Kirsten W. Larson used to work with rocket scientists at NASA. Now she writes books for curious kids. She’s the author of WOOD, WIRE, WINGS: Emma Lilian Todd Invents an Airplane, illustrated by Tracy Subisak (Calkins Creek, 2020), A TRUE WONDER: The Comic Book Her Who Changed Everything, illustrated by Katy Wu (Clarion, 2021); THE FIRE OF STARS: The Life and Brilliance of the Woman Who Discovered What Stars are Made of, illustrated by Katherine Roy (Chronicle, 2023), THIS IS HOW YOU KNOW, illustrated by Cornelia Li (Little, Brown, 2024) and THE LIGHT OF RESISTANCE, illustrated by Barbara McClintock (Roaring Brook, 2023) along with 25 other nonfiction books for kids. She's a geek, LEGO lover, and sock enthusiast. Find her at kirsten-w-larson.com or on Twitter/Instagram @KirstenWLarson.
Graphic nonfiction is a growing market with new publishing imprints and book series springing up all the time. This webinar will introduce both seasoned nonfiction writers and nonfiction novices to the exciting world of graphic nonfiction for all ages.
I hope you can join me for this 90-minute webinar through The Writing Barn. It’s only $25, and recordings are available. Learn more and sign up here.
I just moved two picture book projects into my “Dead Projects” file. These are books I’m no longer revising. (Note: Any book with a shred of hope, stays in my “active” file. There are several I’m not working on currently, but think have some promise.)
For fun, I counted my “Dead Projects”: 24 over 10 years. For reference, these are only picture books and don’t include two abandoned novels, a shelved graphic novel, a chapter book, and a handful of early readers.
Most of these “dead” picture books are from my pre-agented days. They include one I submitted to publishers on my own before I had an agent. But another five my agent has seen, or we discussed the concept, but for various reasons, we chose not to send them out on submission.
In the meantime, we’ve sold four picture books, and I have six in the active file that may turn into something.
So, let’s do the math. 34 picture books written. Four are (or will be) books. That’s a 12% success rate. I’m hopeful for another six (17%). All told, if I’m SUPER lucky, about 25-30% of my total drafts will become books.
Even when I narrow the field to drafts I’ve worked on ONLY since getting an agent in 2016, I’m still batting only 25% .
What’s the lesson? We have to write A LOT. Not everything we write will result in a sale. We can get better with time and improve our ratios. But I still write projects I abandon all the time. It’s all part of the process.
I remind myself daily that no writing is a waste of time. These “dead projects” inform my stories in many different ways. I may explore a theme or structure in an abandoned book that makes its way into a successful book. It’s all productive.
As nonfiction authors, we often talk about “falling down the rabbit hole of research” to describe how engrossing and time consuming the research process can be.
For me research is less a rabbit hole and more a labyrinth. It’s easy to lose the road I’m on as I chase tangents that splinter off from the main trail.
One thing that makes the research process easier for me is keeping a research journal. Here’s how I use mine to tame the research tangents.
First, when I’m trying to locate specific articles, I keep track of databases I’ve searched. Is that article I needed in the Library of Congress’s Chronicling America database? On Newspapers.com? At Fultonhistory.com? Where have I already checked? Where do I still need to look? Sometimes I make a simple “to do list” and check things off.
I use this same technique when it comes to contacting experts. Have I contacted that expert yet? When I do, I check off their name, note the date I reached out to them and how (via email, for example).
Sometimes I keep records of what search terms I’ve used in databases. When I studied Lilian Todd for WOOD, WIRE, WINGS, I quickly realized Lilian Todd’s name was often misspelled, and she was frequently referred to as “Miss Todd” or even “E. L. Todd” in the news. Knowing this, I ran searches multiple times using different search combinations, and keeping track of what terms I’d tried.
As I read secondary and primary sources, I also jot down new items I need to look into, whether it’s Lilian Todd’s patents (requiring a separate search in the U.S. Patent Office database) or the Junior Aero Club Show at Madison Square Garden (necessitating another dive into the newspaper archives). Making note of a new research topic allows me to put a pin in it, so I can finish reading the chapter or article without getting distracted. Then I can get started on my new tangent.
What hints do you have for wrangling your research? What tips have you found helpful?
We’re three weeks into 2022, and in many ways, it feels like 2020 all over again. Boo! Still, I’m not despairing. I’m using this time of “hunkering down” to recharge for the year ahead using these five strategies.
Plan for the year ahead – I don’t do traditional New Year’s resolutions, but I do like to plan for the coming year. This year, my goals are to research and draft a new picture book, draft a middle grade graphic novel, and work on a middle grade fantasy as my “just for fun” project. And I’ll track each milestone along the way and celebrate it. (Of course!)
Binge on Brainstorming – For picture book writers, January is Tara Lazar’s StoryStorm, a month-long challenge where we brainstorm a new picture book idea each day. This year, I was a guest blogger and got to share about my brainstorming process. You can read the post here. I find generating ideas to be like a muscle: the more you do it, the easier it is.
Commit to lifelong learning – Each year I recommit to learning my craft through webinars, classes, reading craft and creativity books, and, of course, writing. A book I reread frequently, especially when I’m casting about for my next project and experiencing self doubt, is Liz Gilbert’s BIG MAGIC. It’s always so inspiring.
Read – For me, the best way to study the craft of writing (and to get ideas for new books) is to read, read, read, and not just in the genre I’m writing. I find everything I read has something to teach me if I just pay attention. Plus, all this study costs is the price of a library card — FREE!
What are you doing in 2022 to improve your craft and creativity? I’d love to hear from you!
It’s always a joy to have your book appear on an end of year best books list alongside books you admire. Thanks to BOOKLIST for including A TRUE WONDER on its 2021 Editor’s Choice list.
And I love the review: “This story about Wonder Woman — in comics, television, and movies — splendidly parallels the history of women in America over the past 80 years. The text stresses how women creators, especially of the 1940s and ’60s, defied expectations, vanquishing misogynistic villains at every turn.”
Thank you, Booklist! And congrats to all the creators on this list.
Teachers and librarians…I’m now booking free, 20-minute, virtual school visits for World Read Aloud Day (held on Feb. 2, 2022) via the platform of your choice (Meet, Zoom, or Skype). Here’s what a virtual visit entails.
Share the joy of reading this holiday season. Whether it’s a package of picture books or a toy/book pairing, books make magical gifts. Find a slew of books and related gifts in this Soaring ’20s Holiday Gift Guide, which features the A TRUE WONDER gifts below.
Order your gifts now for best selection and availability.
I’m so excited to share that my first-ever graphic novel is currently in the works with the incredible Barbara McClintock, who illustrated my all-time favorite version of THE MITTEN. The book is actually a graphic novel/verse novel mash-up, of the completely true (and incredible story) of museum curator Rose Valland.
What better way to celebrate than with some of my favorite Wonder Woman gifts and gear for all ages.
A TRUE WONDER: The Comic Book Hero Who Changed Everything by Kirsten W. Larson, illustrated by Katy Wu, is the true story of how Wonder Woman was created, how’s she’s grown and changed through the years, and how she’s inspired people around the world. It’s available wherever books are sold, but Once Upon a Time Bookstore has autographed copies and art postcards.