An excellent source of encouragement for other writers with her blogs and resources, Nancy I. Sanders has been writing for children herself for almost 30 years. “Frederick Douglass for Kids,” her latest nonfiction book, was recently chosen as the 2012 Silver NAPPA (National Parenting Publications) winner. Enjoy this opportunity to learn from one of few successful full-time children’s authors of today.
Q: Let’s talk about your most recently published nonfiction book, “Frederick Douglass for Kids.” Why did you choose Frederick Douglass as a subject for your book?
Nancy: I had just had a book published with this publisher called “America’s Black Founders.” In it I had researched and written about the life and times of Richard Allen, the Martin Luther King of the Revolutionary Era. So when the publisher’s catalog came out with its new books for that year, I studied it and brainstormed ideas for a brand new proposal to pitch to my editor.
In that particular catalog, they had several newly published books listed in their “for Kids” series of really famous Americans. I realized that they didn’t yet have a book on Frederick Douglass, who was the Martin Luther King of the Civil War Era. I zipped off a very short e-mail to my editor and asked if they would you be interested in receiving a proposal for “Frederick Douglass for Kids.” He e-mailed right back and said simply, “Yes.”
In other words, I didn’t choose a topic I already knew. I didn’t know anything about the Civil War Era! I didn’t choose a topic I was passionate about. I didn’t really know anything about Frederick Douglass at that time, either. Instead, I studied the publisher’s catalogue, brainstormed ideas for a topic that would fit into the books they had recently published, and pitched them an idea for a potential proposal. This is the typical way I’ve landed most of my book contracts, even with publishers or editors I’ve never worked with before.
The beautiful thing is that once I signed the contract and got started on that project, it became a topic I knew inside and out, and it became a topic that I am now passionate about. I want every kid and every adult in America to know who Frederick Douglass was and how he changed America. I want them to read this book and be inspired to know that one person can make a difference in our world.
If I hadn’t taken the daring step to launch out into the unknown, I would have missed this amazing new passion I now have in my life! I know so many writers who tell me that they could never write about such and such because they don’t know anything about it. I also hear editors say that writers should only follow their passions and write what they’re really passionate about.
Instead, I make a point to pitch ideas that I don’t know anything about or that I’m not passionate about to publishers, because I’ve learned from experience that it’s an exciting adventure to take. I look for ideas that fit the publishers’ needs. That’s how I land four to six book contracts each year. Along the way, each of these books becomes a brand new journey that my heart takes and which opens up this amazing world of wonder to kids.
Q: How long did it take you to research, write, and polish “Frederick Douglass for Kids?”
Nancy: “Frederick Douglass for Kids” was probably the book that took me the longest to actually write. I had never researched the American Civil War before, so I knew this would be an especially time-consuming task. Plus, I knew I needed to find or photograph nearly 100 images to include. So when I landed the contract in August to write the book, I asked for a June deadline. That would give me ten months to actually write the book.
As it was, I lived and breathed the American Civil War from dawn to dusk for those ten months, working long hours to be able to get the work done in time for the due date. It was a glorious time, because I was studying the amazing life of Frederick Douglass. He became my new personal hero! Every day brought new inspiration to my heart and a new sense of wonder at how one individual could influence the world in such an important way. Writing this book was one of the highlights of my life.
Nancy has authored more than 80 books, including “D is for Drinking Gourd” and “Frederick Douglass for Kids.” Find these and many more at our local Gail Borden, Bartlett, Poplar Creek, Batavia, and Schaumburg public libraries. Subscribe by clicking on the button at the top of the article so you don’t miss any of this continuing interview with Nancy.