how to write a nonfiction picture book

This article is all about how to write a nonfiction picture book, including advice on nonfiction picture book age group, nonfiction picture book word count, nonfiction picture book page count, how to write a nonfiction picture book query letter, and how to find nonfiction picture book literary agents and publishers.

How to Write nonfiction picture books

A special category in children’s books is nonfiction picture books. These are books written for younger readers about educational topics, from picture book biographies to nonfiction picture books on certain animals, or topics in math, science, or history. Since nonfiction children’s books are sold in large part to schools and libraries, the best nonfiction picture books have a strong curriculum hook that ties into the academic schedule for various grade levels.

If you’re interested in writing nonfiction picture books, your best bet is to choose an interesting topic, or approach a familiar topic in a new way. Do we need another Abraham Lincoln biography, for example? Or another explanation of the water cycle? No, but how about shining the spotlight on a rare person from history, or getting more specific, writing about water as an alternative energy source. It also greatly helps your case if you have qualifications that make you an expert in your field, or otherwise give you relevant experience on the topic.

nonfiction picture book Age Group

For the most part, the nonfiction children’s book age group is older than the general picture book audience. Smart writers know that children’s book publishing is divided by category, age, and reading level. For most nonfiction picture books, readers are five years or older. Nonfiction picture books can be used in the classroom into the higher elementary school grades, depending on the scope of the work and the supplementary nonfiction content, like the afterword and glossary.

nonfiction picture book Word Count

How many words you’ll find in a nonfiction picture book depends on the amount of information being presented. Books for slightly younger readers and grade levels are complete around 1,000 words. Most nonfiction picture book word count clocks in at around 2,000 words, sometimes up to 3,000, when you include an afterword, author’s note, glossary, and bibliography. These are supplementary materials often included in nonfiction picture books because that makes them more attractive to the school and library market.

nonfiction picture book Page Count

Nonfiction picture book page count is looser than picture book page count, which is 32 pages for the vast majority of books. That’s because nonfiction picture book length varies. Shorter nonfiction picture books will still be 32 pages. Other projects, maybe with longer word counts, will be 40, 48, 56, or 64 pages. It also depends on the size of your “back matter,” materials like the afterword, author note, teacher guide, glossary, bibliography, etc.

Special nonfiction picture book considerations

Nonfiction picture books can be a tough category if you want to include fiction storytelling. A good example of this conceit at work is the Magic School Bus series by Joanna Cole and Bruce Degen. It features a fictional character and story frame that wraps around the nonfiction content. The characters interact with the lesson and there’s dialogue. But the balance of information is mostly nonfiction in nature. Narrative nonfiction picture books should aim to be primarily nonfiction, without too much intrusion from fictional elements. Otherwise, you enter a gray area between fiction and nonfiction, and publishers will be looking for a stronger emphasis on one or the other.

how to publish a nonfiction picture book

If you’re curious about how to publish nonfiction picture books, you’ll find that the process is largely the same as it is for fiction. Publishers of nonfiction children’s books are usually more willing to hear from content creators directly, as some of these houses are smaller or considered to be “institutional publishers,” or houses that market to schools and libraries. Many of the bigger publishers of nonfiction children’s books will only look at agented submissions, however. To attract the attention of publishers or nonfiction picture book literary agents, you will need a complete manuscript, including any back matter that you plan to include. You will also need a nonfiction picture book query letter that pitches your project, establishes a market need and curriculum hook, and explains your credentials in writing this story. Your expertise and any marketing savvy that you can bring to the project is considered at a premium. In a crowded nonfiction picture book market, your idea is the biggest predictor of success. Publishers and agents are especially looking for fresh takes on familiar topics. You can learn more about the book submission process here.

hiring a NONFICTION PICTURE BOOK EDITOR

Now you know more about how to write a nonfiction picture book. It always helps to have an extra set of eyes on your manuscript, ideally with extensive experience in the nonfiction picture book market. Check out further resources on how to find an editor, and get insight into editorial service rates.

Please don’t hesitate to check out my writing craft book or reach out for editorial services via the contact form, below.

Click here to purchase Writing Irresistible Kidlit, my book on fiction craft for MG and YA novels, out from Writer's Digest Books. This will show you my writing craft philosophy and give you lots of valuable advice, including tips for the novel revision process and self-editing. There are over 35 example novels cited and discussed throughout. It’s a valuable resource for any writer’s toolkit.

It genuinely feels like you’ve handed me a golden compass so I can trek off in the right direction now to ultimately find buried treasure. I’m so excited to not be wandering around aimlessly on this story any more. I can move forward on it now with confidence.
— Kendra