Meet Chloe. She’s the new baby in our house. (Well, at about 8 months, more like a big, goofy teenager, but an eager to please baby, nonetheless.) Anyone who knows me knows I’m dotty for doggies, so I couldn’t wait to check out Annette Whipple’s newest nonfiction title, WOOF, THE TRUTH ABOUT DOGS, released June 30th from Reycraft Books (Benchmark Education.)
While I now write picture books for a living, I spent decades working as a graphic artist, so I really admire great book design. Aroooo! This book is loaded with elegant, inviting, amusing design. (I tried to think of a good dog pun around that sentence but failed. If anyone can think of one, let me know in a comment!) Annette was kind enough to answer a few questions about not only the new book but her process in general.
Welcome, Annette! First off, since nonfiction writing fascinates me, what is your process for deciding what should go into a book? I’ll also add a question from my own selfish interest as a scatterbrain who admires those who are organizationally blessed: how do you organize the information so you can find it later?
Though every book is a bit different, I typically try to get a general understanding of my topic before diving into deep research. And though it may sound silly, I use the bubble method of brainstorming just like I taught my students back when I was a teacher. This helps me to think about what I already know and what I want to know about a topic. (I didn’t take a picture for Woof, but here is my brainstorming pages from my research about spiders. You can see that I didn’t have all the answers yet. I knew some about spiders but didn’t know all the details.)
When it came to Woof! The Truth About Dogs, I knew the format of the book before I even began researching. Like Whooo Knew? The Truth About Owls, it’s a question and answer book. And since it’s a picture book, there are only so many questions that can be asked.
I examined my brainstorming and grouped phrases and topics together. Then I took out my spiral bound notebook and created a Table of Contents for my research. I try to keep detailed titles of each page in my research notebook so I don’t overfill the pages. So even though dog feelings and dog communication are related, I separate them in my notebook as well as in my paper and digital folders. (I plan to write a blog post about my notebook in the next couple of weeks!) I prefer hand-written notes, but I also keep folders of printouts of my research and email interviews in addition to PDFs from online research. The very first pages in my research notebook are dedicated to sources. It’s there that I begin my bibliography. When I take notes, I refer back to them! I can also use these same sources when I create an outline complete with footnotes.
KIM: You have a nice newsletter you send out regularly on an email list. Have you found it to be a good source of engagement with potential buyers/readers? And is there anything you’re doing differently now than when you first started the mailing list?
I always show my book covers to my monthly newsletter subscribers first. I think those newsletters get the most engagement and emails from my subscribers!
My newsletter is very different than it was a few years ago. It began as a short quarterly newsletter. Back then, it was mostly a way to promote blog posts and upcoming events and books. Now my goal is to really connect with subscribers while providing them with good content—but only once a month. I want subscribers to be able to celebrate curiosity in their own life or in the lives of young people in their families or classrooms. My newsletter is really for readers, writers, and teachers, so I share reading- and writing-related resources and tips as well as cool information related to history and science. Since I write children’s informational books, I like to recommend a couple (picture book, middle grade, or young adult) in my newsletter as well. If this sounds like something of interest, subscribe at https://madmimi.com/signups/118916/join
I’ve had enough positive feedback about my newsletter that I even created a newsletter video course for writers which shares how lots of authors connect with readers through their newsletter. It’s at https://kidlit-creatives.teachable.com/. (Use the discount code KIDLIT25 for 25% off any course with KidLit Creatives!)
KIM: I’ve been impressed, watching your career grow from unpublished, to published, to now the author of an entire series of books with more to come in the series. Can you tell us how this particular series came about? Did you pitch it yourself, or did they come to you after working with you on another project? (Oh and here’s another spread, just because…)
Thank you! Though I love writing for the educational market where I get assignments from editors, I had a book about owls on my heart and in my draft file for years. I knew so many cool facts about owls, I was trying to cram all that information into a manuscript. But it didn’t work, and I knew it. I also didn’t have time for revisions and restructuring since I was completing the research and writing for The Laura Ingalls Wilder Companion: A Chapter-by-Chapter Guide (Chicago Review Press, 2020).
Once that manuscript was submitted, I planned to attend a Highlights Foundation workshop. Two critiques were included, so I revisited my files. I’d been away from my owl manuscript and looked at it with fresh eyes.
I changed the manuscript from a middle grade book to a picture book. I removed about three quarters of the text. I added humor with the owls talking. I submitted that to my workshop leaders. My editor from Reycraft Books critiqued it with some feedback and let me know he was interested in publishing it. I loved his passion for his authors and their books. I also appreciated how our visions matched for the design of the book—photo illustrations. I submitted!
Whooo Knew? The Truth About Owls was the first book in the series, but as of now there will be five in The Truth About animal series. In addition to the two books I’ve mentioned, Scurry! The Truth About Spiders comes out on September 30. Then in 2022, books featuring frogs and cats will be published!
KIM How did you get your start? Have you always wanted to write nonfiction?
I began writing as a blogger! Soon I knew I wanted to write better and took some classes, including editing and magazine writing and nonfiction. I think this world is pretty incredible, so I stick to informational writing. My first five books were for the educational market. (It’s a great way to break into the kidlit publishing world for fiction and nonfiction writers. If you’re curious about the educational market and work-for-hire kidlit writing, check out the blog post below.)
KIM: Was there anything surprising you learned about dogs while working on this book? Anything that didn’t make it into the book that you’d like to share here?
I didn’t know so much! Did you know that a new mother helps her pups go to the bathroom by stimulating them? Then, she licks up the mess! That’s in the book, but one (of many) facts that didn’t make it in the book is that some puppies are born with green fur. How fun is that?
KIM: I love the design of this book so much. Aside from the gorgeous photography, nearly every page has a cute little aside that includes a fun illustration of a dog, with a speech balloon, imparting a bit more information. Can you tell us how that part came about? Was it a way to insert info that didn’t quite fit elsewhere?
The talking dogs (and owls in Whooo Knew?) were just another way for me to engage the reader. Kids love humor, but I found I wanted to use an engaging but fairly serious tone for the main text, so the illustrated animals add some sass, personality, and laughs. Kids love them!
KIM: Thank you for stopping by, Annette! PBB readers: Sit and stay enough to comment below for a chance to win a copy of Annette’s doggy book! (I was going to say “to fetch a copy” but that would have been confusing. I think my busy little Chloe has worn me out too much to come up with decent puns this week!)
P.S.: I know July has been unusually “doggy” at the PBB blog this month, since Janee Trasler popped in to share wonderful wiener books in honor of Pixie Belle. (Isn’t she the CUTEST?! – and yes, I mean both Pixie Belle and Janee.) Just a happy, tail-wagging coincidence, but we can’t celebrate our dogs enough, right? I promise, I’ll look around to find other pets to celebrate in the near future!
Oh, and speaking of the future, here’s a note about the past: Last month’s winners of the dino books featured in my first post, last month! Congratulations to Sarah Meade who won Lezlie’s Evan’s book, I’M A FEEL-OSAUR, and to Lenora Biemans has won my newest, ONE-OSAURUS, TWO-OSAURUS.
For a chance to win this month’s giveaway of Annette’s adorable book, leave a comment below and we’ll randomly choose one winner. (Sorry, we’re both out of town right now, far from good internet coverage, but we’ll do our best to keep in touch and choose a winner by next week.)
Annette Whipple celebrates curiosity and inspires a sense of wonder in young readers while exciting them about science and history. She’s the author of ten books including The Laura Ingalls Wilder Companion: A Chapter-by-Chapter Guide (Chicago Review Press) and Whooo Knew? The Truth About Owls, Woof! The Truth About Dogs, and Scurry! The Truth About Spiders (Reycraft Books). When she’s not reading or writing, you might find Annette snacking on warm chocolate chip cookies with her family in Pennsylvania. She explores the world of Laura Ingalls Wilder at www.WilderCompanion.com. Learn more about Annette’s books and presentations at www.AnnetteWhipple.com.