Event Report: Writing Non-fiction For Children Masterclass by Janey Robinson

Janey Robinson has written an excellent write up of the recent SCBWI Author Masterclass for Writing Non-Fiction for Children. 

I've not written any children's non-fiction before so I'm excited to learn something completely new as I arrive for today's SCBWI Author Masterclass in a room above a pub, five minutes walk from Trafalgar Square.
Afternoon Tea Time as We Listen To Some Hints & Tips
 There's a full house of writers as we're welcomed and introduced to our guru for the afternoon, Judith Heneghan , by SCBWI masterclass series organisers Alison Smith and Cath Jones. It's clear from Judith’s credentials that we're in good hands: former commissioning editor, published author of over 50 non-fiction titles, award winner, senior lecturer and director of the annual Winchester Writers’ Festival - definitely guru material. 

The first hour is a joy for a learning junkie like me as Judith gives us plenty of excellent advice and top tips on bringing the real world to children through non-fiction. She suggests we need to think about the following four elements:

 ● The subject: is it popular and universal or more geared towards the national curriculum, or maybe niche, new or topical? Knowing where your concept fits is crucial for your pitch, including whether it’s for the education, trade or crossover markets. 

● The reader: the child, parent and teacher. Whether we agree with age banding or not we should know how children’s ages are grouped since almost all publishers will think in these terms. 

 ● The market: the buyer, it's either education buyers, such as schools and libraries or trade buyers , including parents and grandparents. Publishers, unsurprisingly, like to be able to capture both markets. 

● The angle: doesn't need to be wildly experimental. Understand what you're bringing to the table that's a little different. This could be being reassuringly trustworthy in tone or that your story rhymes or being design-led or other ways you can think of to engage your young reader and encourage them to read on. 
Judith Heneghan
As Judith passes round copies of some class acts in the non-fiction picture book market, she reminds us that as writers, we need to make non-fiction writing:

 ● Informative - be the expert 

 ● Interesting - use all the senses 

 ● Accessible and interactive - to support learning and engagement .

​ After lunch we get straight into the workshop, working in small groups to bring fiction- inspired narratives to information-driven concepts through the development of a book proposal for publishers. 

 The template Judith provides focuses on, among other things, the market, reader age, subject area, unique selling point, and, gulp, why we’re the best person to write it. Some of the braver writers share their proposals and this leads into the final Q&A as we think upon all we’ve learned and what we all need to go away and get on with! 
Non Fiction Titles from Judith's library. 
Here are some final takeaways that I learned about the non-fiction book market: 

● You don't have to secure an agent to get your non-fiction picture book published. It's very normal to approach and work directly with a publisher. Key non-fiction publishers include Walker, Wayland, Franklin Watts, Scholastic, OUP, Bloomsbury, Barefoot and Flying Eye. 

● Non-fiction is rarely in verse , though there are the occasional examples such as The Beeman by Laurie Krebs and Valeria Cis. T his was a one-off title so very much niche but lovely all the same. 

● A publisher may commission work from you off the back of a pitch. This was the case with Judith's first pitch. The publisher didn’t want to pursue her initial proposal but was impressed with it so asked her to write something else. You never know where a non-fiction pitch might lead! 

Judith’s energetic and fun masterclass has certainly boosted my interest in writing for this alternative market and my critique group will be seeing some non-fiction from me very soon. 

For upcoming masterclasses and other SCBWI British Isles events check out the calendar here: https://britishisles.scbwi.org/events/

Janey Robinson spent fifteen years writing poetry and short stories before becoming an aunt, four times, reawakening her love for the books of her childhood. She is currently working on fiction and nonfiction picture book texts with human nature at their heart. She joined SCBWI in 2015 and volunteers to help organise their London events. Janey lives with her husband Tom in Notting Hill and is pregnant with their first child.



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