[Note: I’m still thinking things through for the Writing for Children class on nonfiction.]

One of the first things you’Â’ll want to do in your research on a topic is see what other books are already out there on the same subject –– not just to aid in your fact-finding, but also so that you’Â’ll be aware of potentially competing works.

Amazon.com’Â’s book search is the best tool I know of for finding books for either purpose –– especially for the latter, since it allows you to narrow your search to books for young readers (by selecting a particular Reader Age, or including ““juvenile”” in the Subject field).

So what do you do if you find that there already is a children’Â’s book on a subject you’Â’d like to write about? Take Thomas Edison, for instance. A subject search for “thomas edison juvenile nonfiction”” turns up 45 books as of this morning. You wanted to write about Edison, but now the competition looks pretty stiff.

Some things to keep in mind:

  • Don’Â’t be scared off by mere numbers. The fact that there are so many books on a subject (““earthquakes juvenile nonfiction”” yields 340 results) suggests that there’Â’s a long-term interest in that topic among publishers and book buyers. (Of course, the converse is true, too –– if nothing’Â’s been published on a topic, you don’Â’t have to worry about it having been being done to death, and you’Â’ll have a fresh subject to pitch to editors.)
  • Not all books are like the one you’Â’d like to write. Books get written for different age groups –– how many are there for the group that you want to reach? Books get published for different markets –– are you thinking about a short, inexpensive paperback that might fit into a series, or a lavish hardback with extensive illustrations or photographs?
  • There’Â’s something to be said for a new book. Libraries need new books to replace their worn-out editions of yore, or just to keep up with current knowledge on a topic. Case in point: On both counts, Star Wars C-3PO’s Book About Robots, published in 1983, should probably be replaced on the nonfiction shelves of my local library.
  • Everybody’Â’s got an angle. With Edison, a writer can tell a straightforward life’Â’s story. He can focus on a particular aspect of his life –– how he invented the light bulb or the phonograph, or burned down the family barn when he was a kid, or once stuffed 45 cocktail shrimp into his cheeks at one time. (I haven’t thoroughly researched Edison, so this might not all be accurate.) You may not know what your angle is at the outset, but once you know which ones have already been covered, you can keep your eyes open for one that nobody has done.

There’Â’s always a chance that the exact book that you want to write –– same age group, same format, same focus –– got published just last year, has been well reviewed and is a big seller. In that case, back to your idea file