Archive for January, 2012


Stretching Your Research   copyright 2012 by Sherry Garland

Before I became an author, my concept of the profession was banging on a typewriter creating stories out of my head. When I actually started writing seriously, I discovered that no matter what the subject of the book, from historical novels to picture books about kittens, I had to do research.

I enjoy research; in fact, sometimes I like it better than the actual writing, but I’m the first to admit that it takes a lot of time and effort to do a thorough job. Just when you think you are finished and will never have to step inside the 900 section of the library again, in the middle of a thrilling scene, you realize you don’t know how men held up their pants in 1776. So back to the library you go.

I’m a waste-not-want-not kinda gal, so after I’ve spent many months on researching a specific topic I always look for ways to write several projects on the same topic. Since most book contracts have a “conflicting work” clause that prevents you from selling a similar book to another publisher, you have to find creative ways to make each project different and non-conflicting.

My first bit of advice: when you sign the contract, make the description of your book in the “non-conflicting” clause as specific as possible. For example, let’s say you sold a fictional picture book about Texas cattle trails to a publisher. The conflict clause will be very generic, saying you can’t write a book on that topic for another publisher. However, if you change the description of your work to “fictional picture book on Texas cattle trails,”  that still allows you to write a non-fiction book or novels on the same topic without breaking the clause.

Here are several other ways to create books that don’t conflict:

1) Fiction vs. non-fiction:   Most publishers consider these non-conflicting.

2) Different age levels:  Picture book, an early reader, a MG novel, a YA novel, an adult book — all non-conflicting.

3) Book vs. magazine:  A magazine article or story does not conflict with your published book.

4) Different tone (humor vs. serious): One year I had two picture books about Vietnam released at the same time by different publishers. One was a humorous folk tale with lighthearted watercolor illustrations. The other was a serious work with somber oil paintings. Each editor knew about the other and both agreed there was no conflict.

5) Boy vs. girl: A chick-lit YA novel about a girl visiting the Galveston seashore on Spring break would not conflict with a YA novel about the son of a poor shrimper living on Galveston island.

6) Different time period: A modern day novel set in Gonzales, TX would not conflict with a novel set in Gonzales, during the Texas Revolution in 1836.

To give an example of how this works, I have seven published books about Vietnam: 1 non-fiction; 3 picture books; 1 folk tale collection; 2 YA novels, plus 2 magazine stories. Several of these also appeared in textbooks. I have six books about Texas history and three books on American Indians. Non of these created problems with the “conflicting work” clause.

So, remember, when you are finished delving into those dusty tomes, don’t throw your research materials away. Get busy writing on book number two!


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