Skype Selfie

Skype Selfie
Click on this photo to find out about my school visits on SANDRA MARKLE SPEAKS!

Sunday, July 28, 2013


Kids and animal stories--works for me!

Of course, if you're serious about writing for children, you want your work to be published. Become a book you can hold, love, and share. Happily--and humbly--I'm pleased to share I've had over 200 different books published. And have had success working with a number of publishers. So I want to share some tips based on my experience.

Here I am cutting the ribbon for a Scholastic Book Fair. I loved seeing my books among all those lovely titles. 

Hone Your Skills

You wouldn't expect to walk into a hospital and perform open heart surgery without first preparing. Granted, having a book published isn't on the life-and-death level.  Although, I'll guarantee you'll have put your whole heart and a heck of a lot of effort into writing it. I know I always do.

My point is, while you can write any book you want, you can't expect to get it published unless you first prepare to be able to write at a professional level.

This book is about to come out. The research and writing process
took about 6 months. The publication process took about
another 6 months. That included the design stages of
merging photos and text, working with the editor to
have just the right amount of text per page, the copyediting
stage checking all facts, punctuation, etc for the
umpteenth time, putting in the index and glossary, and
just a lot of little but critical details. Now I'm
actively involved in preparing to promote the book so
children and teachers find it and get the most out of reading it.

Here's what I did to get there:

1. Joined professional organizations. For children's books, being an active member of SCBWI (Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators) is extremely valuable. 

2. Participated in writing workshops both on-line and in-person. Where else can people share the join of discussing animated tag lines, plot development, and creating characters readers care about. And never forget nonfiction needs to be just as interested to read as fiction. It just has the added bonus of being based on real-world, real-life action.

Boys and my nonfiction books just naturally go together.

3. Participated in critique groups. These are groups of other aspiring and published authors who are willing and able to evaluate how well the writing is doing its job. That means discussing if the work is interesting, if sentence structures are both easy to read and advancing the text, if the punctuation is correct. Even in nonfiction--make that especially in nonfiction--it's important to think about the book's concept and how it's developed to keep reader's interested and involved.

4. WRITE, WRITE, WRITE--and WRITE SOME MORE!!!  I started writing every day when it meant working early in the morning before I made breakfast for the kids and late at night after everyone was finally in bed. My son told me he thought our house was haunted when he was a little boy. That's because those were the days of manual typewriters and he would wake up and hear me typing. 

 I still write nearly every day. It's just part of me. Thank heaven someone wants to read what I write, but I'd do it anyway. 

WAITING FOR ICE (Charlesbridge, 2013) has happily received
the following awards: 2013 National Science Teachers Association
and Children's Book Council Outstanding Science Trade Books
K-12 List, 2013 Bank Street College Best Children's Books of
the Year List (Star for Merit), and 2013
American Association for the Advancement of Science Summer
Books List

And it keeps my brain tuned into my writing voice--they way I tell my stories--both the fictional ones and those that are real. As you write, you'll discover your voice too. I can only describe it this way. When I'm writing something and I get it just right--in my writer's voice--I get a feeling inside that's just as good as biting into something delicious. 

Study The Market

Visiting school keeps me in tune with my readers. Plus I love kids.
Again, this part is back to you can write any book you want but if you want to be published you need to know what your readers are interested in and what publishers are interested in publishing. Those two go very much hand-in-hand. Reader interest motivates publishers (think Harry Potter or 50 Things Kids Can Do To Save The Earth). And publishers jumping on the bandwagon stimulates readers (think Twilight and The Magic School Bus).

Here's what I do:
1. Read PW Children's Bookshelf.  Be sure and sign up for their FREE newsletter.
2. Read the catalogs of major publishers, such as Scholastic, Lerner, Charlesbridge, Boyds-Mills, and others
3. Browse Good Reads for what readers are reviewing--and what they have to say.
4. Visit bookstores looking at what's available (also a good chance to think about what's missing and might be of interest)
5. Keep a list of editors/publishers who PW Children's Bookshelf lists as buying a book in the genre you're writing: Picture Book, Paranormal, Nonfiction-Biography, etc. Then follow-up by searching on-line for interviews with that editor and note what they're looking for currently and in the future.

Send Out Your Best

So by now you won't be surprised when I tell you send out any book you write but if you want to be published take the time and effort to send your best. Here's what I do:

This is a spread from SLIPPERY, SLIMY BABY FROGS (Walker)

1. I lay my book out so I can show exactly what's going on each page and how each spread (left hand and right hand page) goes together.

If you'd like to read it aloud yourself,
this is the opening spread from RACE THE WILD WIND (Walker).

2. I read my book out loud as many times as needed to make sure the flow is right and the text is "readable".

3. I check reading level to be sure it's right for my target audience. And I triple check spelling and punctuation.

4. If my work is nonfiction, I seek primary source (people doing the research) information through interviews before I write. I have experts on the subject check my work when it's complete and before I offer it to an editor. 

5. I prepare my presentation. Whether my submission is via email or printed out and mailed, my book is accompanied by a cover letter that shares: the book's concept, target audience, any experts that were involved, why this book will be welcomed by readers, and why it will stand out among any competition.

If that sounds like a lot of work, IT IS!  Human babies are born after 9 months of development. Elephant babies take 2 years. My books are elephant babies. They don't all take 2 years to produce but they take an elephant's worth of creative effort.

But it's worth it. Holding your published book in your hands is a thrill. Two hundred plus books on in my career and my books are still my babies. I'm proud to share them with the world. And there is nothing like hearing from children that they love one of my books.

So dig in. Do the hard yards. And stick with it. 

You can bring your ideas from conception to publication!

Tuesday, July 23, 2013


There's never been a more exciting time to be writing nonfiction books for children. That's because nonfiction books need to be just as good at grabbing kid's and making them want to keep turning the pages as fiction. I always add that I want my nonfiction books to be ones kids want to read more than once just the way they would a favorite fiction book.  That's why I like to make my nonfiction books discovery experiences on more than one level: the fact-based story is key (and I usually make it have the appeal of an adventure); next there are the photos and captions that can be explored separately as well as within the story. And I pack some more opportunities to explore and discover in the Back Matter.

There are three main types of nonfiction books for children. I'll share some of my books as examples of each of these so you can dig into them at your leisure and get a better feel for each type.

Survey Books--These provide an overview of a topic. 

Bats: Biggest! Littlest! (Boyds Mills Press, 2013) introduces children to different kinds of bats using the hook that being big or little or having big or little parts is an adaptation for survival.

Growing Up Wild: Bears (Atheneum, 2000) introduces children to different kinds of bears while also sharing the general life cycle of bears.

Tough, Toothy Baby Sharks (Walker, 2007) provides children with a look at different kinds of sharks focusing on juveniles and how they have special adaptations for survival.

Concept Books--These share an animal's life cycle or a special concept. 

How Many Baby Pandas (Walker, 2011) shares the Giant Panda's life cycle and presents the concept of why this animal is endangered. It also introduces efforts to protect and expand the population of Giant Pandas.

Animals Marco Polo Saw (Chronicle, 2009) introduces children to this historic explorer's life and achievements. It takes the special approach of sharing how the explorer was helped along the by different animals and how he discovered never-before-seen species.

Specialized Nonfiction Books--These dig deep into scientists at work and key science advancements, research, and issues needing further research.

The Great Monkey Rescue (Millbrook/Lerner, 2015) shares the work of teams of scientists and volunteers around the world working to save golden lion tamarins. And they do it in a very creative way

This book is for young children and it's 32 pages long.

Once you decide what kind of nonfiction book you'll write, you need to know what to include.  For young children (ages 4-8 years), you should plan on your book being 32 or 40 pages long.  For older elementary-aged children (ages 8-12 or 14 years), plan on your book being 48 or 64 pages long.

These first graders are showing their enthusiasm for my book What If You Had Animal Teeth?

Your book will include the main story or information. Start with an introduction that grabs attention. Have the story or information unfold page-by-page or in short chapter. Then wrap up with a conclusion that summarizes the key points and leave the reader feeling satisfied.

You may also want to include these features:

  • Glossary--New vocabulary words introduced in the text.
  • More Information Section--Books and websites children can use to learn more about your topic.
  • Author's Note--What inspired you to write this book or some personal connection you have to the story.
  • Index--This is usually only in longer books for older students to help them quickly locate information.

This is a two-page spread from How Many Baby Pandas?

Before you start writing, think about the layout of your book.  After I research my book, I always think about how the book will look. By that I mean how each spread--the lefthand and righthand page--will look together. And I consider what children will see and discover by reading that spread. That helps the book flow well and give the book a feeling of completeness. That's really something a nonfiction book shares with a fiction one. The child reading it wants to settle into the book (the introduction) and feel at home in the world it shares. Then the reader wants an adventure or to discover something. Finally, the reader wants to feel there's an ending. The big difference between fiction and nonfiction is that many times readers are challenged to use what they read. They might help save an animal, improve the world, or realize they've discovered the career they want for their lives.

I love to get fan photos! She loves Butterfly Tree (Peachtree Publishers, 2011)

So just like a fiction book, today's nonfiction books for children can inspire and change lives. You could do that!!