The Teachers Digest’s Interview With Nancy I Sanders


Welcome to The Teachers Digest Interview Series, where we interview the authors and educational experts from around the world and share their valuable suggestions and tips with our readers.

This week we have Nancy I Sanders, the author of nearly 100 bestselling and award-winning children’s books like Frederick Douglass for Kids, America’s Black Founders: Revolutionary Heroes and Early Leaders with 21 Activities, Yes! You Can Learn How to Write Children’s Books, Get Them Published, and Build a Successful Writing Career and D is for Drinking Gourd: An African American Alphabet .

1. Tell us about yourself, your work and about your interests.Nancy

First of all, I just want to say that when I started out writing, I knew NOTHING about the world of getting published. I did everything wrong and got tons of rejection letters and had to learn step-by-step how to write for children and get my manuscripts submitted to publishers and get books published.

So if I can build a writing career after getting off to such a slow and poor start, I’m confident that anyone can! After 30 years of writing, I now have nearly 100 books published with publishers big and small as well as numerous magazine stories and articles. Writing is an everyday part of my life and it brings me great joy.

2. Writing is an important skill. However, it is an uphill task to get children to write. What tips would you recommend for teachers who want to motivate their students to write?

Give them something to write about. When my husband, Jeff, teaches writing to his fourth grade students, he first gives them an experience to write about. For one writing exercise, he gives each student a short piece of carrot. They nibble away the outer layer to reveal the root-like system inside. They’re so amazed about it! Then he instructs them to write about it. Another time, the students are served a variety of foods from pioneer recipes to taste. Then they are instructed to write about it. Both times, the students are highly motivated and eager to write.

Nobody likes to stare at a blank page and be told to write. As teachers, it’s important to give students something to write about. That’s the method I also guide homeschooling parents and teachers to use when I wrote the writing curriculum for elementary grades, WriteShop Primary and WriteShop Junior.

Nancy-23. You have published a vast number of books under many different genres. How are you so productive?

I developed a method of writing that I call the Triple Crown of Success. Using this method, I try to work on 3 different manuscripts each week: one for the goal of getting published, one for the goal of earning income, and one for the goal of personal fulfillment. The strategies I use to accomplish each different goal are:

For the goal of getting published, I write and submit to the No-pay/Low-pay markets such as magazines that pay in copies rather than money. I gain experience writing and also build published credits quickly.

For the goal of earning income, I study a publisher’s catalog, look for holes in their catalog that I could write for (such as a book on sharks in a series of books on ocean animals), then submit a query letter asking if the publisher would like to see a proposal on that topic to fit into their product line. I try to land a contract before I write a book.Untitled-2

For the goal of personal fulfillment, I write anything I feel like writing and submit it wherever I want.

4. You’ve written plenty of books which can be used within the classroom for learning activities. How did you come up with a variety of these activities?

Part of the ideas for these activities came from having a husband who is a teacher in a public school. He has lots of creative ideas that I’ve used. Plus when I visit his school I see many other ideas teachers are using. Also, when my kids went through school I found a lot of ideas from the projects they worked on and subjects they studied. I also look through lots of teacher’s books and magazines for even more ideas. Over the years I have kept files of ideas that I like.

For my book that is a bestseller with Scholastic Teaching Resources, however, I based this idea on these simple reproducible mini-books that teach kids how to read on my own experiences helping our two sons learn to read. There was nothing out there quite like this, so I created a simple game to play with them to learn how to read basic words. This was the basis for my book, 25 Read and Write Mini-Books That Teach Word Families and the other two in the series: 25 Read and Write Mini-Books That Teach Phonics and 26 Read and Write Mini-Books Beginning Sounds From A – Z.

5.  You’ve mentioned that one of your favourite topics to write about is African-American History.  We know that positive representation of culture and races in media is important for children. What is it that interests you about African-American history?

I love sharing inspirational stories of hope with young children about the many important individuals and groups who helped build America. So many of these stories weren’t taught to students until they reached high school or even college. My passion hasNancy-4 been to bring these amazing stories to even the youngest children so they can have heroes to learn about and follow in their footsteps.

One of my favorite heroes is Frederick Douglass. My husband and I had the unique opportunity to take a 2-week research trip where we traced his footsteps from his birthplace to where he escaped from slavery to where he had his first job as a fugitive and to where he lived when he became a famous statesman working for Presidents of the United States. We took a lot of photographs of each site and were able to use them in my book, Frederick Douglass for Kids. For a free teacher’s guide, visit the book’s website.

6. Your book D is for Drinking Gourd: An African American Alphabet – Winner of NAPPA Honors Award 2007 and Best Books 2007 Award for Children’s Nonfiction, has won a lot of praises for its portrayal of African-American history. Can you share your experiences while writing this book?

I had done a lot of research at local universities and colleges. I searched through their bookshelves and found many volumes of stories of amazing men and women and how they influenced the building of America. I realized that since I was a children’s writer, I needed to write their stories for young children to learn.

Nancy-5The way I got this book published was as follows:

  • I read in a writing magazine that the editor at Sleeping Bear Press was looking for submissions.
  • I looked at their publishing catalog and saw that they had a series of alphabet books about different cultures but now one yet about African Americans.
  • I e-mailed a very short query letter to them asking if they’d be interested in seeing a proposal on an alphabet book about African American history.
  • They said yes. I prepared the proposal, submitted it to them, and they offered me a contract to write the book.

7. You’ve received glowing reviews for Yes! You Can Learn How to Write Children’s Books, Get Them Published, and Build a Successful Writing Career. What made you want to write this book?

So many writers get so many rejections and also get very discouraged trying to get published. I wanted to share some of the strategies that have worked for me to get published with the hopes that others can, too.Nancy-6

I have led various critique groups and writer’s groups over the years and I have a heart for writers. My hope is that each writer can experience personal success in building a writing career. I have heard from so many people saying this book has really helped them land contracts like nothing else has. That brings me a lot of personal fulfillment!

8. Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?

Read lots of books in the genre you write for. Explore lots of publisher’s websites in the genre you write for. Look for holes in publisher’s book catalogs where you say, “I think I could write a book on such and such a topic they haven’t yet published that would fit into their product line.” Then send them a short query asking if they’d like you to submit a proposal to them for that idea. While you’re doing that and trying to land a book contract, write and submit lots and lots of stories and articles to small magazines to gain experience writing and getting published.

10. What were some of the most surprising things you’ve learnt about yourself and in general while writing your books?

I was very surprised to learn that I can write stories that teach children how to read. I’ve had so much success with this that I decided to write a book to help other writers write for this genre and for this market. It’s called Yes! You Can Learn How to Write Beginning Readers and Chapter Books. You can visit its website at

Nancy-7That’s why I encourage other writers to explore different genre and different markets. You just don’t know what you might be good at or what might interest you until you try.

12. How hard is it to establish and maintain a career in writing?

At one level, it is very hard. Many people do not experience success at establishing and maintaining a writing career.

At another level, however, it is just like any other career. If you want to be a lawyer or a teacher or a business manager, you have to go to school for years and learn the skills to get qualified to work in your profession. Then you have to go job hunting and find a job. Then you have to get out of bed every morning and go to work for hours each day to earn your living.

It’s the same with the career of writing. If you want to be a writer, it can take years to learn the skills to be a successful writer. Then you have to learn how to submit manuscripts and land contracts. Then you have to get out of bed every morning and work for hours each day to earn your living. There’s nothing wrong with viewing writing as a hobby, but it won’t give you a successful career as a writer.

13. Would you like to share something about your upcoming projects?

I have a new set of books coming out Spring, 2015. They are 10 little books in a boxed set and are called Bible Favorites (One Sentence Storybooks). Each little book features one Bible story and is written in a format to help young children learn how to read. Teachers and parents alike can read these with children to help them on their way to success in reading.

Following that I have a picture book that will be coming out about pirates in the Fall of 2015! I’m so excited about this new book and can hardly wait to let people know about it. (It’s still too early to get any news out.) But I’m on the lookout for pirate gear and have part of my office decorated with a pirate theme as we go into production with the book.

14. Is there anything else you would like to add that I haven’t included?

I love to connect with writers, parents, and teachers! Here’s where you can find me on the Internet:

My websitemy blogFacebook , Twitter , Pinterest

Thank you so much for the interview Nancy! We hope our readers find this interview both enjoyable and informative. Watch this space for our upcoming interviews!


About Author

Rohia is an aspiring writer, who once upon a time used to be an engineer, until she decided to follow her true passion, writing. She enjoys playing piano, listening to music and singing too.


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