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Nonfiction Matters
Inside Nonfiction Matters

Attention Authors and Publishers

I am going to be doing something new on this site: Work In Progress

I would like to give our readers a chance to see some nonfiction work take shape. If you are an author doing some interesting research; if you are an artist and you would like to share your steps from reference, to sketch, to finished art; if you are a designer and you can show the steps you have taken in laying out a nonfiction book, I am going to start a regular feature where you can show your work. To be clear, in featuring a work, I am not endorsing the published book — and certainly SLJ isn’t. This feature is not a review. Instead it is a peek inside the process of creating nonfiction. Now I could see teachers using it in class along with the published book. But in general we will be looking at books long before they see print. 

There are kinks to be worked out, so I can’t give you the date for the first appearance of this feature. But I think we could all have fun with this. It was suggested to me by the folks at Mikaya, so they will be first up. So, for today, while we work backstage, please keep sending in your first lines.

I notice we don’t have any historical fiction yet. How does a great first line in historical fiction differ from one in nonfiction? And here’s another option, for those of you who have exhausted your first lines — what is a great last line in nonfiction? There is an arc to a nonfiction book, it leads from one time to another, from birth to death, from the beginning of an event to its conclusion. Which books have done the best job of delivering that final punch, of leaving us with a takeaway, of arriving at the perfect soft landing where we can take in what we have just experienced? 

So far I am seeing some trends — those who like punch, immediacy; those who like details, specificity; those who like tone, atmosphere; those who like to be given an artful hint of the upcoming themes; those drawn to voice. Am I missing something? I am sure you all know this, but the four adult first lines were King James Bible; Moby Dick; Ulysses; Finnegans Wake.


  1. Process! I’m a sucker for process. Count on me to talk this up.

  2. Sue Reichard says:

    Well, I tried to submit, but had a glitch. I have written a bio on Philip Pullman for Enslow publishers and I am currently writing a bio on Sylvia Earle, a marine biologist and scientist for Enslow. Count me in on this process. Please contact me if needed at

  3. WendieOld says:

    You wanted beginnings and endings and how they reflect each other?

    When I wrote TO FLY, THE STORY OF THE WRIGHT BROTHERS, I wrote them both, one after another, before writing the rest of the book.

    Beginning: People had always known it wasn’t possible for humans to fly like birds. But that didn’t stop them from dreaming about it. Orville Wright was one of thos dreamers….

    Ending: Long ago, a young boy lay in bed thinking how exciting it would be to fly. On December 17, 1903, he and his brother actually did it.

    (I am aware that SLJ comment boxes seem to mush paragraphs together. If that has happened today, Just try to imagine this separated into paragraphs and it’ll make more sense.)

    I’m enjoying your BLOG, Marc and have always loved your books. -wendieO, librarian, writer, mom

  4. Kelly Milner Halls says:

    Hi Marc,

    I’m a big fan of your work, including the new one, FOR BOYS ONLY (amazing). So I’d love to be a part of your experiment, if you want me. I’m researching two nonfiction books as we speak — one on aliens (as in UFO, not illegal) and one on prehistoric animals that lived at the feet of dinosaurs.

    If you want me, I’m on board. Just let me know when, how and where.

    Best always,

    Kelly Milner Halls

  5. Marc Aronson says:

    Great to hear from Sue and Kelly — (and from Wendie, first to include a beginning and an ending, which is exactly what I had in mind). Authors, please email me, and suggest what you can show readers for you work in progress. For example, how a bit of research (visual or text) translated into a paragraph or visual. What challenges did you face? I was speaking with Jim Giblin last night about a book he is researching, and he talked about a challenge I know well — context, how do you get kids up to speed, while keeping the pages turning. If you are working out something like that and can show it in a concrete instance, that would be perfect for WIP.

  6. elemreadingteacher says:

    Thanks Marc, for giving me a place to ask authors some questions. As a purchaser and teacher of non-fiction for elementary school age readers, I wonder how authors determine where to place the context clues that will get the reader to work on tricky vocabulary and not set the book aside? Some our young students don’t have the stamina to keep reading,even with great starts and endings,and many wonderful books may be set aside because they are frustrated by terminology, vocabulary and passages that are not supported. I feel that many children lack the background knowledge needed to work through these problem and many authors assume the reader knows something that wasn’t stated clearly. Your reading audience has to infer meaning (slow down) and then peak interest allows for faster page turning(speeding up because they are monitoring what they understand).

  7. candice ransom says:

    I’m in, too. I’m not sure which book I’ll discuss–my first nonfiction picture book that is being illustrated right now, a book that is finished but not yet accepted (see that “yet”–I still have hope!), or a brand-new project.

  8. candice ransom says:

    I forgot to include my contact info if you’d like me in your experiment: or

  9. Nancy I. Sanders says:

    Hi Marc, I just landed a new royalty-based book contract for a book on American history with Chicago Review Press. I’ll be starting to work on it in Feb and my deadline is Dec 15. Lots of primary sources, lots of getting permissions for 50 pieces of art to include, lots of new research for me. A lot of the process will be new to me as I’ll be plugged into a series I’ve never yet written for. If you’re interested in having me on board in your discussions, let me know at

  10. Melissa Stewart says:

    Dear Mr. Aronson, I’d like to discuss how a conversation I overheard in a school lunchroom determined the format/organization of my book A Place for Butterflies. It shows the importance of understanding teachers’ needs as we develop nonfiction projects. Please let me know if this interests you.