Nancy's Books

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Writing Nonfiction Picture Books

Many nonfiction books are meant to entertain as well as inform, but the emphasis is on the information. The facts must be accurate. In picture books, facts support the illustrations as opposed to books for older readers in which the illustrations support the facts. The illustrations are large with a small amount of text per page, in most cases. 

In writing fiction, authors ask, “What if…” In nonfiction, authors ask, “Is it true?” The goal is to provide enough information to convey the concept without overwhelming the reader. The amount of information and detail is determined by the target audience. When I wrote BARRELING OVER NIAGARA FALLS, a biography of Annie Edson Taylor, the first person to ride a barrel over the Falls, I focused on her method of preparing for the risky ride. I knew readers would be interested in other daredevils, so I added author notes at the end of the book to inform readers. By adding the notes at the end, I did not overwhelm the text with information that detracted from the biography. 

As with fiction, nonfiction requires a strong narrative voice. Authors have the creative license to use lyrical, upbeat, slow drawl, funny, serious…the list goes on. The narrative style is often based on the subject. Think about the angle, the approach to the telling of the tale. Nonfiction focuses on facts but the facts must not be presented in a tired, boring manner. Use unusual or unexpected word choice, similes, metaphors and other literary devices to breathe life into the work.  Delight the reader as well as inform.  

Call for submissions for Adult Writers

American Cheerleader is published four times a year and is available in both print and digital form. Topics they seek include: biographies, interviews/profiles of sports personalities, cheering how-to, health, beauty, careers, fashion, and sports.  

Submission guidelines: If you have a story idea, email editor at

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Writing Nonfiction Picture Books

Which type of picture book is published in greater numbers, fiction or nonfiction? If you answered nonfiction, you are correct. The demand for nonfiction titles is growing, in part due to their use in elementary classrooms. Today’s nonfiction incorporates dramatic narrative and engaging language and reads with as much appeal as fiction. 

Creative nonfiction uses elements of fiction with nonfiction facts woven into the text. In my book, ON THE BANKS OF THE AMAZON, I used two characters, a boy and a girl, that watched the animals of the Amazon rainforest at the same time the animals watched them. I embedded factual information about the various animals into the story. 

As you develop the structure of the story, think of the way you want to reveal the information. I first began by listing the animals I wanted to use but I did not have a structure that seemed to work. A simple listing of one animal after another at page turns wasn’t creative or engaging to me so I knew it would not be for the reader either. 

I played with different approaches and realized that some of the animals were awake earlier than others and some prowled at night. That was my Ah-ha moment. The structure would be circular and some animals would appear in the morning, some midmorning, afternoon, twilight, night, and back to the next morning. Of course, I had to rethink the animals I used to fit the structure that made the story unfold in a natural, interesting way. 

Call for submissions for Adult Writers

Dagan Books, Ltd. is now reading for the next issue of Lakeside Circus (est. 2013), a speculative fiction magazine published quarterly with selected stories published at its website. The editor curates short spec fiction stories of under 2500 words.The editorial team is open to other subgenres of science fiction, including urban fantasy, magic realism, horror, the weird or the surreal, doomsday themes, mad science, etc. The ideal story is layered with meaning, driven by an odd, dark, stylish or extraordinary plot without the story evolving into something too strange to understand. Stories must have a fully fleshed out beginning, middle and end, regardless of how short the story runs. - See more at:

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Gaps in Literature

Nonfiction picture books have grown in popularity in the last few years. State Standards for schools include the use of nonfiction titles in the curriculum and this had motivated many publishers to increased production of beautifully illustrated picture books with informational text and various types of back matter.   

Talk with teachers and ask what topics have not been covered in picture books or what topics/subjects need more books. When I was a librarian in an elementary school, I read an article about pink dolphins. The next day I searched for books on pink dolphins to order for the students. I was surprised when I could find not one book on the subject. Ah-ha! Inspiration struck and I wrote ON THE BANKS OF THE AMAZON, which included information on pink dolphins.  

On another occasion, I read an article about the two Hill sisters who were from Kentucky and wrote the world’s most popular song, Happy Birthday. So little had been written about their lives, I decided to write a picture book about how they got the idea for the song. My book, HAPPY BIRTHDY: THE WORLD’S MOST POPULAR SONG, was the result of my research. 

If you think of a topic that has not been covered or if you think of a new angle for a topic, research it to see if a large number of books are already in the marketplace. If not, you may have a subject that teachers, parents, and young readers will gravitate toward. Let the editor know you have done your homework by explaining that you’ve researched the market and your book would fill a literature gap.  

Call for submissions for Adult Writers

FutureScapes is an annual writing competition that asks writers to envision a particular sort of world, and tell us a story about it. We could run projections and publish reports, but there’s a reason why Wilde didn’t say, “Life imitates empirical studies.” We want to help writers of excellent potential find their voice while shaping  tomorrow.




DEADLINE: July 15, 2016.

In particular, FutureScapes seeks:

Works of short fiction up to 8,000 words, written in accordance with this year’s prompt: Cities of Empowerment

Compelling stories that explore the nuance of technology, science, politics, and/or policy, without forgetting about plot and character!

-Stories that show us both the positives and negatives of this possible future.

-Stories that can provide a road-map for cities, states, and nations to follow.

-Stories that may be built in a rich and full world, but that manage to show us the reality of a single city, neighborhood, and/or life.

Stories worthy of the $2,000 prize for first place, $1,000 prize for second place, and $500 prize to each of the four runners-up.

-Stories that, when placed in the hands of a mayor or governor, could change the course of the future.

Deadline: July 15, 2016

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Retelling Folktales

Authentic folktales are popular with young readers and their gatekeepers—teachers, librarians, parents, and publishers. Most of these stories have been retold over centuries. If the story is protected by copyright, you must get approval from the copyright holder to retell.

Many literary gatekeepers want the folktale to be retold by a person who represents the culture that is depicted. I retold a Cherokee folktale, First Fire. For years, I had been searching for such a story to pay tribute to my great-great grandmother, who was of Cherokee heritage. 

Editors want the retelling vetted by an authority in the subject. With First Fire, the publisher asked a representative of the Cherokee Nation to vet the story. 

My goal was to stay true to the original story, but retelling is a balancing act. The folklorist in me wanted to retain the flavor of the culture and accurately represent it. At the same time, the author in me wanted to add my voice to the rhythm of the words. Together, the folklorist and author sides partnered to retell a story that is customized to today’s reader. Folktales are meant to be retold and recreated by the next storyteller who passes it along and keeps the story alive. 

Call for submissions for Adult Writers

Flash Fiction Online. We publish stories from 500 to 1,000 words in length. They’re very short, but they are still stories. That means the best ones have strong, interesting characters, plots, and (to some extent, at least) settings.

We welcome submissions from writers of every race, religion, nationality, gender, and sexual orientation.

Regarding Content

We’re not that concerned about genre. Many of us have a fondness for science fiction and fantasy, but we also like literary fiction; and in any case, great flash stories aren’t always easily classified. If you wrote it, and you love it, then submit it.

Submission guidelines at



Sunday, June 26, 2016

Write. Revise. Submit. Repeat.

Bad news. I haven’t received a book contract in about a year. 

Good news. I have two books scheduled for publication this summer/fall.

Bad news. I have NOTHING with a contract attached to it after birthing those two literary babies.

This hit me full force back in January when I was assessing my New Year’s Resolutions. I had been writing faithfully but had not submitted the manuscripts. My focus was writing and revising. At some point shortly thereafter, I changed my goals. Since I had so many manuscripts written, new ones as well as numerous rejected manuscripts going back years, I decided NO MORE NEW manuscripts. I have been retooling the older manuscripts to add spice and new life into them. The new manuscripts still need revision. 

I wrote and rewrote revisions on three manuscripts; then sent them out to publishers. I’ve had a couple of rejections, but both were as positive as rejections go. I was encouraged to send the manuscript to others because the editors though it would work for some, just not that particular publisher. So I did.

Two weeks ago, I must have irritated some muse somewhere. I received three rejections, two in one day. I don’t deny it, rejections pack a powerful punch, but I have tough skin (working on developing rhino hide). I checked my level of stubbornness (still high) and decided to view this whole process as a challenge. I am now revising the same manuscripts, once again. (My writing always leaves ample room for improvement.)

What a difference a week makes. Last week, I received two acceptance notices. One is for a chapter book and the other for an educational picture book. Happy dance time.

What a difference a revision makes.

Call for Submissions for Adult Writers:
Frankenstein Bicentennial Dare: Seeking New Stories about Science and Creation
Two centuries ago, on a dare to tell the best scary story, 19-year-old Mary Shelley imagined an idea that became the basis for Frankenstein. Mary’s original concept became the novel that arguably kick-started the genres of science fiction and Gothic horror, but also provided an enduring myth that shapes how we grapple with creativity, science, technology, and their consequences.

Two hundred years later, inspired by that classic dare, we’re challenging you to create new myths for the 21st century.
 Celebrate the 200th anniversary of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein by writing your own scary story! Tell a short fiction story about the complex relationships between creators and their creations, or write an essay about the evolving relationships between humans and technology in real life. Presented by Arizona State University, National Novel Writing Month, Creative Nonfiction magazine, and Chabot Space and Science Center.
Submission guidelines at
Deadline: July 31, 2016

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Know Your Audience, Part 3

In a recent workshop, I met individually with several beginning writers who arrived with manuscripts in hand. The first drafts showed that each had worked hard to develop characters and plots and they had devised interesting dialog, along with a narrative arc that included a happy endings.  So what could be the problem?  

The problems fell into two categories. 

Category 1.  Example: The school-based story involved a history project about Abe Lincoln, but the text was written on a level for children ages 2-3. The concept was excellent but the target audience needed a more sophisticated, in-depth rendering. The word choice was too elementary and the text too sparse for the target audience. The subject of school, history project, and Lincoln are key in determining the audience is of school age. Children in the toddler age group don’t have the life experiences to connect with such a story and the emotional impact is lost.  

Category 2. Example: A family-oriented story about a cat that wanted to play with a ball was text heavy and the word choice was too advanced. Longer text with complex sentence structure is best suited for an older reader, but the character and plot were more in line with a much younger audience.

Every story must relate to the audience. If the character and plot aren’t relevant, the child will not be interested. The language should also reflect the reader’s age. Know the target audience, their needs, likes, interests, and what they think is funny or spooky or weird. Use these elements write a story that ignites interest. 

Call for submissions for Adult Writers
Blue Mountain Arts. Announces Its Twenty-eighth Biannual Poetry Card Contest

1st prize: $300 * 2nd prize: $150 * 3rd prize: $50

Poetry Contest Guidelines:

1.      Poems can be rhyming or non-rhyming, although we find that non-rhyming poetry reads better.
2.      We suggest that you write about real emotions and feelings and that you have some special person or occasion in mind as you write.
3.      Poems are judged on the basis of originality and uniqueness.
4.      English-language entries only, please.
5.      Enter as often as you like!

Poetry Contest Rules

All entries must be the original creation of the submitting author. All rights to the entries must be owned by the author and shall remain the property of the author. The author gives permission to Blue Mountain Arts, Inc. to publish and display the entry on the Web (in electronic form only) if the entry is selected as a winner or finalist. Winners will be contacted within 45 days of the deadline date. Contest is open to everyone except employees of Blue Mountain Arts and their families. Void where prohibited.

Deadline: June 30, 2016


Sunday, June 12, 2016

Know Your Audience, Part 2

We’ve all heard the adage, Know your audience, but what does it really mean? 

Writing for a particular age group allows an author to be more specific in word choice, sentence length, and content selection. If you’re writing for a younger audience, choose basic information since the focus is an introduction to the subject. Older readers may be more familiar with the topic so consider making a list of what the audience already knows, wants to know, and needs to know. The list will determine the best way to approach the structure and content of the book.  

The age of the audience governs word choice. To be an effective writer, the language must be audience-centered, which is writing that is both understandable and interesting, but that’s not all. Consider the emotional response of the audience. What will they think or feel about this? How interested will they be in the subject? 

Today’s books challenge the readers to think. Creative and interesting ways to approach any and all subjects are the imaginative pearls editors love. Offer the reader a new way of thinking about a subject or character. Rich, vivid language sows the seeds of learning and curiosity. 

Many of us (including moi) are still kids at heart, so tap into your inner child and mine that source to write engaging stories for your target audience. Write what you would enjoy reading. Maurice Sendak, children’s author extraordinaire, said, “I don’t write for children. I write—and somebody says, “that’s for children.”  

Call for submissions for Adult Writers

Sarah Odedina, the new editor-at-large at Pushkin Children’s, is looking to build the children’s list through a new open submissions initiative.

Odedina is looking for full-length novels for readers aged 8+ and is asking potential authors to send in a synopsis of their novel, along with the first 20 pages.

Authors only have 24 hours to send in their work on 20th June before the open submission window closes, however.

Odedina said: “It takes a lot of energy and courage to finish a book and authors must find the process of getting published daunting. Pushkin Press is very positive about talking directly with authors and we hope that our Open Submissions Initiative will help us build bridges with the writing community and lead to some exciting books being published.”

Adam Freudenheim, publisher at Pushkin Press, pointed out that Pushkin Children’s has previously only released books that had already been published in other parts of the world.

“Sarah’s appointment is part of building and extending the children’s list and this open submissions initiative is one innovative way we hope to reach out to and discover up-and-coming writers,” he said.

Odedina joined Pushkin in February, after holding previous publisher and editorial roles at OneWorld, Hot Key Books and Bloomsbury.

The Open Submissions Initiative will run for a 24-hour period on 20th June and authors can send their material to with the subject line ‘SARAH ODEDINA OPEN SUBMISSION MATERIAL’.