by Jennifer Swanson
We can all agree that these are very interesting times, particularly for the publishing industry. The real question that most nonfiction kidlit authors want to know, is what does this mean for nonfiction? It is selling? Are publishers still buying? To get some answers to these questions, I turned to four editors for their thoughts:
Kathy Landwehr, Vice President and Associate Publisher of Peachtree Publishing Company Inc.
Daniel Nayeri, Publisher, Odd Dot
Alyssa Pusey, Senior Editor, Charlesbridge
Emily Feinberg, Editor, Roaring Brook Press
Is nonfiction still selling? What topics are people buying?
All of them agree that nonfiction is selling well right now. Daniel Nayeri states that, “Nonfiction is absolutely still selling in the Covid-era. In fact, some categories, like workbooks and activity books, have seen spikes in sales.” Kathy Landwehr agrees, “In general, I’d probably be inclined to say that nonfiction sales have been strong for us, based in part on the transition to virtual learning, which seems to have motivated some parents to look for further educational opportunities, and also in part due to current events, which have increased already strong interest in titles about US history, social justice, and #ownvoices.”
Alyssa Pusey adds, “Activity books are flying off the shelves. Nonfiction picture books tied to curriculum areas also seem to be doing well, as parents look for ways to supplement kids’ remote learning.” Emily Feinberg said that “Nonfiction is definitely selling! A lot of it appears to be going to homeschooling or virtually-schooled kids.”
Is it selling as well as fiction?
This is tough to say. Certainly, it appears that nonfiction is holding its own. According to Daniel, “I wouldn’t say either fiction or nonfiction has outperformed relative to the other. The headline is that people are still reading, so that’s good.”
That is definitely good news! In fact, according to a recent Penguin Random House Publishing Services report, as a whole, both children’s fiction and nonfiction are up, with sales of nonfiction being particularly strong. Consumers are snapping up juvenile and YA nonfiction, workbooks, readers, study aids, and other back-to-school materials.
Are publishers still looking to buy nonfiction manuscripts?
Alyssa Pusey responds, “Yes, absolutely! At least half of the books Charlesbridge publishes are nonfiction titles, so we editors are always looking for new and noteworthy nonfiction.”
“Yes, with special interest for new topics, new formats, new voices and new angles of discussion”, says Daniel Nayeri.
“Yes, we’re still looking for nonfiction”, says Kathy Landwehr. “It’s a core part of our list and will remain that way. I don’t anticipate any changes in our interest in nonfiction. And because Peachtree is expanding, our nonfiction list will grow not shrink. It will be a gradual increase, probably not noticeable for a big house. But for us, it’s a definite ongoing commitment.”
“I am seeing a lot of nonfiction submissions and we are definitely still buying. We are acquiring for 2022 and 2023 right now,” says Emily Feinberg.
Now to hear from two acclaimed nonfiction kidlit authors:
Are your nonfiction books still selling?
“I believe there was a dramatic drop off in sales beginning in March,” was Lesa’s response. “Yet with each passing month, I noticed book sales beginning to pick up around the same time I began receiving an increase in author visit requests. It seems it took teachers and parents and book buyers took some time to make adjustments and then they started buying again.”
“My book sales have definitely dropped off — probably by a lot,” says Candace. “I don’t have exact numbers. The problem, of course, is bringing attention to the book. I lost more than fifty speaking events between last spring and this fall. Each of those events were part of the marketing plan for my 2020 books, and would have sold plenty of books, but would have brought attention to the new titles as well. On the other hand, publishers are buying books. I’ve sold several during Covid. I find real hope in that. Publishers seem to be looking to the future. So am I.”
Any tips for fellow authors about what they can do to help with their book sales?
Candace says, “While we may not be able to drive book sales the way we once did through face-to-face events, there are some things we can do. Set up a blog tour, or write an article for a magazine or online publication whose readership might be interested in your book. Think specifically. Do you have a book about a honeybee? Query the editor of Bee Culture and ask if you can write a short piece for them. Also, think locally. Your local newspaper, radio station, TV station is more likely to run a piece about you and your book than national outlets. And always, always let them know where they can buy your books.
Lesa’s recommends that everyone “Connect with your local bookstore. Mine has done a great job with promoting my work and the work of other local authors and hosting launches. Stay connected to other writers in your area. And be sure to show up for other authors, by attending virtual events, buying their books, promoting their work and being an ear and they will do the same.”
So, there you have it. Take a deep breath, everyone. For now, it seems like nonfiction is faring pretty well during the time of Covid-19. That IS great news!
Jennifer Swanson is the award-winning author of 40+ nonfiction books for kids. A dynamic speaker, she has presented at the Library of Congress’ National Book Festival, the Atlanta Science Festival, the World Science Festival, the Highlights Foundation, and many SCBWI conferences. You can learn more about Jennifer at her website, www.JenniferSwansonBooks.com