Monday, May 9, 2011

Fiction readers want familiar, nonfiction readers want new

Author Susan Campbell Bartoletti writes in The Horn Book (March-April 2011) that in her teaching experience, fiction-reading kids would hold up a favorite book and ask for another like it. But nonfiction readers "wanted to read [books] about things they didn't [emphasis mine] already know.”

As one who writes nonfiction about people and events that most readers don’t already know, I say exactly!

I've written several nonfiction picture book manuscripts on subjects not commonly addressed in curriculum or widely known in general. Various editors have turned down one (or more than one) of them with a comment like this: "Fascinating story but not one kids will be familiar with."

But isn't that why we write books? To introduce new stories to young minds?

Several esteemed authors have had similar experiences. Over at Interesting Nonfiction for Kids, Gretchen Woelfle posted this:
There are THOUSANDS of great stories about unknown events in history and unfamous people who did great things. But for years now, (and just last weekend,) editors have told me that "we don't buy and can't sell books about people no one has heard of." Catch 23 or what???? Nevertheless, I am still writing books about unfamous people who did great things. Bit of a masochist, I guess.
Rosalyn Schanzer also weighed in:
Regarding Gretchen's comment, I have also tried very hard but without notable success to get my publishers excited about the amazing lives of the not-so-rich-and-famous. Unfortunately, this wonderful but sometimes frustrating business is all tied directly to the publisher's bottom line and to the limits of the school curriculum.
I understand how tough the market is, but there is a danger in not taking risks. There is a danger in feeding our young minds a steady diet of unoriginality.

There is a time for revisiting beloved stories or beloved types of stories, but to stay vital, we need to continue to supply stories that take us somewhere we've not visited before. After all, the saying is "the great unknown," not "the great known"...


Audrey said...


It is a maddening response from publishers, that we should only be writing about people we already know about. Still, I take heart that some books about folks off the beaten trail manage to squeak through.

Marc Tyler Nobleman said...

Amen to the squeaks...