ProTalk Discussion: Writing Non-Fiction- 4/5/05


Log file opened at: 4/5/05 5:49:05 PM

*** Verla has set the topic on channel #kidlit to Non-Fiction ProTalk Discussion IN PROGRESS
LindaJoy: so who's talking tonight, V?
Verla: we're going to start
Verla: we are, lyra. :-) There's no workshop leader for these, they're just open discussions
Verla: and we talk!
Verla: but we have a specific topic to talk about
^GailM: What a neat way to research your topic so you aren't doing something that has already been done?
Verla: tonight it's Non Fiction
Verla: right, gail
LindaJoy: I'm just here for support...don't care much for NF
Verla: ah, but you write "using" non-fiction, Linda
^GailM: What you do is research it on Amazon.
LindaJoy: I do articles, I guess
Verla: and you research topics for your fiction books, which is the same as what I do when I write non-fiction
^GailM: Books in Print is expensive.
Verla: yep
Verla: VERY expensive, gail. I go to the library to research with that book
Verla: are you familiar with Books in Print, Bec?
Bec: no. :)
^GailM: I go on Amazon and search for books on the topic I hope to write about.
Verla: ah... you need to be! It's an incredible resource for writers
^GailM: They have no composting books with red worms.
Verla: the book lists ALL books that are in print
Verla: there you go, Gail!
Bec: that sounds great
Verla: and they have a subject guide for children's books
Bec: they did that just for us, huh? :P)
Verla: so you can look up a specific subject (like composting with red worms) and see if there's any other books and how many out there on that subject
Verla: they did, bec.
Bec: So you don't waste a year of your life.
Bec: that was nice of them
^GailM: Or a least 6 months.
Verla: that's how I found that my first book was a good choice. There weren't many books on the subject of "the old west" for younger kids out there. Lots of them for older kids, but not the younger ones
^GailM: Book stores use that book.
Bec: so this is on
Verla: It's in your library
^GailM: No, Bec. Use Amazon LIKE Books in Print which is a big book.
Bec: oh, it's an actual book
^GailM: And Amazon is sitting right on your computer.
Andrea: Oh, okay, whew!
Verla: but you can use Amazon the same as Books in Print (use it for preliminary searches, then go to Books in Print for the final search)
Bec: okay, I think I get it, now
joanclr: :)
Verla: we're discussing ways to find out if your subject has been over-written about or not, joan
joanclr: cool, what is Books in Print?
^GailM: Books in Print is a thick reference book that lists all the . . . books in print.
Verla: Books in Print lists ALL books that are in print and they have a subject guide for children's books so you can look up a specific subject (like composting with red worms) and see if there's any other books and how many out there on that subject
^GailM: It is published frequently.
joanclr: Wow! That sounds like a great resource
Verla: Every writer of children's books should know about Books in Print
^GailM: But it is very expensive to buy.
Verla: yes, it is, joan
joanclr: They probably have it in the reference section of the library?
^GailM: Use the library, but do a preliminary search on Amazon.
Verla: they carry it in libraries. You normally have to use it IN the library, can't check it out
Verla: yep
Andrea: What other info does it have- editors?
joanclr: Yes, I usually search key words, but Amazon tends to be either too vague or too detailed :)
^GailM: I've found Amazon does a good job, and you can even look inside lots of books.
Verla: yes, I love that feature of Amazon!
joanclr: How do you narrow your search on Amazon, Gail?
joanclr: Maybe I'm not doing it quite right, I have a hard time with it
Verla: I discovered you can't print what you look at though. LOL (the insides of the Amazon books)
joanclr: Is there a specific advanced search window you go to?
Verla: yes, Gail... what do you do to narrow your searches on Amazon?
^GailM: I try several key words. The composting with red worms is one of my books, and I searched for quite some time. they have books with worms as characters, but not non-fiction.
Verla: all of the words at once, gail?
^GailM: Separately and then in combinations.
^GailM: Red Worm Wants your Apple is my book, yet unsold.
joanclr: Neat title, Gail
lesmuir: very neat
^GailM: Thanks. Tell an editor.
Andrea: Cute, Gail
joanclr: :)
lesmuir: I would, but I don't know any.
Verla: lol
NOTE: lol = laughing out loud
^GailM: In non-fiction, you use fiction techniques like muscle verbs (strong verbs that eliminate adverbs).
Goody: I searched for worms
Verla: actually, I discovered in a very unique way that non-fiction is really very much like writing fiction.
lesmuir: DO tell, Verla
^GailM: Instead of "drops fell off the roof" make it "drops dripped."
Verla: when I wrote my Iron Horses book about the building of the transcontinental railway, I was just writing a story about it. Fictional... so I thought
Verla: oh, good example, gail!
^GailM: (Off the roof is an adverb prepositional phrase)
Verla: when I got done writing my story, I went back to make sure the main character showed up at regular intervals in it (a very important thing to do when writing for younger children)... and...
joanclr: I like the tip of going back and examining every word to see if it can be made more precise. (I think that was yours, Verla, from a previous chat.)
Verla: I realized there was NO main character! I'd written non-fiction and didn't even KNOW it
joanclr: :)
Verla: yep, joan.
lesmuir: interesting, verla. I love that book, by the way!
Verla: but since even my historical fiction books are well-researched to make sure all the facts in them are presented correctly, it wasn't really much different from my fiction stories
Verla: writing non-fiction can be just as fun and rewarding as writing fiction.
Verla: and it often sells faster and easier. HA!
^GailM: Research can be a distraction.
Verla: it can be hard to know when to stop researching...
^GailM: I've heard of folks who research too long.
joanclr: Oh yes... I love researching!
Verla: but once you have gotten enough facts to write a good story, write it!
joanclr: And I am famous at my library for always having zillions of books out at once :)
^GailM: It's too much fun to research, and we all know the writing is the hard part.
Verla: I finally learned to just start writing and often I do my research AS I write.
joanclr: Good tip
^GailM: My problem is, the books from the library need to go back in three short weeks! Too short.
Verla: if I come to a place where I find I've got lots of questions about the facts, then I skip that part and move on to the next part, and research that as I write the next part
joanclr: I just like to extend, and extend, and renew, and extend (hehe)
joanclr: but that's because (again) I have too many out at once lol
Verla: I usually just buy my books, gail. I find one I like and want, and then I look it up on
joanclr: Do you outline, then, Verla?
joanclr: Yes, I like to check them out of the library first to see if they're what I"m looking for, and the good ones that I'm using a lot, I go and buy
Verla: they have an incredibly large resource of books to buy at fabulously reasonable prices normally
Verla: yes, I outline, joan
joanclr: cool Verla
joanclr: That probably helps to be able to move over areas that are going slowly and focus on others that are flowing, or that are already researched
Verla: I just bought a second copy of the BEST thesaurus I've ever used from there
joanclr: Oooohh, do tell!
Verla: paid about $6 for the huge hardback book, and that included shipping!
Verla: It's Family Word Finder by Reader's Digest
lesmuir: I have that, too. Fabulous!
Verla: I like it lots better than Rogets
Verla: yep. I love it.
lesmuir: Me too
joanclr: Neat, what are the differences? I have Rogets but am not crazy about it
Verla: I think one of the major mistakes I see people make when writing non-fiction is they make it sound too much like an encyclopedia
lesmuir: Yes, some nonfiction can be so dry.
Verla: FWF has all the words listed alphabetically, Joan. You look up "hurry" and it will take you to a whole set of different words. In Rogets, I find if I go to that second set of words, they usually take me right back to the word I just came from. In the Family Word Finder, they take me instead to a whole 'nother set of words, which then takes me to another set, and so on. I get a lot more different choices of words with FWF
joanclr: Mmmm, interesting - I'll check it out
Verla: Okay.. what's the hardest thing for you when you are trying to write non-fiction?
Verla: I know for me, it's the worry that I might not have all the facts correct!
joanclr: Yes, along that line for me, if it's something I haven't experienced personally, that I might be misrepresenting something small but very important
Verla: most authorities I've heard talk about non-fiction say you should verify your facts in at least three different reputable sources (and the internet can only SOMETIMES be accounted a reputable source!)
joanclr: Another thing that sets me back sometimes is wondering whether the subject has been covered already - esp writing for a magazine, if you haven't been up on all the latest issues, it's hard to be sure if it's "old hat" or not
lesmuir: Yes, I can see how that might bog you down.
Verla: hmm. When writing about books, you look them up in Books in Print. Seems to me like I remember there being something similar for articles in Magazines...
Verla: some kind of a source that will list all the articles that have been printed about a specific subject and what magazines they were in
Verla: but I can't remember what it was. I bet your reference desk librarian would know, though
Verla: it would be worth asking about
joanclr: cool, good idea
Verla: It's always a good idea to try to look at other books that have been printed on your subject, to see if your idea is fresh and new
Verla: or if your approach to a well-worn idea is new
Goody: Like Red Worms?
joanclr: :)
Verla: for instance, Gail could take her Red Worms and turn it into a fun story book for younger kids. Then in the back of the book it could have all the facts of how the kid could start their own worm farm. So it would work on two levels - as a fun book to read (or have read to them) and for older kids, an instruction book on how to build the worm farm
Goody: Thats a Wonderful idea Verla
Goody: Wonderful Worm Farm
joanclr: :)
Goody: Can I ask a question then?
Verla: absolutely, goody! This is an open discussion!
Verla: we are very informal with the ProTalks
Goody: What does everyone think is the most important characteristic of a non-fiction book? Accuracy?
joanclr: I would think accuracy is important of course, but interest has to be paramount, otherwise it won't get read
joanclr: Interest as in, readability, exciting presentation, etc
Verla: I'd say it has two things of equal importance, Goody. Accuracy of facts is one of them... and a really engaging story line is the second one.
lesmuir: Accuracy, but also some spice.
Goody: engaging for the age group
Verla: publishers today aren't normally looking for text book quality writing (unless you are writing for the text book companies.)
Verla: yep!
Verla: if you can tell a really engaging story, that just "happens" to be about or include real facts, then I think you have winner
joanclr: I am trying to motivate myself to do more non-fiction writing - it really is a great field
Goody: I would like to do that too
Verla: The worm raised up high and wiggled around... THERE! There was an APPLE over there.
lesmuir: My father-in-law is a historian- on the History Channel a lot. I need to tap his brain for intersting ideas.
Goody: I already have a an idea for one
joanclr: Wow Lesmuir, what a neat connection!
Verla: oh, you have a great source, les
Goody: Hey les! That is where I got my idea
joanclr: Let me guess Goody - worms? :D
Verla: definitely tap his brain
Goody: LOL
Verla: no no no... the worms belong to Gail!
^GailM: I tend t owrite about things that interest ME.
Goody: No, there was a women that was a Pharoh
joanclr: Ohhhh *blush*
Goody: in egypt
^GailM: Yes, the red worms are mine.
Verla: no hijacking/stealing Gail's story!
joanclr: Somebody, step on my toe, hard!
joanclr: Or kick me under the table
joanclr: :D
lesmuir: yeah, but I tend to be geared toward the whimsical.
Verla: so write about whimsical non-fiction topics...
Verla: butterflies
joanclr: lol Verla
Verla: are fairies real?
lesmuir: Wa la!
Goody: are they?
els: yes, they are, Verla
^GailM: Chickadees were checking out my bird house today. Makes me want ot write about Chickadees.
Verla: I don't know but I'm still enamoured of Druids after reading a story about them in my early teens
lesmuir: or however you spell that!
lesmuir: voi la?
joanclr: voila
els: voila
lesmuir: i took spanish
Verla: :-)
joanclr: lol
Verla: I learned the hard way that you need to keep very good records of your research!
Goody: Do you think cookbooks are needed?
joanclr: ohh, for bibliography, Verla?
Verla: after you sell your book, sometimes three years or more later, your publisher is going to want verification of the minutest facts!
Goody: Oh Oh I do not keep good records
Verla: I also learned to write the bibliography AS I DID the research
Verla: I finally realized that if I made copies of the pertinent pages of books, it was the easiest way for me to keep track.
els: oh, good idea
Verla: and that's perfectly legal as long as you are making the copies for your files only.
joanclr: good idea!
lesmuir: great tip
Goody: I do all of my research online - maybe I could save the sources in a favorites folder
Verla: I copy the cover of the book, the copyright page, and then any pages in the book that apply to specific things I've looked up.
els: but print them too, in case a page goes defunct or you have a comp crash, Goody
Goody: *making a note to do that from now on*
Verla: no, goody. Print the pages out and put them in a file. When you go back four years later, that link may not be there anymore.
lesmuir: good point
Verla: and ONLY use sources off the internet that are "reliable!"
Goody: Very good point
Verla: that means they are accredited sources like libraries, universities (but not research papers of students), museums, etc.
Goody: That I do
joanclr: Ohhh, good point about printing out pages!
Goody: *whew*
Goody: What did you think about a cookbook?
Goody: Candy and Sweets
Verla: if you find a really interesting fact on a site on the internet but it's just "someone's" site... then I'd verify that fact with three other sources that I knew were reliable
Goody: or Sugar and Spice
Verla: there are zillions of cookbooks out there, goody. Use the Books in Print guide at the library to see what your competition is. Then go look at those books, and find a way to make your cookbook different and unique
Goody: Okay three
Goody: and save those too?
Verla: maybe your book could have art/craft activites to go with each recipe
Goody: I wants to write a book about making CANDY
Verla: or perhaps you could do something with the food itself that would be unique (art candy that you can eat afterwards?)
joanclr: cool Goody!
Verla: candy that can be a toy for a while before eating it?
Goody: Candy that you can give as Gifts
Verla: candy for specific holidays?
Goody: Yes
Goody: Lollipops
Verla: months of the year candies
Goody: YES!
Verla: how to make lollipops that look like your kids?
joanclr: LOL
Verla: ways to make a mold from a photo and turn it into candies for the grandparents?
Goody: Organization is another important characteristic
Verla: you need some kind of a "hook" for a cookbook, I think, to make it different enough to sell.
Goody: of non-fiction
Verla: it IS, goody.
els: logical prgression of facts, steps or ideas
Verla: I have a file for each of my books and all my research goes into it.
lesmuir: and safe for kids
Verla: when I need to look up a fact, I know right where it will be.
Verla: definitely think of the safety factor!
Goody: you have a responsibility to alert young readers and supervising adults when activities require adult supervision
Goody: Another important characteristic!
Verla: I had a recipe for Steaks of Snakes put into my Teacher's Guide book to augment my books. The lady creating the guide for me added a step to my recipe... she said, "Catch a rattlesnake and skin it."
lesmuir: lol
els: eep
Goody: Yikes!
Verla: when I read that, I gulped. Some kid might TRY it and get hurt!
anything: brb
joanclr: LOL Verla
Verla: So I changed it to "Skin a rattlesnake and clean it."
Goody: Tastes like Chicken?
lesmuir: haaaaa!
Verla: when I brought it to her attention, she turned totally white. She hadn't thought of that at all! (some kid getting bit)
Verla: (at the bottom of the recipe there's "mock" steaks of snake using chicken, goody)
Goody: LOL
lesmuir: yum!
Verla: it's VERY important when you are writing for kids to put only things in your stories that are SAFE for them. Or be sure to put notes in saying things like, "Only do this with an adult."
Verla: you don't want the thrill of getting published only to find out later some poor child was injured because of your book! (and possibly get sued because of it)
Goody: Oh yeah - back to research - Do you have to get permission to use other material?
lesmuir: CYA and those of others around you!
Goody: LOL
Verla: also, do NOT steal other people's work and use it as your own. If you think something is in the public domain, make SURE it is, before you use it. Sometimes copyrights on older works have been renewed by family members, publishers or others.
Verla: yes, you do, goody.
els: things like recipes and patterns need to be changed a certain percentage to make them your own originals as well (Used to design knitting patterns)
Goody: OK - I thought so
Verla: If you are in doubt, find out. (That's the one thing I'd say to ALWAYS remember when writing non-fiction anything.)
Verla: wow... it was a FAST hour! Is there anything else anyone wants to discuss before we close tonight's ProTalk?
Goody: What % els?
els: I think it was 30%
Goody: OK
joanclr: Great discussion, Verla
Verla: seems like I remembered something like 20%, els.... but I KNOW it has to do with how long the original work is.
Goody: Thanks Verla
lesmuir: Very interesting! Thanks Verla!
els: like if you had a basic pattern or recipe, but you had ideas to make it better, make sure there is a 30% change
els: maybe that was it, Verla
Verla: If you are talking about a 500 page book, then it might be 30%... but if you are talking about a 100 word item, the percentage might be less.
Verla: but I'd recommend looking it up (the internet will tell you.) Google it!
Verla: I don't know if this is a site you have to pay to use or not... but this came up when I googled copyright percentage: Copyright
Verla: Advice and Information related to
Verla: Copyright.
Verla: or try this:
Verla: at any rate, make sure your facts are correct, write non-fiction, have fun, and make SALES!
Verla: (This ends our ProTalk for tonight, folks! Thanks for coming and participating.)
joanclr: thank YOU verla!
els: thanks!
lesmuir: thanks!
*** Verla has set the topic on channel #kidlit to Writers & Illustrators of Children's Literature Meet Here Nightly - Welcome!

Verla Kay
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