How I Built a Career in Children’s Nonfiction

I loved writing about archaeology in Ancient Maya.

I didn’t graduate from college planning to become a writer.  My degree is actually in anthropology.  I loved working in archaeology but took a new job at the university when it became clear that department wasn’t going to be around much longer. I didn’t much care for my new job.  I was paging through the university continuing education catalog when I found a class on writing for children.  I loved reading.  I loved buying books for my nieces.  Why not take the class? 

St. Louis author Patricia McKissack was a wonderful teacher.  Throughout the class, she explained story and character, plot and setting.  She showed us how to work in details.  She critiqued and encouraged.  During this class, I wrote a series of picture books.  They were not amazing. 

As my manuscripts slowly got better, a fellow writer bought Young Equestrian, a magazine for middle schoolers.  Not one issue.  She bought the whole thing and became the editor and publisher.  She came to a critique group meeting and asked us to write for her.

Horses fascinate me, but I wasn’t a magazine writer.  I wasn’t even a nonfiction writer. Still, someone was asking me to write for them. Thus began several years writing about horses and the people who love them.  I learned a lot.  

By the time the magazine folded, I thought of myself as a nonfiction writer.  A friend’s editor needed someone to write an article on writing.  There would be more work to come.  This seemed kind of risky.  After all, I didn’t write about writing.  Still, someone was asking for writers and I had an in. For years after this I wrote for Children’s Writer newsletter.  My work appeared in annuals like Children’s Writer’s and Illustrator’s Market and Writer’s Market.  But editors move on and the newsletter folded. 

I’ve written crafts, activities and science fair projects.  I’ve written materials for the preschool classroom and testing materials.  I’ve written books for school libraries and books for reluctant readers.  

When you hear about an opportunity, do you look for a way to say yes?

–SueBE