Posted by: Kathy Temean | April 5, 2012

Non-Fiction Writing and Illustrating Offers Publishing Opportunities

Non-fiction or information books come in all shapes, styles, and sizes and are a big part of the children’s publishing market. An author or illustrator can make a good living writing or illustrating non-fiction picture books, biographies, educational books, school supplemental materials, textbooks, and even young adult “faction” books. There are also many opportunities for non-fiction work outside traditional publishing. And with new digital tools, authors and illustrators can independently create and sell their own non-fiction work.

Non-fiction books can supplement an author or artist’s writing and illustrating with school visits and talks about non-fiction. Children (and adults) want to discover and learn things, so if you decide to write or illustrate non-fiction products remember they must educate, inspire, and yes, entertain the interest of the young reader.

If you have attempted to produce non-fiction books, you will know how much fun they can be to research, write, illustrate, and picture research. I wrote a book about New Zealand years ago and I learned so many fun and interesting things about that country. I still can entertain people talking about the things I discovered and how that book was made. So if your first thought is that writing or illustrating a non-fiction book is boring and not particularly creative, you should know it isn’t and consider trying your hand at non-fiction. The skills and expertise you will develop are essential for writing and illustrating fiction, too.

It doesn’t have to be a book. There are many children’s magazines and websites that will pay you for an interesting non-fiction article. Digital developers are looking to authors and illustrators to help them create children’s educational ebooks and apps. All of these will give you some publishing credits, income and a chance to see if writing non-fiction or illustrating is for you.

Also, if you can provide pictures for your book or article you will have a better chance of your article being picked up and it will add to the amount of you receive. If you can take the pictures for your article yourself, that will save you time, money and receive a bigger check.

Authors can spend a huge amount of time chasing images, negotiating fees, and clearing reproduction rights. Also, authors rarely know the best places to find images, or have an idea of what fees can be negotiated. What are the details of the rights you have asked for? — exclusive/non-exclusive, World all-languages/North American English only, book/ebook, digital/print only, educational/non-educational, cover/ internal use only. It is not so straightforward.

Hint: Check with your publisher to see if they can help: it may have a photo agreement in place with the source.

Many works of non-fiction are produced by teams of people — author, illustrator, editor, picture researcher, art director, designer, reading consultant, academic consultant. This raises issues of ownership of copyright, flat-fee and work-for-hire contracts or royalties, digital rights. Negotiating your way through these can be highly rewarding or a nightmare. Again, experience of producing non-fiction will be invaluable whatever you focus on in publishing.

The world of non-fiction is inhabited by a network of publishing people that may be new to you. Within publishing houses there are dedicated non-fiction editors and art editors. There are book packagers or creation houses that sell non-fiction projects to publishers or are commissioned by publishers to produce books. There are digital developers designing websites and producing ebooks and apps for publishers. These independent outfits commission authors and illustrators just as publishers do. It is important you get to know and network with these people. As the world of publishing changes, these people may be the key to your future.

Editorial Director, Lionel Bender, of book packager BRW, and Author Sally Senzell Isaacs are conducting an Intensive Workshop at the New Jersey SCBWI conference on June 8th that is filled with valuable, must-know information about the world of children’s non-fiction.

Not only will you learn about the opportunities for non-fiction work, types of nonfiction texts, and the different structures, approaches, and perspectives used by authors and illustrators, but voice will be discussed, which is just as important when writing non-fiction as it is in literary fiction. In addition, you will walk out of this Intensive knowing how to develop an idea you have, pitch your non-fiction book, negotiate a contract, and find new sources of work.

Lionel and Sally invite you to submit in advance (by April 30) a query letter, a one page proposal, a sample of your writing, or any questions and queries you have about children’s nonfiction and they will answer everyone’s submissions during the class.

You can also sign up for a one-on-one consultation critique of your work during the weekend with Lionel.

There are still spots available, so don’t miss signing up for this one.  If you are already registered for this intensive, then please submit using: and put “Intensive” in the Subject Box.

Lionel Bender is Co-Founder and Editorial Partner of UK-based book packager Bender Richardson White ( and of MJL Digital Publishing. BRW creates, develops, and produces children’s illustrated nonfiction and educational materials for publishers in the UK and across North America. It regularly commissions SCBWI authors. MJL Digital Publishing produces self-guided walks in London for online delivery. Lionel is also the author of 65 children’s illustrated science and natural history books and a regular visitor to major book fairs in the US and internationally.

Talk tomorrow,



  1. This conference affords so many opportunities, it makes my head spin when I actually take the time out to think about it 🙂


  2. I just wanted to reiterate that this Intensive is for both authors and illustrators, not just one or the other 🙂


  3. Sorry I keep posting, but I need to clarify that although it is writer-focused, I know Lionel wanted to know if there were illustrators attending so he could address that, too. That’s why I said it’s really not just limited to authors.


  4. This is something I may look into to supplement my income until my orples books (hopefully) take off. Thanks for posting, Kathy.


  5. I’m really looking forward to learning the ropes from Lionel. Already have a critique with him, and may sign up fo the intensive as well. Non-fiction is such fun! Writing for Highlights has taught me so much and non-fiction opportunities are fabulous. Thanks Kathy for setting this up!


  6. Another one for my class wiki. THanks for being such a great resource for so many people!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.


%d bloggers like this: