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Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Interview with author, Helene Boudreau

My author interview today is with Helene Boudreau who has written several non-fiction books and articles dealing with science for children. She has also done YA (young adult) stories as well. For this interview I will be focusing on her non-fiction writing.

Some of your earlier writing was for KNOW, which is a kids magazine geared to readers, aged 6 to 9 that deals with the world of science. How did you get started there?
I started writing for KNOW magazine after querying them with a writing sample, following their online submission guidelines. I'd written about a half dozen articles for them prior to writing the non-fiction books. I'm actually working on an article for KNOW right now about dental braces.

How did you first get involved with writing for a book packager? Did someone suggest this market?
I had been writing non-fiction articles for a kids’ science magazine called KNOW. A fellow KNOW author had been approached to write a volume in a science series and put me in touch with the editor to write another. I have a Bachelor of Science in Biology so the topic really appealed to me. That led to other books.

Could you define how a book packager works?
Book packagers pitch book ideas to publishers with proof-of-concept proposals. Once the publisher buys into the idea the book packager contracts authors to write the books. The packager usually has a very solid concept of what they want a book to look like, which they outline for the author. In some cases, though, the author and editor on the project work together to come up with a book plan. The author is paid a flat fee for the work and sometimes royalties; it depends on the packager. Once the project is written, it goes through editing and design and then goes to the publisher for approval, then publication.

Could you walk me through the process?
I was introduced to book packaging by referral so there was no proposal on my part. Each project was a bit different since they were with a few different packagers. Sometimes I was given a book plan to work from, from the start. Other times I worked with the editor to design a book plan in concert with other authors writing different volumes in the same series. Once the book plan is approved, the author researches the topic and does the writing. Some of my books have additional resources like glossaries, recommended reading and vocabulary lists, depending on the audience and the topic.

What was the first story you wrote for this market? Was it under your name?

My first non-fiction book was CRIMEBUSTING AND DETECTION closely followed by MIRACULOUS MEDICINES since they were part of the same series. All of my packaged books credit me as the author but this isn’t always the case.

What type of research did you do for this book? How long did you work on the book?
Research includes interviewing experts and lots of reading. The turn-around times are fairly quick (4-8 weeks) on these projects but that varies from one book packager to the other.

These two non-fiction books are not your typical 32 page picture books.They have real pictures and sidebars which to me looks more like mini-textbooks. Since those items are such broad topics how did you narrow it down to fit the format size?
Those two books are part of the same series called SCIENCE SOLVES IT and the main thrust of the series was to focus on how science plays a role in various careers. The authors and editor worked together to make the books similar in format but varied in content since each career was so unique. Staying true to the theme of the series, though, was key to streamlining the information and keeping it relevant.

The publishing page reads more like a magazine masthead from editors to designers to project coordinators. How many of these people did you actually interact with personally?
My main point of contact was always with the editor. Their job is to coordinate the team or authors, designers, etc. to keep the process as efficient as possible. Again, each project is different. Sometimes the author has no input on the design or pictures. Other times the author provides design/ photo direction or they actually source photos for the project. Final approval lies with the editorial team, though, and ultimately the client (ie the publisher who bought the project in the first place).

How many books have you written for packagers? What suggestions or advice do you have for someone who may want to pursue writing for packagers?
I’ve written five. My advice to anyone working with a packager is not to be afraid to ask questions if things are unclear. Be open to editorial feedback, be professional, meet your deadlines and also, never work without a contract.

How has this either helped or hindered your career in writing fiction?

Writing credits like books for book packagers show editors and agents that your writing is at a publishable level. That is always a bonus on a bio when submitting new work for publication.

If you would like to know more about Helene’s writing for either non-fiction or fiction you can learn more at

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