary sources right to your desk. And I've sourced them for you.

Here are some of the best websites for primary sources dealing with American History. Enjoy the research adventure!!
100 Milestone Documents
Includes documents that chronicle United States history from 1776 to 1965.
American Journeys
yewitness accounts of North American exploration, from Vikings in Canada in 1000 AD to the diaries of mountain men in the Rockies 800 years later.
American Presidency
Documents related to historical and current U.S. presidencies, such as speeches, official papers, and executive orders.
American Life Histories
Manuscripts from the Federal Writers’ Project, 1936-1940.
C19 Index
Full text of North American periodicals from 1740 through the 19th century.
Chronicling America
Search and read historic newspapers published from 1690 to the present.
FBI Vault
Scanned and redacted – images of FBI files of famous individuals and groups.
New York Public Library
30,000 images of New York City, costume, design, U.S. history, etc. from books, magazines, and newspapers, as well as original photographs, prints, and, postcards, mostly created before 1923.
Printed Ephemera
Advertisements, forms, programs, catalogs, timetables time tables capture the everyday activities of ordinary people.
The Sixties
Primary documents and personal narratives, 1960–1974
World Digital Library
Collection of print and visual resources

Stephanie Bearce is an author, speaker, and teacher. You can learn more about her at

Tuesday, January 10, 2023

Writing Lessons from The Great British Bake Off

By Peggy Thomas 

If you have a tendency to cram every bit of research into your nonfiction, then watch The Great British Bake Off!

Seriously.  It’s a lesson in editing.

Some of the challenges take 5 hours to complete. During that time, several cameras stalk the bakers, filming from every angle as they measure, sift and stir. But do we see every minute?

No, we do not. The show’s editors select only the images and audio needed to tell a specific story in the 1-hour time frame. They show only what we 
need to know.

We need to know enough about the recipe so we understand the challenge and will be able to judge who has excelled and whose soufflĂ© flopped. We don’t see all the bakers; just the ones who are doing very well, and those who forgot to add the eggs.

Then, just before a commercial, judge Mary Berry says, “I’m worried about Jamal,” or Gasp! The top layer of a cake tilts. The editors want us to worry. They strategically created mini cliffhangers to hustle us back from the freezer with our Dove bars.
You need to be selective too. 

Show readers only what they need to know. Select the facts and anecdotes that provide enough background so they will understand the subject.  That might mean skipping over the middle years in the development of an invention or leaving out the spouse in a bio. 

Then create mini cliffhangers by placing a problem or question at the turn of a page in a PB, or at the end of a MG chapter.
The ingredients, or research, you didn’t use?

Bake another cake!

You can learn more about author Peggy Thomas and her writing at


Tuesday, January 3, 2023

You NEED a Picture Book Dummy!

By Lisa Amstutz 

Does your picture book lack that spark that pulls the reader from page to page? Do people keep saying it feels like an article? If so, I have three words of advice: MAKE A DUMMY. I critique hundreds of picture book manuscripts every year, and often advise making a dummy because IT WORKS!

Here’s why:
1. It forces you to think visually. There’s an interplay of art and text in picture books that isn’t present in any other book format. As you create your dummy, make sure each spread is a separate scene, and that there is enough variety of scenes in the book to make it visually interesting.
2. It tightens your prose. Look at your text again, and take out anything that will be shown in the art. When you finish, read it aloud to yourself or a child. Does it read like a picture book? Make sure the language is sparse but strong.
3. It forces you to think through page turns. Add transitions or suspenseful language so the reader MUST find out what happens next. Study current picture books and note how the author entices you to turn the page. This doesn’t happen by accident!
4. It helps with your story’s pacing. Look at how many words are on each spread. Have you devoted a lot of text to one scene and very little to the next? Also keep in mind the age and reading level of your audience. How much text can they handle without getting overwhelmed?
A picture book dummy is easy to make. Simply fold eight sheets of blank paper in half and staple them in place. Leave the first and last spreads blank to leave room for the title page, author’s note, etc. That should leave you with 13 spreads. Cut out and paste your text onto the dummy or write it out by hand. Sketch out scenes to go along with it. Stick figures are fine.
If you don’t want to staple pages, use an online template. At the very least, paginate your manuscript.
Sure, it takes time. But it’s worth a try. It may just take your story from drab to dramatic!


Lisa is an author, literary agent, and ecologist. You can learn more about Lisa and her projects at