NON-FICTION KNOWHOW Pitching non-fiction

In the first part of our Non-fiction KnowHow series, Claire Watts looks at how to pitch non-fiction to a publisher.

Use your expertise 

Publishers really like to use experts for non-fiction books. From a marketing point of view, it’s good to have an established name and a track record in the subject area, and it also saves them finding a consultant to fact-check. However, they may find that the experts they choose aren’t that great at writing for children which means that books may have to be heavily edited or occasionally completely rewritten. If you get a foot in the door with your first book via an area of expertise, and a publisher discovers you can write, chances are they’ll commission you to write something else in the future. Non-fiction writers tend to start out writing in one particular subject area and end up having written on just about everything.

This selection of the books I've written shows the jack-of-all-trades nature of the job of a children's non-fiction author!

Bypass agents 

As a general rule, agents aren’t interested in representing non-fiction authors because there just isn’t enough money in writing non-fiction to make it worth their while. Publishers aren’t wild about authors who have agents either, as they cost them more money. This isn’t always the case, but – unless you come up with an idea that’s likely to make a shed-load of money – pitch your idea directly to publishers and packagers. Of course, if you’ve already got an agent, it’s worth discussing how they feel about representing your non-fiction.

Think in series 

Children’s non-fiction publishers LOVE a series. Try pitching not just one book but a series of four with the possibility of extending the series further.

Think international 

Many non-fiction children’s publishers and packagers depend on being able to make international co-editions of the books they publish. For this to work, the contents of the book must work internationally, so, for example, a book about the Vikings would need to include information about Viking expansion throughout Europe and to America, and a children’s cookery book would need to use ingredients available in other countries. Smaller publishers may have a more local focus.

Be flexible 

Most children’s non-fiction book ideas are generated by in-house editors who then find and commission authors to write the books. While this means it’s very likely that your book pitch will fall on deaf ears, don’t be put off. If you make a convincing pitch, and a publisher is looking for something similar and doesn’t yet have an author, they may well get back to you.


When she’s not writing fiction, Claire Watts makes her living as a writer and editor of non-fiction for children.

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