Monday, February 22, 2016

Kids' Nonfiction and Work-for-Hire ~ by Patricia Toht

On February 9, the world welcomed this book:
The Junior Ranger Activity Book
is available here and here.
It's a book of facts, games, puzzles and fun about the U.S. National Parks -- terrific for traveling families. And a GROGger is one of its authors!

Congratulations to...

Who better to co-write a book about the great outdoors than an author who is so at home there?

I had a chance to speak with Christy about her experiences writing the book:

Congratulations on the JUNIOR RANGER ACTIVITY BOOK, Christy!

Thanks, Patty. I was so pleased to see this book in print after months of working on various electronic and pdf versions of the manuscript. It's available online at the National Geographic website, as well as local booksellers and online sellers.

How did you come to write it? Do you have an agent who arranged it? Did you write a proposal to National Geographic Kids?

I wrote the book under contract with a book packager. There's no author credit given, but I felt fortunate to be part of the team.

How did it happen? I attended a Highlights Foundation nonfiction writing workshop in 2013, and there I learned about the option of working with a book packager. Basically, publishers contract with packagers to produce books they want -- mostly specific nonfiction titles. The packagers find the writers. Lionel Bender, founder of Bender Richardson White (a book packager), presented at the workshop. I was really impressed with his description of the work he does, and it sounded like an excellent option for getting my work published. I sent my resume to him (in England!), and nearly two years after the workshop, he asked if I would be interested in this project.

National Geographic Kids originated the concept for the book, and they asked Bender Richardson White to hire the writers.

So, NGK + BRW = a sweet writing job for CM!

Can you give our readers an insight into work-for-hire?

With work-for-hire, a writer is hired to perform a specific task for a set fee. With a book, the publisher sets the subject, length, word count, etc. Writers can work directly for the publisher or a packager, and contracts vary. My contract specified my hourly rate, deadlines, and deliverables for writing outlines, reports and text. In most arrangements, a writer is paid a fee upfront, rather than receiving royalties.

How did you go about researching the book?

Well, sad to say, I didn't get a travel budget! My research was through books and online sources. National Geographic also has a vast amount of information about national parks, and I utilized that.

What was your favorite part of working on the book?

I loved learning about the history of the parks, and so many odd animal facts! It was a great deal of fun seeing the book come to life as the photographs were collected and the text was incorporated into the books design. I also really enjoyed coming up with quiz questions, and the wrong answers for the multiple choice questions.

Christy's dog, Cheddar, is very supportive!
What draws you to writing about nonfiction?

I like all kinds of writing, but I particularly enjoy turning factual material into fun, interesting stories that appeal to kids. If even one child reads something I wrote and learns from it, how cool is that??

What advice do you have for aspiring authors of kids' nonfiction?

•  If you're interested in doing work-for-hire, check out the educational market. Laura Purdie Salas offers a very helpful book about this market, along with other resources. You can find all of her books for writers here.

• Regardless of what you want to write, I'll share the same advice I've heard more than once:

Know your market -- read, read, READ!

Hone your craft -- write, write, WRITE!

Find a critique group, preferably one with 
other writers in your genre -- revise, revise, REVISE!

Go to conferences -- network, network, NETWORK!

• Enhance your credentials as a subject matter expert through further education in your field, volunteer work, and publishing short pieces in your specialized area.

• Attend conferences that focus on nonfiction, like the 21st Century Children's Nonfiction Conference. For insights into the conference, see this GROG post.

• Check out other GROG posts about nonfiction and educational markets by Tina Cho, Sherri Jones River's interview of Miranda Paul, and an interview with Nancy I. Sanders.

Christy with Marc and Abby

Thank you for all of the terrific information, Christy. I can't wait for your Spring, 2017 rhyming picture book! And good luck with your middle grade nonfiction proposal that is making the rounds. 

For more about Christy Mihaly, check out her website here, 
*especially the section for Educational Publishers, where Christy presents her credentials for writing nonfiction.*


  1. Congrats, Chris! Love the parks and can't wait to get this book for my grandson. Great interview, Patty.

    1. Thanks, Kathy. Any trips to national parks planned for your summer?

  2. Congratulations, again, Chris! I'd love to write a NTL Geo reader book!Thanks for sharing your story.

  3. So happy for my friend Chris and I learned some new facts from the answers to your insightful questions, Patty.

    1. I'm glad that the information is helpful, Sherri. I'm so happy for Chris, too. :)

  4. Very helpful article. Thanks and Congratulations!

  5. Your book looks like oodles of fun, Chris! Congratulations to you on it!

    1. Thanks, Evelyn. Thanks for checking out the GROG.
      It was great to be able to learn so much about the National Parks -- and share all those fun facts with kids!

  6. Looks like a great book! Congrats on getting it done!

    And thanks for the links to get more info about doing WFH. I'm considering this, so I'll be checking them out. Thanks!

    1. Hi Jilanne -- Thanks for your note. Good luck with your WFH. It's a great way to go and there's plenty of opportunity out there for good writers.

  7. Congrats, Christy :) Thank you for sharing your journey, sources, and tips.

  8. Thank you, all, for your kind comments. Chris is off on an amazing trip to China! I'm sure she'll read all of your wonderful comments, just as soon as she gets back. The woman just doesn't sit still!

    1. Thanks to you, Patty! I'm looking forward to the next time our paths cross.

  9. Oh, Christy, I love all this peek at your process with the Junior Ranger book for NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC KIDS. Knock my socks off with that great publisher name! The photos are precious too.
    Patty, appreciations for a very special article.