Posted by: nancyisanders | March 28, 2020

NF PB BIO Step 5 Footnotes

Very Oldest Pear Tree from Albert Whitman website)

As we’ve been moving forward on writing a nonfiction picture book that is a breakthrough topic, in my last post I talked about gathering my research.

I also mentioned that I usually put together my bibliography right at the beginning. It makes it so much easier to track research as I’m typing my manuscript into a document. Every day I can just copy and paste from my bibliography into my document to track where I got that fact that I stated.

To show you what that looks like, I created a pdf document of my most recent picture book, THE VERY OLDEST PEAR TREE. (release date August 20, 2020…CLICK HERE to pre-order it on Amazon). In this pdf document I included the first 3 pages of my manuscript. It’s a work in progress but it’s getting near the final shape as I had gone in and included the publisher’s name and the illustrator’s name on my manuscript.

I just want to make it clear that the publisher NEVER saw this version of my manuscript, however. This is my research reference ONLY. When I submitted any version to my publisher, I always went through and deleted all my footnotes. This is just for my frame of reference.

In other words, I kept one version for myself to track all my research, and then I made a second copy of that version, deleted all my footnotes, and then sent it to the publisher.

Hope this give you an idea of how I track my research while I’m typing out my picture book manuscripts.

Let me know if you have any questions!

Here’s the pdf to show you how I add in footnotes:

The Very Oldest Pear Tree with footnotes

Posted by: nancyisanders | March 26, 2020

NF PB BIO Step 5 Research


Nonfiction Picture Book Biography Step 5 Research

While waiting for my mentor texts to arrive (this process is taking a lot longer than normal due to the libraries closing), I started gathering my online research.

Read More…

Posted by: nancyisanders | March 23, 2020

NF PB BIO Step 4

2015 Los Angeles bookstore DSCN2905

The very next thing I did after choosing which woman I wanted to write about was to order in mentor texts from my local library.

Basically, mentor texts are books that are already published in your genre that you want to model your manuscript after.

I am targeting a specific publisher so I looked through their catalog and basically ordered in from my library about 8 of their picture book biographies about women. Plus 2 others from a different publisher just to compare. (I also ordered in more titles from my library from the links below, also to compare.) Unfortunately, our local library is now closed, but I ordered about 30 picture books anyhow and hope to grab them as soon as they open back up. Hopefully soon!

So if you’re targeting a specific publisher, you can do the same. But don’t worry if you don’t have a specific publisher in mind. Just order in 10-20 (or more!) picture book biographies about women that have been recently published.

Here are several links you can explore to order in titles from your library that interest you as potential mentor texts:

12 Picture Book Biographies of Truly Amazing Women

25 Biographical Picture Books for National Women’s History Month

31 New Picture Book Biographies

And just a note…stay healthy! Read lots of Psalms to strengthen you and comfort you in these challenging days!!!!

Posted by: nancyisanders | March 19, 2020

NF PB BIO Step 3

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Now that you’ve brainstormed ideas for potential lesser-known famous women who did a big thing, it’s time to choose which one you actually want to write about.

Here’s the litmus test I did while I was at this stage.

I searched on Amazon to see if there were any children’s books biographies about the one woman I was most interested in. THERE ISN’T. This is good because if there were already books about her, it’s not really a breakthrough topic to write another one. It might be a good topic to pitch to your editor if you are already working with an editor and they don’t yet have a book about this woman in their product line. But it wouldn’t be a BREAKTHROUGH topic to try to break into a publisher in general.

I searched online to see if there was ANYTHING written about this woman anywhere. THERE IS. In fact, I found lots of little documentaries from her home town and from organizations in the field she worked in. I even found lots of quotes she said! This is key, because in ten minutes of searching online, I found enough research that I could use to write a picture book. This was important to me because I want to write this book fairly quickly and not spend several years digging through dusty archives. Plus, because this woman was famous in her local/national circle, this told me she was a big enough topic to write about.

Was her record “clean” according to today’s culture and standards? For example, she didn’t own slaves, which would have been a very touchy issue in a current picture book to feature this woman as an outstanding role model but have this controversial part of her life to deal with.

Was her claim to fame something that could be included in today’s classroom curriculum? Fortunately, it’s not hard to pass this test because even if a topic isn’t necessarily taught in today’s curriculum (such as being a famous ballerina or being a famous scuba diver), women who overcome great obstacles to be the first in their career or simply brave women role-models, are a tie-in automatically. Just be certain that the woman you choose to write about does fit in somehow with today’s curriculum standards. And if you really want to take this up a notch, choose an unsung woman hero to write about that supports STEAM…meaning she has a career in Science, Technology, Engineering, the Arts, or Math.

Posted by: nancyisanders | March 16, 2020

NF PB BIO Step 2

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Nonfiction Picture Book Biography STEP 2

STEP 1 for writing a nonfiction picture book biography BREAKTHROUGH topic was to decide to write a brand new manuscript about a lesser known famous woman who did a great big thing.

STEP 2 is to brainstorm ideas for which woman would best fit a BREAKTHROUGH topic in today’s current children’s book market.

I just want to reinforce something here. This is exactly the trail my brain is taking right now as I’m preparing to write my newest BREAKTHROUGH picture book. I want to give you an exact look at what I’m actually doing to try to land my next contract. Why? Because I want you to experience success too.

So after I decided to write a new biography about a lesser-known famous women who did a great big thing, I printed out one of my handy dandy brainstorming worksheets to help me brainstorm.

I have a free brainstorming sheet that you can download and print out to use, too. CLICK HERE to visit my site WRITING ACCORDING TO HUMPHREY AND FRIENDS where I post writer’s worksheets and other tips. Scroll down to find the link for the IDEAS BUBBLES BRAINSTORMING. Then download that file and print it out. (It looks like the image at the top of this post.)

Here’s how I brainstormed using this worksheet.

First I thought about main topics that interest me or that I already have experience/background in so I can talk with a ‘REAL’ voice.

Then I wrote each of these main topics inside a big bubble, one topic in each bubble.

For example, say you like scuba diving. You would write SCUBA DIVING inside one of the big bubbles. Or say you also like SNOW BOARDING. You would write SNOW BOARDING in a second big bubble. Or say you are a librarian or a teacher. You would write LIBRARIAN or TEACHER each in its own big bubble.

After I wrote down several main topics in my big bubbles on my brainstorming worksheet, I next went to my computer. I googled famous women for each topic. For example, you would google FAMOUS WOMEN SCUBA DIVERS. Then you’d look over the list that pops up. You’d write any potential women’s names in the small bubbles around the big bubble that says SCUBA DIVERS.

Do this for each topic you have written on your bubble worksheet. That’s what I did.

In my next post I’ll share with you what I did next.

Posted by: nancyisanders | March 13, 2020

NF PB Bio Step 1


Nonfiction Picture Book Biography Step 1

While we’ve been chatting about BREAKTHROUGH topics in the world of children’s publishing, I’ve decided to be intentional about finding another breakthrough topic for the general market and begin a new picture book manuscript.

I know so many of you are interested in these blog posts because, like me, you want to experience breakthrough and get your manuscript published.

So I thought I’d invite you along on my journey. I’m going to show you step-by-step exactly the process my brain is going through to find this new BREAKTHROUGH topic and write the new picture book from beginning to end.

What was my first step?

One HUGE breakthrough topic right now in the general picture book market is to write a biography about a little known yet famous woman who has done a great thing for our world.

So that is my first step. I decided to write a brand new picture book about a little-known yet famous woman who has done a great thing for our world.

I invite you to do the same! In my next post I’ll share with you how I searched for the woman to write about.

Image by Pexels from Pixabay

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For the last two months, I’ve been brainstorming ideas for a new book. Since I wrote my last picture book, THE VERY OLDEST PEAR TREE, (CLICK HERE to learn how you can order a clone of this historic tree to plant in your own garden!) I have written a bunch of other manuscripts.

Some of those manuscripts were per the request of my agent after he met with various publishers. Some of those manuscripts were ideas that were near and dear to my heart.

But for the last two months or so, I’ve been brainstorming ideas for a new BREAKTHROUGH topic.

Read More…

Posted by: nancyisanders | March 6, 2020

Choosing a Breakthrough Topic Based on Current Picture Books

Very Oldest Pear Tree from Albert Whitman website)

Yes, I had found my BREAKTHROUGH topic for a picture book in the general market. THE VERY OLDEST PEAR TREE. It’s book birthday will be on August 20, 2020.

You can use this idea to help guide you in your search for a BREAKTHROUGH topic. THE VERY OLDEST PEAR TREE is about a tree, is about the founding years of our nation, and had a holiday tie-in with Thanksgiving, Arbor Day, and Earth Day. This is a BREAKTHROUGH topic because classrooms and homeschooling families all across America study these topics every year. So they are always on the lookout for a new picture book they can read with their kiddos.

Here are several other current picture books that are BREAKTHROUGH topics that can help you as you’re exploring the children’s publishing world to look for the next BREAKTHROUGH topic you want to write about.

Evelyn, the Adventurous Entomologist
Why is this a BREAKTHROUGH topic? Because it combines two ingredients teachers, librarians, and homeschooling mamas (and therefore editors!) are looking for: 1) biographies about girls doing amazing things, and 2) STEAM topics (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, or Mathematics) for kids.

Picture book biographies about little known people doing big things (especially if they’re girls) are on nearly every editor’s wishlist.

The Ocean Calls
Why is this a BREAKTHROUGH topic? Because it combines two ingredients teachers, librarians, and homeschooling mamas (and therefore editors!) are looking for: 1) authors from a diverse background who write about something related to their background…the author of THE OCEAN CALLS is Tina Cho and Tina currently lives in South Korea where this nonfiction story takes place. 2) It also has a STEAM tie-in.

So if you have a background in a certain speciality or ethnicity, you can write with a REAL voice because you are REALLY part of that experience.

Grace for President
Why is this a BREAKTHROUGH topic? Because it combines three ingredients teachers, librarians, and homeschooling mamas (and therefore editors!) are looking for: 1) Girls doing big things. Yes, this is a current trend! 2) American history…kids learn about presidents in early elementary 3)It has a holiday tie-in that it can be read on President’s Day.

Right now I’m working on writing my next BREAKTHROUGH topic. But this time, my children’s book is for the CHRISTIAN market. I spent the last 2 months exploring the CHRISTIAN market to choose my new BREAKTHROUGH topic. The journey was a little bit different than the journey I took to choose a BREAKTHROUGH topic in the general market.

In my next post, I’ll share some of the unique trails I traveled on to choose my newest picture book topic for the Christian market.

Posted by: nancyisanders | March 3, 2020

Choosing a Breakthrough Topic and Writing a Picture Book

Very Oldest Pear Tree from Albert Whitman website).jpg

Now I knew what my BREAKTHROUGH topic was: Nearly 400 years ago, the Puritans planted a pear tree. And it’s still alive near Boston today!!!!!

Why was it a BREAKTHROUGH topic?

Read More…

Posted by: nancyisanders | February 28, 2020

Choosing a Breakthrough Topic and Doing the Research


I decided that the BREAKTHROUGH topic I wanted to write about for my next book was PILGRIMS.

I read a few children’s books about Pilgrims. That’s always a good place to start researching when you’re on your journey to write about a BREAKTHROUGH topic. Gather a bunch of children’s books already published on your topic and see what they already cover.

Read More…

Posted by: nancyisanders | February 25, 2020

Choosing a Breakthrough Topic and Learning More About It


After I brainstormed some lists of topics every kid learns about in grades K-2, I looked over my list. Here were some of them:

Community members like firefighters and postal workers
Career choices (What will I grow up to be?)
Animal homes and habitats
History of America
How a seed grows

So…after thinking about things, I decided to choose a subtopic of the History of America…PILGRIMS.

I know in kindergartens across America, every Thanksgiving, kids learn about the Pilgrims, often dressing up, eating food, and reading books about them.

BIG TIP: If you can think of a topic that has a tie-in with a holiday (without necessarily being a holiday book) that makes your topic an even BETTER BREAKTHROUGH topic.

I figured that Pilgrims and Thanksgiving tie-in were both win-win topics.

So my next step after choosing a general BREAKTHROUGH topic was to start reading, reading, reading about Pilgrims and while I was reading I planned to keep my antennae up.

What for?

To do a treasure hunt for a fresh and unique angle to write about on my BREAKTHROUGH topic. I’ll share that with you in my next post.

Image by Annalise Batista from Pixabay

Posted by: nancyisanders | February 20, 2020

Choosing a Breakthrough Topic for a Picture Book Teachers Will Want


Right now a lot of children’s publishers are looking for picture book topics teachers, librarians, and homeschooling mamas will buy. That’s because this is a viable current market. They’re one of the strongest purchasing powers behind picture books, which are a really tough book to sell in today’s digital world.

Read More…

Posted by: nancyisanders | February 17, 2020

Choosing a Breakthrough Topic in Children’s Books


A couple of years ago, I embarked on a journey. It was a familiar journey in some ways…I’d taken it before when I wanted to choose a brand new breakthrough topic to write about. But it was unique in its own way because it led me to a unique breakthrough picture book idea.

Just exactly what am I talking about?

Yes, I wanted to choose an idea for a picture book. But there are ideas and then there are BREAKTHROUGH ideas. BREAKTHROUGH ideas are the sort that practically guarantee a publisher will want your manuscript. Even if the writing is a little rough around the edges or needs a stronger story arc.

BREAKTHROUGH ideas might not necessarily be an idea that I would have stumbled upon by myself.

BREAKTHROUGH ideas might not necessarily be on the top 10 list of topics I want to write about.

BREAKTHROUGH ideas might not necessarily be a topic I’ve already researched.

But a BREAKTHROUGH idea practically guarantees you a book contract after all your hard work.

WHY? Because a BREAKTHROUGH idea is specifically targeted to today’s current publishing market (but not necessarily a flash-in-the-pan trend).

WHY? Because a BREAKTHROUGH idea is usually something a number of editors are currently interested in.

WHY? Because a BREAKTHROUGH idea is usually a topic that will practically guarantee good sales numbers of a book because this topic is being bought by parents, teachers, and librarians (the current market who is purchasing children’s books).

So, I invite you to read my next series of posts where I share my journey with you on choosing a BREAKTHROUGH topic to write about in today’s current children’s book market.

Posted by: nancyisanders | February 1, 2020

How-to-Write Classes for Children’s Writers

1 Sanders Author Photo circle

As many of you know, I teach classes on how you can write for children.

I’m excited to announce a brand new class on writing funny stories for kids!

It’s called WRITING HUMOR FOR KIDS and is available now at the Serious Writer Academy where I’m one of the instructors.

I love writing funny stories for kids. I think my favorite funny series that I wrote (quite a while back for Concordia) was called the MARSHAL MATT series: MYSTERIES WITH A VALUE.

And I’m currently working on a funny story that’s a 4-book middle grade novel. In my class, WRITING HUMOR FOR KIDS, I teach you the nuts and bolts of how to do it. I let you know all the tricks of the trade that I use in my own writing so that you can use them too!

CLICK HERE to learn how you can buy the audio of that class (with handouts) as well as my other class, DEVELOPING 3-D CHARACTERS.

Oh, and if you want to take the class that my friend, Tina M. Cho took to learn how to write a middle grade novel, CLICK HERE to find out more info!

Happy writing!

Posted by: nancyisanders | January 30, 2020

Inspiration for Us All



I have a writer friend that I am so proud of! Tina M. Cho is really rocking these days and pumping out those children’s books!

On her blog, she shared some of the story behind the story of one of her most recent and exciting children’s book contracts she signed.

It’s an inspirational story every one of us needs to hear about. The hard work. The time. The frustration.

And ultimately, the reward.

CLICK HERE to read an amazing post by Tina about the remarkable journey she took to write her newest book.

Oh, and be sure to take a minute and congratulate her. In this hard and often lonely business, we writers need all the encouragement we can get!

Posted by: nancyisanders | January 29, 2020

Permission for Image Use-2


Before I move on to explaining how I kept my travel journal/research trip for my book, JANE AUSTEN FOR KIDS, I wanted to mention something I remembered about getting permission to use photographs I took from historic sites on my trip.

Many permission forms will ask you for the PRINT RUN information for your book. You have to provide this before they will sign the permission form.

Since I already had signed a contract with my publisher to write the book and take photographs to include it in, I simply asked my editor for that information.

But if you don’t have a contract, the very least you can do is fill in general information that most books have for their print run. Then when you get your contract you can go back to that historic site or place and request a new form to find. Don’t ever do this blindly…always talk with your contact person about what to do if the print run information changes significantly from the info you write down…will it be extra (large) fees? Just be open and honest and don’t sign anything you’re not sure of. Just move on to some place else that is more reasonable to work with if a place starts throwing expensive cost quotes out to you.

On the permission form they’ll need your name and address and e-mail address. I created a brand new e-mail address that I only use for permission forms like this related to my book projects. The wonderful thing about this is that all my e-mails from my book project research and image permission forms are in one handy place without any other distracting e-mails mixed in.

Here is the PRINT RUN info most places request:

Working Title: Always include a “working title” because up until your book actually goes to print, the official title can always change!
Publisher: Just say unknown if you don’t yet have one
Initial print run: 5,000 is usually a realistic number. This is a typical number of books printed when a book first comes out. Talk with your contact person at the historic site about this number. Some places will really charge you a lot if the number is higher than this. Make sure they are reasonable, especially if you don’t know your publisher’s actual number.
Price: Just look up a typical cost of a similar book to yours on Amazon. Again, mention that it is unknown, but probably…$XX to give them a ballpark figure
Edition: Paper and e-book. These days always include both paper editions and e-book editions because publishers usually want to do both right off the bat.
Rights: World. If you can request world rights without a hassle, go for it as you don’t know what the publisher will want.
Language: English. From my experience, English is all you need, especially because every contract I’ve ever dealt with that I can remember always paid me when someone negotiated translation rights. So just asking for English should be fine.
Expected publication date: Just say unknown if you don’t yet know

When I’m getting ready to contact historic sites or other places I want to take pictures for my writing project, I just type all this info up in one handy place so I’m ready to go.

Oh, and just a note…this is by no means legal advice!!!! Before you sign anything always make sure you are absolutely certain about what you are signing.

Hope this helps!!!!

Posted by: nancyisanders | January 15, 2020

Permission for Image Use


Before I’m embarked on my Photo Research Tour to take photographs for my book, JANE AUSTEN FOR KIDS, I had to do my homework.

When I signed the contract to write JANE AUSTEN FOR KIDS, I knew I needed to acquire a number of images to include within the book. I had no intention of traveling to England at that time because you can pay companies for permission to publish their images in your book.

Plus there are a lot of images you can use for free that are in the public domain because they are copyright free and royalty free.

I started my search for images by seeing what was available for copyright free and royalty free. There were actually a number of these either of historic England or relating to the books Jane wrote.

Just a note about these free images. For each image I submit to a publisher for use in a published book, a permission form is required. So I saved the URL and printed out the copyright form from the sites where I got these images. Each image had its own copyright form and URL link in my final manuscript submission.

Then I started looking for companies in England that I could purchase permission to publish images in their collections.

I discovered 2 important factors.

#1 Many of the images I could get permission to use were NOT actually owned by the company, so I would still have to track down who actually owned the images AND get permission (and pay) them as well. BIG red flag.

#2 Many of the images I wanted to use were quite expensive to pay for permissions.

At this point, I decided to investigate historic sites such as churches that might have images of Jane or her life.

I just started searching online for historic sites like these, finding their contact information, and e-mailing them.

I found out that a significant number of these historic sites informed me that they owned images and artifacts of Jane’s and that I could take my own photographs of these items or images and publish them for free.

So now I was faced with a question…pay several thousand dollars to get permission to use a small amount of images (and still have to track down who owned them) or use that money to travel to England to take my own photographs and get tons of images to use. (Many that might never have been published in a book before!)

No brainer! I opted to travel to England for my third official photo research tour. It was the trip of a lifetime (and I have it all documented in my travel journal!)

But once again, each image I would eventually publish in my book had to have its own permission form.

Guess what? Most historic sites and image resources have their own permission form. No sweat! They just e-mail me the form, I signed it, and carried it with me on my trip. When I arrived at any given historic site, I had the form with me and the contact person’s name and the rest was easy peasy. Most of the contacts met me at the historic sites and what a delight that was to meet them and talk about my book project.

For places that didn’t have permission forms, my publisher provided me with ones for us to sign. We did it all over e-mail.

So if you want to include photographs in a potential book, first ask the historic site or image source if they already have a permission form you need to sign.

If they don’t have an official permission form, I send them an e-mail stating that they give me permission to use the image in my book. I print it out when they return the e-mail with their permission. Then, when you do sign a contract with a publisher, you’ll probably need to go back with the publisher’s official form and have them sign that.

That’s pretty much how permissions works for photographs and images.

(Oh, and for those sites and places that don’t let you take photographs or use them in your book, just thank them and move on. Keep looking! Hopefully you’ll find some.)

Posted by: nancyisanders | January 14, 2020

Writer’s Journal: Research Trip


Over my 30+ year career as a writer, I’ve gone on 3 significant research trips. I’ve always referred to them as a “Photo Research Tour” because my mission was to take photographs of my book’s topic to eventually publish in the printed book.

America's Black Founders.png

The first book for which I embarked on a Photo Research Tour was AMERICA’S BLACK FOUNDERS. I traveled to Philadelphia, Mount Vernon, Monticello and more where I took lots of photographs at historic sites, museums, and churches to publish.

Douglass cover medium.png

My next book that I needed photographs for was FREDERICK DOUGLASS FOR KIDS. For this trip I walked in this great man’s footsteps as I visited Maryland to locate his birthplace, the plantation where he first worked, and various homes he lived in and places he worked after he escaped from slavery. Once again I got permission from a wide variety of historic sites, museums, and churches to take photographs to publish in my book.


It wasn’t until my most recent Photo Research Tour, however, that I had the idea to take along and create a writer’s journal during my trip. This time I headed to England to take photos for my newest title, JANE AUSTEN FOR KIDS. Creating this travel journal took the experience to an entirely new level!

In the upcoming series of posts here on my blog, I’ll share some of the joys I experienced and techniques I used creating this journal. I hope you’ll gain information and inspiration to learn how to create a writer’s journal on your next research trip, too!

Posted by: nancyisanders | January 7, 2020

A Four-Book Giveaway


As writers, I truly believe it’s important to build a sense of community. I think this involves helping each other boost our books. It’s a tough world out there in social media and landing contracts and getting the word out about our books. Every hand of help we can give to each other is an investment in many rich ways.

That’s one of the reasons I’m excited to share that I’m a member of the book-launch team for one of my online writing friends and fellow contributors to the Christian Children’s Authors blog. Glenys Nellist has a touching and sweet brand new book coming out for little ones, Little Mole Finds Hope, and I have the privilege of giving you a shout out about it!

Hurry on over to her blog! For a limited time, she’s giving away four copies of her brand new book! CLICK HERE to put your name in the hat.

But more importantly, join in on the fun to help give the shout out to one of your fellow children’s writers. Hopefully, one day we can do the same for you!!!!

Posted by: nancyisanders | January 3, 2020

Writer’s Journal: Journaling an Event


When you attend an event as an author, there are oodles of handouts you can add to your event journal.

When I attended the annual conference (AGM) for the Jane Austen Society of North America, I collected as many handouts as I could. Many of them I glued on the spot into my event journal. I used my handy little pair of scissors to make them fit. I figured that when I got home, I’d have time to ponder and reflect on the handouts.

I particularly wanted to share this handout that you see in the photo above. At the time when I glued this into my event journal, I just thought it was cool. Fun. A little paper to fold and play a game.

It wasn’t until later, when I was planning my teacher’s guide to go along with my book, Jane Austen for Kids, that I got the idea to create something similar to put in my teacher’s guide. (Coming soon!)

The moral of this story is…even if you don’t see a use for something while you’re at an event, add it to your journal. It can be the inspiration for a new idea when you’re looking for one.

So this wraps up my posts about keeping an event journal when you attend a writing-related event. I hope in the year ahead you’ll find lots of opportunities to create an event journal. Have fun!

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