Hello fellow-24 Carrot Writers! My name is Amanda Davis. I’m an author-illustrator and high school art educator. My debut creative nonfiction picture book, 30,000 STITCHES: THE INSPIRING STORY OF THE NATIONAL 9/11 FLAG, will be hitting shelves May 4th. The story is illustrated by the amazing Sally Wern Comport and will be releasing with WorthyKids/Hachette Book Group. Thank you to the 24 Carrot Writing team for inviting me onto the blog today. I’m excited to kick off my MINI BLOG TOUR for my cover reveal (more about this at the end of the post) by chatting about all things nonfiction.
I learned a lot about writing nonfiction from crafting my debut and attempted to boil my process down to the Three ‘R’s of Writing Nonfiction for Children.
Let’s dive in!
The research for my debut picture book, 30,000 STITCHES began seven years before I ever started drafting a manuscript for it. Late summer of 2011, I was searching for a lesson I could facilitate with my high school art students to honor the tenth remembrance of 9/11. As I was researching, I came across the story of the National 9/11 Flag and knew I needed to share it with students. We learned all about the flag and then created our own patched together flag inspired by the story
My boiled down nuggets from the research are:
- Ask yourself why?: To begin your research, ask yourself, why am I writing this story? Why is it important to me? Why is it important for my readers to learn about? Why am I the person to write it? For me, I was not directly impacted by 9/11 but was alive during the events, which will forever be ingrained in my memory. This pushed me to want to teach about the events in my classroom every year. Through these lessons and projects, I’ve connected with so many amazing and selfless individuals who were directly impacted by the tragedy and will forever feel a connection to them and a responsibility to continue to teach about the events so we never forget. I hope the story of the flag reminds people about hope and healing, about the power of our shared stories, and our ability to rise from the shadows if we unite and come together. That is my why for writing 30,000 STITCHES.
- Gather reliable sources: If you’ve answered the above questions and decide that you would like to forge ahead with your story idea, I can’t stress enough the importance of finding reliable sources. I feel fortunate that through my research, I connected with many amazing people like the Ground Zero superintendent, and the Flag Tour Staff. Their stories, courage, and selflessness inspired me and they were integral in helping me get the details of the story correct. To start, I suggest compiling a list of people who were close to the story. Gather their contact information (some detective skills might be needed here) and reach out. Cold calling can be awkward but it’s well worth it in the long run. Many times, people are happy to share their stories and information with you. You may even get some wonderfully useful information that will spark a whole different seed or trajectory for your story. And the worst that may happen--you won’t hear back. Try not to take this personally and feel good knowing that you tried!
- Well-Researched and Complete Back Matter: If you are new to writing nonfiction, I suggest learning all about back matter. Find as many different examples of back matter as you can. When I was navigating how to put together the back matter for my book, I referenced piles of other picture books. From creative timelines to actual photos*, there are many fun ways you can craft your back matter. I also suggest fully fleshing out the back matter before submitting it to editors and agents. This could give you a leg up when they’re reading your story. I’m a geek for nonfiction, and love me some interesting back matter but I like to believe that agents and editors do, too! When querying, I made sure to mention that I had well-researched back matter and interviewed primary sources who helped verify the details of my story. This element could help your query shine! Because my story is a lyrical creative nonfiction narrative, I left many of the straight facts for the back matter. This put an added weight on the validity of what I chose to incorporate in the back matter and also became a delicate balance of how much of the facts do I include in the story versus in the back matter, which leads me to the next point--
2. The second ‘R’ is for REVISION:
After the bulk of my research was complete (or so I thought), I began to revise my story…and revise…and revise again. Looking back, I’m afraid to officially count the number of versions I have so I’ll just leave it at countless. We all know that revision is part of every writer’s process but I noticed I felt an added weight when it came to writing nonfiction because there was no room for error when it came to relaying the facts of the story and the subject matter.
My boiled down nuggets for revision are:
- Balance is key: Before the story got acquired, the hardest part about my revisions was balancing how much of the hard facts to include in the story and how much to leave in the back matter. I wanted readers to understand the story without having to read the back matter but also didn’t want to disrupt the lyrical nature of the text by inserting too much of an expository type narrative. To confuse matters further, when I was submitting to agents and editors, some praised my lyrical writing while others felt it was too sparse and wanted more of the back matter inserted into the main text. This contradicting feedback became a point of struggle for me as I revised and continues to be an area of growth as I write other nonfiction stories. In the end, you only have to find one person who is going to believe in the story and align with your vision. Thankfully, my agent for the story, Melissa Richeson, was that person and later, my editor Peggy Schaefer at WorthyKids connected with my vision as well.
- Keep all your notes and versions!! The version of the story that I originally sent WorthyKids was around 780 words and the version that my agent followed up with was around 220 words. Before signing me, the editors asked if we had a version that was somewhere in between. Thankfully, I did! My agent quickly sent along a version that was around 500 words, and we later signed a deal. If I hadn’t saved all my versions or had those three different versions to offer, I hate to think this would have been a deal breaker, but who knows! I’m thankful I held onto all my revisions and kept them (somewhat) organized so that when I needed them, they could easily be referenced. Sometimes when we revise, it can feel like an endless venture but I like to think that with 30,000 STITCHES, each of those drafts ultimately led me to the one that landed me an agent and later a book deal!
3. The third and final ‘R’ in writing for nonfiction is REPEAT:
Once you land a deal for your nonfiction story, your research and revision will most likely be on repeat. There will be questions to answer, details to check, and countless times you will dive back into your sources for information.
- Don’t forget the art: Just like the text, the art will need fact-checking and revising, too-especially with nonfiction. If you are fortunate enough to get the opportunity to be involved in this process, don’t be afraid to speak up and share your thoughts.
- Just Ask: You should be the subject matter expert of your story and therefore can be utilized as a resource when questions arise. If you find that you aren’t being tapped into for insights during this part of the process, it can’t hurt to ask to be involved. Let your editor know you would love to see the sketches or that you have resources available to them if they need references to help check for accuracy. It will be easier to correct any inaccuracies at the development stage, and everyone will be thankful for that in the end.
If you are taking on the challenge of writing nonfiction, hooray! I hope you found these nuggets of information helpful in your process. For me, there is an undeniable pleasure in knowing that I’m sharing an important, true story with the world and making it accessible and fun for children to read and learn about. What could possibly be cooler than that?
I’d like to leave you with one final BONUS ‘R’ for the road, which is ROCKS, because simply put, when you truly boil it all down, nonfiction ROCKS!
I hope you will join me in celebrating my cover reveal by following along with the tour. I’ll be stopping by the places below, and using the #30000StitchesTour. There will be fun giveaways and prizes along the way!
Enter the giveaway below. Be sure to check out tomorrow’s stop on the tour over at author, Brian Gehrlein’s PB Spotlight blog. I’ll be in conversation with my agent for 30,000 STITCHES, Melissa Richeson, and she’ll be offering a generous giveaway. Stay tuned!
Enter for a chance to win one of 10 (ten) signed copies of 30,000 STITCHES here:
Amanda Davis is a teacher, artist, writer, and innovator who uses her words and pictures to light up the world with kindness. After losing her father at the age of twelve, Amanda turned to art and writing as an outlet. It became her voice. A way to cope. A way to escape. And a way to tell her story. She was thus inspired to teach art and pursue her passion for writing and illustrating children’s books. Through her work, Amanda empowers younger generations to tell their own stories and offers children and adults an entryway into a world of discovery. A world that can help them make sense of themselves, others, and the community around them. A world where they can navigate, imagine, and feel inspired—over and over again. When she’s not busy creating, you can find her sipping tea, petting dogs, and exploring the natural wonders of The Bay State with her partner and rescue pup, Cora.
Amanda is represented by Jennifer Unter of The Unter Agency.
Her debut picture book, 30,000 STITCHES, hits stores May 4, 2021 with WorthyKids/Hachette Book Group.
To connect with Amanda and learn more about her work:
Visit her online at amandadavisart.com (http://amandadavisart.com/)
Twitter @amandadavisart (https://twitter.com/amandadavisart)
Instagram @amandadavis_art (https://www.instagram.com/amandadavis_art/)
and Facebook. (http://facebook.com/amandadavisart)