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Nonfiction Matters
Inside Nonfiction Matters

The Lay of the Land

What Is the Landscape of Nonfiction for Younger Readers Today?

The tsunami that swept through the national economy has left wreckage all over our world. Every author — I can say with personal conviction — has lost trusted editors, publishers, managing editors, designers. The people we have worked with for years, and have come to trust to help us get our books write and bring them to the public, are scattered. Many lost their jobs. Some changed houses. Others have re-invented themselves as literary agents or freelancers. And it is far from clear how well the publishers will work in their new stripped down configurations. So publishing — shaken.

School and library budgets, of course, have been slashed and we are only beginning to see what that means for those of us accustomed to supplementing our book income with school visits. I think that for at least the next year or so that whole income line in our personal budgets will shrivel if not disappear. Looking beyond our personal incomes, NCLB is still here. And, so far, Social Studies only comes up on tests in 4th and 8th grades, meaning that the relative value of content to skills is — for teachers, administrators, and thus kids — skewed entirely towards technique over knowledge. Budgets keep us out of schools while testing priorities may keep our books out of classrooms. So schools — difficult at best.

Then there is the whole matter of Google Books, ereaders, the Kindle — the seemingly inevitable move (not yet a shift but certainly a drift) away from print and towards screens. The problem being both that our books require perms (for text and art) that do not fit with digital requirements (who is going to pay for a right that brings in no clear income?), and that in the new environment in which ever more material is available online, no one has quite figured out what books and authors are supposed to provide. So epublishing — an uncertain challenge.

And yet — in all this shaking, all of this crashing of older systems, something is aborning. We authors, and experts, and editors, and designers, and teachers, and librarians, and digital technologists are beginning to see that we need each other, that we need to build something new. So the future — dimly promising.