Tuesday, February 7, 2012
Writing for the School Market -- Interview with Children's Writer, Margo Sorenson
You’ve written several books in a series called Cover-to-Cover Book Series. Could you explain for my readers what exactly that is?
The idea for these books was generated by the publisher, because they wanted to appeal to reluctant readers. The name of the series suggests that reluctant readers would actually finally read a book “cover to cover,” which most reluctant readers don’t do. It’s always so much fun when I open a letter and have a young reader tell me that one of my Cover-to-Cover books is the first book he or she ever finished!
How did you first get involved with writing for this publisher?
Perfection Learning, the publisher, had published a reading record book of mine (HOW TO SNEAK UP ON A GOOD BOOK) that I co-authored with my school librarian, and they asked if I thought I could write for reluctant readers. I agreed to try, and in the planning process, they did a lot of focus groups in inner-city schools, using titles I cooked up, and the kids actually picked the titles they thought they’d like to read.
How then did the actual books evolve?
I wrote the manuscripts to match the titles, after studying Grisham and DeMille and working on suspense and “turn-the-page hooks.” Some of the titles were DANGER CANYON, THE HIDDEN DAGGER, and SOCCER BLASTER. Doing many school visits with disadvantaged kids and reluctant readers helped me a great deal to hone in on what would hook them and keep them reading. They were fun to work with!
Prior to writing for them, what writing credits did you have that might have enticed them to consider your writing?
Bantam Sweet Dreams had just published my squeaky-clean teen romance, ALOHA LOVE, but I don’t think Perfection Learning thought that would qualify me to write for reluctant readers, primarily boys ages 9-14! I also taught students those ages and, as an English teacher, had been teaching writing for many years, so I guess they thought I might have some of the mechanics down!
Perfection liked the idea and concept behind the reading record book (HOW TO SNEAK UP ON A GOOD BOOK) and thought I could write reluctant readers and work with them on a timely, contractual basis. Although these books began as “work-for-hire,” I do get royalties on them. Additionally, I’d published articles in scholarly journals (such as the English Journal) about hooking kids into writing and talking about literature, so they knew it was important to me to connect young readers with books.
Since you’ve done so many books for them, have you seen any changes in what they wanted from the books?
Yes, they’re not interested in acquiring new supplementary fiction for the classroom, because they’re very involved in and successful with publishing books that work for the educational climate of testing and correlating with national and state standards these days.
My books with them are still selling well in schools across the country, however, and they are very supportive of my signings and other publicity events and conferences. They are interested in non-fiction and if someone wants to query them, the website has information for would-be authors.
If someone wanted to write for this type of company what suggestions would you give to get them started?
Study what else they publish and come up with innovative, fresh ideas – or a twist on old ones. Listen to kids and find out what they’re interested in reading or finding out about. Ask librarians what kinds of topics they get asked about all the time. Find out from teachers what they’d like to see, book-wise, for the classroom.
The series of children’s books you’ve written cover anything from stories about ordinary kids to famous people and topics such as hurricanes. How do you prepare to write such a variety of stories?
I’m pretty old, so I’ve had a lot of experiences on which to draw! Also, reading widely, teaching school, listening to kids’ hopes and dreams, traveling, raising a family, and being involved in sports with our kids help generate a lot of ideas.
Have you pitched specific stories to editors or have they given you lists of topics they might want to cover?
I pitched specific stories to editors for the fiction.For the two non-fiction books, they asked me to choose which topics I wanted to write about. Because we’d lived in Hawaii, I picked hurricanes and tsunamis.
When the time-travel adventure biography TIME TRAP: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was such a good seller, they asked me to write five more, giving me the latitude to pick the subjects, so that’s how FIGHT IN THE FIELDS: Cesar Chavez, LEAP INTO THE UNKNOWN: Albert Einstein, DANGER MARCHES TO THE PALACE: Queen Lili’uokalani, DEATH OF LIES: Socrates, and SHATTER WITH WORDS: Langston Hughes came about. It was funny how that worked, because when I began writing TIME TRAP, I didn’t know that my main characters were going to travel back in time to try and save Dr. King! Perfection has been super to work with – perfection, actually!
That's it for today's interview. I will be continuing on to part 2 of the interview where she talks about her children's picture books and her writing tips. I hope you will come back again to read her continuing story. In the meantime, if you would like to learn more about her writing, just click here.