"Breaking into the Nonfiction Market" with Evelyn Kelly

Thursday, April 18, 2002

Moderator is Kristi Holl, web editor of this site and author of 24 books for children and teens, plus l50+ articles for adults and children. Kristi also taught writing courses for fifteen years.

Evelyn is Evelyn Kelly, who has written nonfiction for magazines, newspapers, and books. Her topics are diverse, ranging from medical trade journals to personality pieces. She has over 400 publishing credits, including 8 books.

Interviews in the Professional Connection room begin at 9 Atlantic/Canada, 8 Eastern, 7 Central, 6 Mountain, and 5 Pacific.

Moderator: On Thursday, April 18, thunderstorms and tornadoes skipped across Iowa, preventing the moderator from being able to do the interview with Evelyn Kelly on "Breaking into the Nonfiction Market." Evelyn, who has over 400 publishing credits, including 8 books, agreed to answer the questions via e-mail instead, and those questions and answers are below.


Moderator: How did you get started in freelancing?

Evelyn: I always had to do a lot of writing and loved it. It was a dream of mine, but I had a problem: I never learned to type in school. When computers first came out I purchased an IBM PCJunior. I learned to type on the computer. With this hurdle out of the way, I was able to begin pursuing my dream.

Moderator: Do you only write nonfiction?

Evelyn: Yes, but I use fiction techniques in my nonfiction.

Moderator: Why do you prefer writing nonfiction to fiction?

Evelyn: I am an information junkie. I am creative, but not in plotting stories. I like to take a body of information and make it into a synthetic whole.

Moderator: What are editors looking for in nonfiction these days?

Evelyn: Depends on the market. Most popular magazines like in the women's markets have the same themes, year after year. They are looking for people who will put a fresh slant on the theme. I don't think what editors look for changes a lot; what they want is information put in a fresh slant or new angle.

Moderator: What about children's topics?

Evelyn: Kids (elementary and middle) like gross stuff, especially in the area of health and science. To me some of the things (like on is in poor taste. I guess I like to use fresh approaches to old angles like the environment and some health topics.

Moderator: How do you get ideas? How do you think of a new angle or approach?

Evelyn: You have to keep your antennae up for all kinds of ideas and stories. Putting together two diverse ideas may help you with the angle. For example, I did a column for the local senior adult market. Do you remember the book The Color Purple? I took the idea and called my series of columns "The Color Gold."

Moderator: What are some tools of research?

Evelyn: Two biggies are the Internet and interlibrary loan. I go to my local Podunk library and can get books from anywhere. They have never failed me.

Moderator: Do you feel you must offer payment for information received, like when interviewing experts?

Evelyn: No, never. I once had an orthopedic doc tell me he would talk for 15 minutes, then after that he would charge me his going rate. Needless to say, I found another expert.

Moderator: Do you pay for the photos and drawings (either for magazine pieces or books?) Who does pay if you don't?

Evelyn: The people I write for always get the photos. I may send them ideas, but they do it.

Moderator: Do you have any tips on photo research?

Evelyn: I did do the photo research finding sources for 400 photos for an encyclopedia, The World of Genetics. It was fun to scour books and look on websites for photos. But I didn't have to obtain them, only tell their copyright owner.

Moderator: If you had a book manuscript (like one on certain breeds of cats), would you obtain the photos or query the book publisher and hope the manuscript would be read without the photos?

Evelyn: Yes, if I were to do a book of this type, I would write all of this in the proposal and tell them how much this would be when I negotiated the advance.

Moderator: What are the drawbacks and advantages to using the Internet for research?

Evelyn: Listen, I had to do research before the Internet and it was terrible. You had to go to musty libraries at the university, and then someone had torn out the page you needed. To me the Internet is all plus--the comments of all points of view are valuable.

Moderator: Editors emphasize "primary resources" when researching; what are they?

Evelyn: Primary resources are those that actually had the experience or did the research. I interview a lot of researchers who are doing original research. They would be considered primary sources. Another would be an autobiography of a person in his or her own words.

Moderator: How do you keep track of research sources so you have the information when you write your bibliography?

Evelyn: I write the bibliography and footnote information right into the text. This way I have it right there and won't have to go to miscellaneous slips of paper.

Moderator: What are some of the best resources for nonfiction writers?

Evelyn: Knowledge of the search engines and their specialty. I use Google mostly. But if I am writing a medical article, I use Medscape. Make it your hobby to collect search engines and websites.

Moderator: What makes a good article?

Evelyn: A catchy lead, then about three interesting points with intriguing anecdotes, and a bang-up conclusion. Throw in an exciting, interesting title.

Moderator: Many writers think nonfiction must be dry to write. How can you make writing nonfiction not seem like writing a term paper for school?

Evelyn: When I was working on my doctoral dissertation, my major professor said that dissertations are supposed to be dull. I was making this too interesting. Find that unique twist--keep it simple--use many, many anecdotes.

Moderator: How do you find experts to interview or people to do profiles on?

Evelyn: For many of mine I look to associations. Like American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons for something on bone diseases. The people I have done profiles on are common people with interesting jobs. For example, I did a person who turned his hobby of model trains into a profitable business. How about a person who mines the lakes for weeds--aquatic removal--or a horse farm owner who has an academy for kids? These people are all around you.

Moderator: How do you successfully conduct an interview?

Evelyn: For some scientists, I use e-mail questions or will e-mail them a list of questions for the telephone. When I talk on the telephone I always tape record. Always be prepared by studying what the person has done. And compile a list of about six questions. One of my first is: tell me about your research. That is open-ended. They are always excited to tell you. Then you must stop them to explain terms.

Moderator: Can you sell a biography about a more obscure person?

Evelyn: Yes, if you make that person have a contribution to the general welfare of living.

Moderator: When using your research, how much can you quote from a book without permission and still be within the legal copyright limits? (We hear such conflicting information on this.)

Evelyn: I depend on the publisher to let me know this. Right now I am doing a book for the young adult market on antibiotics. The publisher said no more than four quotes from one book. If I do more, I have to copy the page and send the copyright page. Needless to say, I have no more than four per book.

Moderator: Before writing, how do you organize all that information so that you can find what you need when you want it?

Evelyn: I try to use common sense in researching. Do not over-research. When I think I have adequate material I start writing the first rough, rough draft. Interesting, when I get this done, I feel I am going downhill. Then I can go back and fill in what I may need.

Moderator: Do you use sidebars? How are they set up within the manuscript?

Evelyn: Yes, if the publisher asks for them. The book I am doing now asks me to put them at the end of each chapter.

Moderator: How much time do you spend on research compared to the actual writing?

Evelyn: About 50-50. Once I finish the research, I can usually do a 3500 word article in three days. Let it rest a day or so, then put on my editor's hat for errors or sentence structure errors.

Moderator: Can one sell the same article many times?

Evelyn: Yes, according to most writers' books, that is the way to do it. I have not done it a lot. Usually, I am ready to close that subject and go on to something else. I did do a book on Teaching Left-Handed students in school and sent spin-off articles to Left-hander Magazine, Teacher, and the big market Parenting.

Moderator: When writing nonfiction books, what are the differences in writing for the library market, the trade market, and the educational market?

Evelyn: The educational market usually must adhere to the standards of the subject. Trade books are for a more technical audience. Library market is for the general public.

Moderator: How do you make contact with editors, both book and magazine?

Evelyn: I am a member of several associations that list needs for writers, for example, National Science Writers,, American Medical Writers Association. All associations have their job markets. Usually paying the fee is worth it--and a tax deduction.

Moderator: Do you e-mail queries or send your manuscripts on disk?

Evelyn: Yes, Yes. Yes to queries. Yes to submissions also. I have not sent a snail mail query in years.

Moderator: Any specific DON'TS for query letters or things that turn editors off?

Evelyn: Editors are human, but usually have a similar mind-set. Learn politically correct terminology--they expect it. For example, people with handicaps, not the disabled; older American or older adults, not the elderly. Elderly is not a noun.

Moderator: Do you submit an outline or query or proposal to a publisher before finishing the book?

Evelyn: Yes, I would never write a book before getting something in hand.

Moderator: How can I develop a business plan for writing?

Evelyn: Writing plans and goals for your business is a must. Otherwise it will be just a hobby. It must be treated as a business. Dana Cassell at is one of the best. She has an e-book you may purchase on setting up a writing business.

Moderator: Do nonfiction book writers need agents? Do you have one?

Evelyn: Yes, if they are marketing a book idea, for the contracts and all that. I do not have one because all the editors have contacted me to write their books.

Moderator: Writers are always told to study catalogues from publishers; what exactly is the writer to look for?

Evelyn: Catalogues are essential to know the type of thinking of a publishing house. I also look at the books themselves in libraries.

Moderator: Are writers' conferences important for nonfiction writers?

Evelyn: I really got my inspiration to send in my first article by attending the Florida Freelance Writers Conference. I attend all conferences I can and am only sorry that I cannot go to more. Even seasoned veterans pick up ideas here.

Moderator: Evelyn, thank you for being flexible tonight and doing the questions off-line for me. I appreciate it. Everyone, do come back in two weeks on May 2 when Louise Crawford will speak on "Writing Romantic Suspense". And now, good night, everyone!

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