Where now for children’s non-fiction writers?

WHAT CAN writers do when the medium they work is disappearing? That was the agenda for a meeting of members of NibWeb, an email network for writers of children's non-fiction (CNF), sponsored by the NUJ and Society of Authors, on 1 November.

Inevitably, we began with a short discussion of the state of the industry: it's dire, with few commissions; and pay that has gone down over the last decade or so.

But the meeting had positive thoughts on making a living from traditional books. Though work on series of CNF books is scarce, and the UK market shrinking, there is some demand for:

  • books for reluctant readers;
  • one-off titles (not series);
  • work for non-traditional outlets such as museums; and
  • books that mix genres - for example fiction and non-fiction.

Paper publications still sell. The double-paged spread is the most practical form for co-editions, but publishers will consider short chapters.

We may have to be more proactive than in the past and approach outlets (publishers, museums, etc). There is a need, if not a demand, for materials that demonstrate proper research and worked-out argument. CNF still has too low a profile and needs a "champion".

Electronic publishing is not a panacea, since it suffers the same distribution problems as paper books, magnified by the large numbers of titles. Internet-based publications tailor-made for individual schools have worked for some people and, with the right profile, it might be possible to persuade schools and other bodies to subscribe to such things as on-line information packs.

Self-publishing has limited value. Beware of producing work unedited! Local subjects and outlets such as newsagents and cafés can work - especially with print-on-demand.

The meeting discussed ideas for collectively marketing the expertise of members: discussion will continue on the NibWeb email list.

Last modified: 10 Nov 2011 - © 2011 contributors
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