Recently, I came up with what I thought was a great idea for a non-fiction children’s book.

It was on a subject that kids at my writing workshops had asked me to write about – all good so far. This was a book that kids had actually REQUESTED!

I already had a market for my book so how hard could it be to get it published? As with most writing projects, I soon discovered that it wasn’t that straight forward.

Being a non-fiction book I thought it would perfectly suit the educational market. I had my proposal – my complete outline of the book chapter by chapter. I’d written a sample piece and I knew exactly what this book was going to be about.

But when I enquired with educational publishers I soon discovered that it just didn’t fit. The topic was great, the kids wanted a book like this, but the problem was that the target readership was across two age groups – primary and secondary school.

The publishers I approached didn’t do both – at least not within the same department. They could publish it as a book for primary kids or a book for secondary kids, but NOT both.

My dilemma was that I wanted all kids regardless of age to have access to this book that THEY had requested.

I have to admit, I was taken aback. I had a market and a concept that I thought would be PERFECT for the publishers I approached. Unfortunately, I was wrong. But I was determined not to let a couple of rejections put a dampener on a project that I really liked and that kids had asked for.

So I had to adjust my thinking and go back to my computer. The new version of the book has virtually the same content, but it has been re-written in a humorous and very visual way to suit the needs of the trade market.

The book is still under consideration from the trade publisher I submitted it to – and might not be accepted by them. But even if it’s not, I’ll keep trying and submitting it elsewhere. Kids I have spoken to in various states of Australia have convinced me that this book is worth pursuing.

I have used this example because it covers a number of things you need to consider if you want your work to be published:

  1. You have to consider your potential readers – is anyone going to want to read this book?
  2. You have to consider potential publishers – is this the sort of thing they publish? Is it in a format that will work for them?
  3. You have to be flexible? If you discover that the concept is great but it doesn’t FIT with any publishers, you have to be flexible – be prepared to change the format.
  4. You have to believe in your project and in yourself as its creator.
  5. You have to be persistent. If at first you don’t succeed, KEEP TRYING

There are some other things you can do to improve your chances. These include:

  1. Be prepared to rework an idea if you discover it’s similar to something else that has already been published.
  2. Do your research and find out which publisher is most likely to consider your work in a positive light? Go to bookshops and libraries and see who is publishing your ‘type’ of book. Find out what their submission guidelines are? Are they accepting unsolicited manuscripts?
  3. Don’t be afraid to ring an editor/publisher before submitting to discuss whether this is a project they might consider. Take on board the advice they give you.
  4. Have your work critiqued by writers whose talents and confidentiality you respect.
  5. Meticulously EDIT your work before you submit it. There’s nothing more unappealing than a manuscript that’s riddled with typos or grammatical errors.
  6. Have other markets in mind – just in case your manuscript is rejected.

None of my books has had a straightforward path to acceptance. Letters to Leonardo took over ten years to write and about 30 drafts, A Duel of Words was rejected for a particular reading scheme but one of the editors liked it so much that she convinced the company to publish it further down the track. Harry’s Goldfield Adventure started out twenty years earlier as Cassie and the Convict.

I look upon writing as being a bit like painting. An artist does not pick up a brush and paint the perfect picture with the first brush strokes. He or she keeps going over it, painting over the bits they don’t like, standing back to look at what they’ve done and working out how they can make it better.

Just like writing, a work of art has to have colour, depth and great composition. It has to be worked and reworked until it’s the best it can be. It has to be something that people want to look at. It has to have content that inspires and engages them.

Writing is an artform – and just like a painting, it can often take time to find the perfect wall on which to hang it.

Happy writing:-)



  1. Thanks Karen,

    Glad you found the post useful. It’s something I’ve discovered over the years – great writing isn’t enough – it has to be what the reader wants – and it has to fit a publisher’s schedule.


  2. Hey Dee

    Once again you have written from the heart in this blog – and it is all so true.

    You are building a ‘diamond mine size’ find for a writers resources in your archives here – keep at it my friend!

    Bye 4 now

  3. Hi there. I’m the author of several children’s non-fiction books. Some were for the trade industry, others for the education industry. Education works out well, as long as you can strike it lucky with the right publisher. My first education title was on the subject of archaeology and I sent inquiries after the trade publisher which had wanted it decided they were not going to bother with non-fiction any more. I heard from Nelson, which, at the time, was buying. They liked the idea, as long as I was happy to do it as a 3000-word book. That one has sold very well. There have been others since then. As long as you can write about anything, you have a chance – when they’re buying.

    Trade is another matter. Every now and then they publish non-fic, because kids DO like it. But it doesn’t sell very well, because bookshops don’t know how to display it. They put it in no special order or it just gets into a mess.

    My most recent non-fiction book has done very well in libraries, but not yet earned back its advance because bookshops put it into the adult section. When they did put it into the kids’ section, you’d have to hunt to find it. Take my advice and stick to fiction if you can, unless you want to keep nagging the education publishers, who aren’t buying much these days. Myself, I have just sold my first novel and heaved a sigh of relief. It’s totally ridiculous that non-fiction is so hard to sell when kids love it, but there you are. 😦

  4. Hi Sue,

    Congratulations on your non-fiction books and on your recent novel acceptance. I know what you mean about kids loving non-fiction books. My eldest son has complained to me that there are not enough non-fiction books in his library.


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