Last week, my critique buddies and I were chatting about our work. One of them asked me about a specific project and I realized that it has been a while since I discussed this here.
I work on a fairly wide range of nonfiction. The majority of my books, like the one picture above, are for tween and teens. The reading level is eighth to ninth grade and the book is 15,000 words long. There is a lot of information packed into one of these books. I love writing them because each book allows me to do a deep dive into a topic I don’t know much about but about which I want to learn more. And I always learn! That’s a plus because I was the curious kid who always wanted to know “why?” Now, I’m the curious adult.
I’ve also written four hi-lo books with two more under contract. A hi-lo title is for a reader who is somewhat behind in terms of reading level. So the book is high interest level, age appropriate, but lower reading level. This one is for older grade school and middle school readers who read at a third grade level. Without looking up the specifics, this one is 3000 to 3500 words long. That isn’t much when you consider it is about all the various learning disorders, how they impact young readers, and how these readers can learn to work around the disorders.
Writing hi-lo is so different from the first group of books above. They want the info but they don’t have the reading skills to take it all in. You need to give them something at their level so that they build confidence and skill. You can’t work in nearly as much information but it cannot feel slight. When I write these books, I look at each topic and subtopic I need to cover. What are the three most important things to tell readers about this topic? Then I carefully lead them into the new information step by step. I always reread a previous project to get to know this type of writing all over again.
Then there are the books that I write for 3rd graders. These are newly independent readers who want to know more. Again, these books are short. This one is only 2,200 words. But because they are often about broad topics I have to carefully consider what the reader absolutely has to know. One day, I may get more efficient at this type of writing but I tend to overwrite. Instead of fighting it, I just go with it and then look at what I have for that spread. What do readers absolutely need to know about this subtopic? What information do they need to fully understand this? What is surprising? These things stay and everything else (sob!) has to go.
Writing this short isn’t easy for me but I enjoy doing it. It gives me the opportunity to examine the essence of a topic and find a way to make it accessible to younger readers with smaller, developing vocabularies.
Really? I’m still a curious kid and writing several types of books allows me to cover a wider variety of topics and share them with my fellow curious kids. So why do you write what you are writing?