There is a future for non-fiction – and it can be a profitable, challenging and interesting genre. But, it seems, mainly in the United States rather than this side of the Atlantic.
That was Nibweb member Lionel Bender’s message to the Society of Authors’s Educational Writers Group Spring Seminar on 6 May. (See ‘Meet us’ for more about Lionel.) He advised members to ‘try to get into the US market’ – where more money is invested in books and writers, and where more value is placed on non-fiction and non-fiction authors.
Lionel believes that an important reason for this is the Common Core State Standards Initiative, adopted by many states. This stipulates that younger children’s reading should be 50 per cent non-fiction, rising to 75 per cent to older students. The demand this creates is met by publishers with a whole range of different forms of non-fiction – including magazines, picture books, ‘chapter books’, readers and much more. The result is a greater availability and appreciation of non-fiction and non-fiction writers in the US.
By contrast, the National Curriculum in the UK gives little attention to non-fiction, while the decline in school and public libraries has led to fewer non-fiction books being published. A downward pressure on print-runs results in less money to spend on illustration and on authors – making it harder to create innovative, exciting and interesting books.
Lionel also pointed out that the media rarely covers children’s non-fiction, and with such a low profile, there is little demand for it, meaning that few bookshops, or even wholesalers, handle it. In this way, a downward drift continues.
Is it time for a re-think of children’s non-fiction? If it can be exciting and popular in the US, can’t it be enlivened in the UK?