An agent once told me that a good way to break into the [tough] picture book market is to write a non-fiction title. Today Sabbithry Persad drops by to tell us about how she not only broke into publishing, but how she’s thriving with a non-fiction series she self-publishes and markets to the education market. Stick around to learn about the process and rewards of non-fiction writing for children! And if you have a question for Sabbithry, please leave a comment for her.

Sabbithry, where was the idea for Garbology born?

The idea for the book came about around 2008 after reading an article on the world’s waste problem. At that time, we were already trying to bring environmental solutions to adults through our online magazine (Green Solutions Magazine) and thought it would be great to do something for children, so I wrote a story for my niece and nephew that evening. It wasn’t until a year or so later when I learned about Dr. William Rathje, an archeologist who formulated the science of Garbology some 38 years before, that the idea came to life. When I read up on Dr. Rathje’s work studying refuse of modern society (versus the study of refuse from past societies), it made sense to call the series “Garbology Kids™,” recognizing and honoring Dr. Rathje and his work.

How did you research publishers?

At first, I initially wrote the book and sent it out to several publishers, who I found in my locale through publishing associations. Of course, like everyone else, once I sent out the manuscript, it took a very long time (more than six months) to receive the first four or five rejection letters back, which had been somewhat discouraging, too (smiles), but I kept at it and went in an untraditional direction (which, with the changing publishing industry, is proving not so untraditional anymore). I eventually started my own publishing company for the magazine I founded and decided to publish the book under it. I look at it as a curve ball that turned into a rewarding passion (laughs). And after two years, I’m now looking back on all the work I’ve put in and feeling that it was all worth it.

Did you illustrate the book yourself or hire an illustrator?

Although I would have loved to have the time to illustrate the book myself (I’ve been drawing for as long as I can remember), I took the traditional route and found a couple of illustrators to help. I did spend a great deal of time looking around (locally, on the Internet, through agencies, etc), and had to go through several illustrators before finding a look that seemed to fit the book. For the final look two independent illustrators contributed, the first person I came across while doing a simple search on the Internet, and the second person I happened upon accidentally through someone I bumped into at the local public library.

How have you been marketing the series? Did you tie it into school curriculum or do anything else to appeal specifically to teachers and educators?

Before I started editing the book, I knew right away I wanted it to be an educational tool. So during the writing process, I kept in line with several environmental education guidelines for both Canada and the US, which were what schools followed. Once the writing was done and I felt that the book was ready factually, I passed it by several experts in the industry to make sure that the information was accurate and met with varying experiences and perspectives, not just in North America, but also from the UK, Germany and Australia.

What are the specific challenges of selling to the school/education market?

I think the first thing one needs to think about before selling anything is producing a good product. In the case of my book, that meant relevant material for children, parents and teachers (and anyone else interested in the topic). Most of my time and energy was spent writing, editing, rewriting, researching, verifying and fact checking the information to be included. In addition to that, and as I mentioned in the previous question, following educational guidelines was also important. I think once all of these things are done, many of the challenges would be met, but the work does not stop there. There are other things like introducing the book to teachers, parents and children to see if all that you’ve done appeals to them. At the same time, the book also has to appeal to the publishing industry professionals, since they are a big voice that determines whether or not your book is worth introducing to the school/education market via their vehicles. Other challenges include getting approvals from individual school organizations and, of course, marketing to the school/education market in the way they are accustomed. However, all in all, as I mentioned above, if one takes time to produce a good product in the beginning, much of the other challenges become a little less daunting, although they still remain very challenging if it’s not one’s daily role.

What are your future plans for the Garbology Kids™ series?

Currently, I’m focused on taking one book at a time. It’s been about six months since I finished the first book and now I’m concentrating on the second one, which will keep me occupied for the summer months. I’m expecting to create six more books after that.

What do you hope kids will take away from the series?

There are many things that I hope that children would take away from the series. Some things I’d like to see children take away:

  • An understanding about recycling as an option for diverting waste from landfills
  • An understanding about the process and benefits of the recycling option
  • Learning about environmental activities in their local community
  • Participating in school and other community activities that keep their community clean
  • Respecting and learning from their parents and other role models in the community
  • Questioning more about the things they see (or don’t see) in their community

Sabbithry Persad is the creator of Garbology Kids™ and author of Where Do Recyclable Materials Go?  She is the founder and executive managing editor of Green Solutions Magazine and a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. She lives in Toronto.

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