Monday, March 9, 2020

Has Nonfiction Reached a Tipping Point?


While nonfiction and fiction have always received equal respect and recognition in the adult publishing world, the same hasn’t been true for children’s literature. 

During the 29 years I’ve worked in children’s publishing, first as an editor and now as a writer, nonfiction has been the underdog of the industry. Book reviewers and award committees have never seemed to fully appreciate the talent and hard work required to create finely-crafted true texts.

But things are finally changing—and fast.

In recent years, a growing number of educators have begun to realize that some students have a strong preference for nonfiction, especially expository nonfiction. Others enjoy narrative texts (fiction and narrative nonfiction) and expository nonfiction equally. 



Compare the stats above to the data for 1,000+ gatekeepers I surveyed in 2018. These are the educators and librarians who control the book collections children have access to:


This systemic bias is reflected in the kinds of books that win some of the most coveted honors in children's literature.


Because ELA standards now require students to read more nonfiction than in the past, publishers have begun offering more narrative nonfiction titles.
At first, they did so cautiously with some trepidation, but when those books sold well, publishers took notice. They began seeking out a greater number and a greater variety of true texts, with both narrative and expository writing styles.




Because the shift has been so slow and steady, it was initially hard to detect the growing momentum, but suddenly, it’s undeniable. 

For me, the tipping point came during the month of February. First, more than 800 published and aspiring nonfiction authors signed up for Nonfiction Fest, an online learning event coordinated by the Nonfiction Chicks. Then at the SCBWI International Annual Winter Conference in New York, every editor I spoke with was buzzling about nonfiction. And finally, at the end of the month, a nonfiction conference co-sponsored by the SCBWI and the Smithsonian Institution sold out in just 4 minutes. That’s right, 4 minutes! 

There’s no doubt about it. This is the golden age of children's nonfiction. 


And here’s the most exciting part. As far as we’ve come over the last 30 years--from just one kind of nonfiction to five distinct categories, the wonderful world of nonfiction still has more to offer. Much more. There’s plenty of room for growth and innovation, so let’s get to work!

12 comments:

  1. so many choices - it's like a dessert buffet!

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  2. I appreciate your insight and thorough research regarding the NF market. It’s great to know that NF is finally getting the respect it deserves in the kidlit industry. Thank you Melissa, for being a leader in the field.

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  3. Celebrate! And you're such a great advocate for it. Thank you, Melissa!

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  4. I'm celebrating with you! Thanks for all you have done to promote NF!

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  5. I tend to write more in the expository style and have had a manuscript turned down numerous times because it wasn't narrative enough.

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    1. Keep submitting, Natasha. More and more editors are learning to appreciate expository nonfiction. Some topics and approached just aren't appropriate for a narrative style.

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  6. I'm excited to see what happens. I do think that all of your research, especially your stats comparing children's preferences with what the gatekeepers prefer has helped make a huge difference in how nonfiction is viewed. Thank you!

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  7. Awesome! Thank you! :) Jill Dana

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  8. I'll have to take my non-fiction information and say it in a whole new way. I'm a bit discouraged as I was relying on a peer review, from a scientist, just to know I was going in the right direction, and haven't heard a word. I need to take a break. Thank you for all you are doing with helping to educate all of us.

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    1. Sometimes taking a break is the best way to move forward with your writing. Good luck!

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  9. Thanks for all of your insight, Melissa! Very helpful and interesting!

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