by Leslie Colin Tribble
This workshop was a one day event, but the amount of information packed into those nine hours was amazing. I took 10 pages of frenetic notes, until sometime around 3:00 I realized I couldn't write any more so closed my notebook and just absorbed the goodness.
The faculty was stellar - Carolyn Yoder of Calkins Creek Books; David Meissner, winner of the 2014 Golden Kite Award for his nonfiction book, Call of the Klondike; Terri Farley author of multitudes of Phantom Stallion books and recently published Wild At Heart: Mustangs and the Young People Fighting to Save Them; and Laura Perdew who has written a number of books for the educational market plus a nonfiction activity book, Kids on the Move! Colorado. I learned something from each of them and the workshop was small enough there was a chance to chat with nearly all of the faculty at some point during the day.
Here are some summit highlights:
Carolyn Yoder spoke about the climate being good right now for nonfiction, and how wonderful that is for writers. She said this isn't the "old style" nonfiction that you remember from grade school. Instead, today's nonfiction creates a vision for readers; it's fun and interesting. Carolyn emphasized the need for very high quality research with many sources, back matter and documentation of your research process. She said writers better have two sources for each fact and that your bibliography needs to support your cover letter and show your passion for your topic.
As an editor, Ms Yoder said she reads the cover letter then goes straight to the bibliography - if no bibliography is included, then she doesn't continue reading the submission. For a 600-800 word magazine article your bibliography needs at least 3 or 4 books (adult and children's books), articles, websites, photos, etc. Calkins Creek is an imprint of Boyd's Mill Press and Highlights so part of Carolyn's job is reading magazine submissions dealing with American and World history. Also, since she is the entire staff at Calkins Creek, it could take 6 months for her to respond to your book submission.
David Meissner spoke of his research process for Call of the Klondike. He asked the group, "Can you write a great nonfiction book if you aren't an expert?" Ultimately the answer was yes, but you have to do authentic research and pretty much become an expert. For his research on the Klondike Gold Rush, David went to Alaska and hiked the same trails, walked through the same towns and talked to everyone he could find. His take home message was, "Don't Be Shy! Talk to everyone and ask them who else you should talk to." He also said it doesn't hurt to ask your publisher for help paying for onsite research.
Terri Farley talked about transitioning from fiction writer to nonfiction writer. She walked us through an exercise designed to help us fine tune some topics we might be interested in pursuing. I appreciated this effort because it did help show that yes, I do know a little bit about some really interesting topics and it showed me how to delve deeper into them. All the presenters spoke about needing a sense of "You Are There" in your story - developing the scenes with inciteful details including colors, smell, and sounds that transport your reader to the time and place.
Laura Perdew has been on a mission to write books for the education market and she did a great job of showing us through that process. There was a subtle collective gasp from the group when she talked about having 8 weeks to write a 14,000 word book. I was impressed by her ability to write so much as well as take care of her family (10 year old twin boys!). This is one organized lady - she has a submission chart and sends status inquiries to publishers she hasn't heard back from. Laura also stressed that you absolutely can't do too much research for these books otherwise you'll never make your deadlines. Another tip - send a real, honest-to-goodness thank you card to your editor when the project is finished.
All in all it was a great day and I'm fired up to dust off some manuscripts and get back to writing. Carolyn Yoder reminded us that "Someone needs your writing. It's a great time to be into nonfiction."