by Carol Hinz
Editorial Director, Millbrook Press
For today’s Nonfiction Monday, I thought it might be interesting to talk about where nonfiction books come from. You see, there’s this stork who flies over our building and drops off bundles of bright and shiny books. . . . Well, actually, it has nothing to do with a stork.
Origins: As you might guess, authors regularly approach us with book ideas. For picture books, the author generally submits a full manuscript. For longer nonfiction, we often receive a proposal. The proposal tells us what a book will be about and typically includes a sample chapter as well as a full outline.
In some cases (particularly for series nonfiction), we come up with a book idea and then go about finding an author to carry out the idea. The idea may be based on current trends, a suggestion from a librarian, or filling a hole in our list.
Once in a while, we suggest a topic and an author will run with it. That was the case for the recent book The Clock Struck One: A Time-Telling Tale. We proposed the topic of time to Trudy Harris, and she came up with a delightful riff on the “Hickory Dickory Dock” nursery rhyme. It tells the story of a chaotic day in the life of a mouse, a cat, a farm family, a hen, a swarm of bees, and several other animals. (I should point out that this book is cataloged as fiction, but it has a great nonfiction explanation on the final pages that gives an overview of how to tell time, using both analog and digital clocks.)
And once in a blue moon, I read an article in the New York Times, think the topic might make a good children’s book, and six months later an author comes to me with a proposal for a book on that exact topic. That very book comes out this fall, and I’m looking forward to sharing more about it! (If you’re curious, no, the book isn’t actually about ESP, though we do have a book about that topic too.)
Gestation Period: Book publishing is not known for being particularly speedy. A giraffe’s gestation period is 15 months, and a book’s gestation period may be even longer. (How did I learn that giraffe fact? By editing a book about giraffes, of course!)
Right now I’m starting to look for books that Millbrook will publish in spring and fall 2013. If a topic is particularly timely, we can do a book in perhaps 9-12 months from when the author turns in the manuscript. On rare occasions, a publisher may produce a book more quickly than that, but it’s race.
What takes so long? In short: editing, fact-checking, revising, finding photos or finding an illustrator and then giving the illustrator enough time to create the art, proofreading, designing—and doing all that while simultaneously working on a number of other books.
Do you have questions about other aspects of creating a nonfiction book? Just leave a comment!