She knows her stuff, and we can learn a lot from her. So, let's get started.
What can you tell us about the types of science books that are out there?
I think it is first important to understand the many categories of NF science books. The first distinction is between writing for the education market (text books, series books written for school libraries, exam questions, etc.) and writing for the trade market (those sold in a book store). I've done both, and they are very different. Within those categories, books also fall into main types, i.e. survey type books (try to cover a subject broadly), how-to books, etc. Melissa Stewart does a good job of explaining some of these on her blog:
What drew you to writing for the science market?
I love getting kids hooked on science. I wanted to teach even more kids than I could reach in my profession (environmental education). Now that I've published WILD DISCOVERIES:WACKY NEW ANIMALS with Scholastic, I know my teaching will reach tens of thousands of kids.
Do you know of any topics that librarians are asking for that they are not finding on the shelves?
Teachers and librarians often request fun physical science books (heat, friction, simple machines, energy, waves, etc.) They also are looking for earth science books (rocks, soil, lightning, tornadoes, etc.) There aren't as many trade books on those topics and educators are looking to get kids hooked on those subject areas as well. My book HOW TO SURVIVE AN EARTHQUAKE
is one way Capstone Publishing tied a more commercial idea (survival) with an earth science content that teachers were looking for.
What credentials, if any, does a writer need to write a science-related book?
I don't think a writer necessarily needs strong science credentials to write a good science-related book, as long as they are good at researching and are careful to get their manuscript vetted by a scientist. Sometimes I think that when a writer doesn't have a strong science background, they are better at not writing over the heads of children. That said, a science degree, teaching experience or other professional experience in science does look good on a cover letter.
What, if anything, makes writing about science different from, say, a biography?
In writing a trade book about science, I think one of the greatest differences is structure. A biography already has an inherent story structure (timeline through their life). When you are writing about science, the structure is wide open. This is refreshing because you have so many options, but also challenging because you need to pick a structure that supports your theme/main concept. Finding the right structure is often one of my greatest challenges, but when I do, it really makes the book work as a whole and takes it from being an info dump to a revelation of a new idea. It took me six years of revision to find the right structure for my upcoming book HOW RUDE:10 REAL BUGS WHO WON'T MIND THEIR MANNERS, but now the humor and science information support each other and do those bad boy bugs justice.
What advice would you give someone who wants to break into the field?
The best way to learn about this kind of writing is to read, read, read. I try to read 100 recent works in any new market that I want to write for. It gives me a huge advantage in terms of understanding what is already out there, what works, what doesn't work, and what editors are looking for.
What are some books that you think are outstanding and would recommend to readers?
That's hard because there are so many good individual titles out there and "outstanding" is all dependent on what you are looking for. I could recommend anything by Nicola Davies, Joyce Sidman, or Sy Montgomery. I can also recommend the "Scientists in The Field" series by Houghton Mifflin, Melissa Stewart's FEATHERS:NOT JUST FOR FLYING,
EARTH SHAKE:POEMS FROM THE GROUND UP by Lisa Westberg Peters, and
VULTURE VIEW by April Pulley Sayre.
Thank you, Heather, and we look forward to your book about rude bugs. Kids are going to love it!