I have to admit, I’ve been rather neglectful of one section of the writing community since I’ve doing this column – non-fiction writers.
As a genre, ‘Non-Fiction’ throws a net over a wide variety of books – biography, history, cookery, home-improvements and of course the ever-popular How-To-be-a-better-whatever range, be it writer, mother, gardener or kick-boxer.
Most non-fiction writers differ from their fiction-writing colleagues in that they normally have the subject rolling around in their heads long before they think to put it in a book. The very fact that they love horse-riding/Elizabethan-Houses-Of-Ireland or contemporary-light-fixtures is what makes them want to write about it in the first place.
There are also some non-fiction writers who want to make a living out of writing and will acquaint themselves with and write about a subject that is ever-popular, topical or one they just reckon will sell.
Whichever of these two categories of writer you fall into, you should have a look at Glen Strathy’s website, where he talks about the many elements of writing non-fiction and tells us the key to writing good non-fiction books.
One of the most important elements of writing non-fiction is, of course, research. If you’re someone who lives and loves your subject, you might have less to do than the writer who is writing for profit. But there will always be some research to be done. Anyone choosing to buy and read your book about Fish-Of-The-Amazon-River will assume, rightly so, that every piece of information in there is comprehensive, detailed and, above all else, accurate.
Dave Hood is a creative and technical writer and, on his ‘Find your Creative Muse’ website, he goes through the detail, opportunities and pitfalls of research.
If you’re thinking of writing something autobiographical, particularly relating to a specific event, you don’t necessarily have to write a fact-relaying memoir, if that isn’t your thing. There is also the option of writing a fictional piece, a novel or screenplay maybe, and incorporating your life experiences into it. WritersDigest.com guides us through deciding whether that life-changing experience or event should be written as a non-fiction memoir or a novel.
One of the other major differences between fiction and non-fiction writing is how we sell it to the publishing industry. Whereas with fiction we might send a query, then chapters and finally a manuscript, the approach is different with non-fiction. And the key ingredient of selling a non-fiction book is the Book Proposal. This is a detailed document in which we describe what our book is about, why the subject is worthy of being written about, how this book is different than others on the same subject, how it has been researched – which in itself might be a unique selling-point – and, of course, why you, above anyone else, are the right person to write that book.
Writer and former publisher at Writers’ Digest Jane Friedman goes into great detail in describing how to write a book proposal.
And for a slightly different take on it, literary agent Mary Rusoff, who represents many successful non-fiction writers, gives us a no-frills guide to creating the book-proposal that will sell your book.
So there you go, non-fiction writers, hope you feel less unloved.
“What I like about non-fiction is that it covers such a huge territory. The best non-fiction is also creative.” – Tracy Kidder
The whats, hows and whys.
Glen Strathy gives us the low-down on writing non-fiction.
“The key to writing nonfiction worthy of being published is connecting with a particular audience by offering them what they are looking for.”
The Devil’s in the Detail.
Writer Dave Hood’s guide to research.
“Research is one of the Five R’s of creative nonfiction, one of the essential components of writing personal essays, memoirs, and literary journalism.”
Memoir or Novel, that is the question.
Writers’ Digest give us 10 ways to help us decide how we tell our story.
“You might have gone back and forth several times already, globally changing the pronouns from “him” to “I” and back again.”
Write the Proposal, sell the book.
Literary agent Mary Rusoff’s and Writer Jane Friedman’s approaches to writing that book-selling Proposal.
“The proposal will generally open with a two-to three-page introduction. This is essentially an abstract, providing a thesis statement and delineating the concept of the book.”
“A book proposal argues why your book (idea) is a saleable, marketable product. It is essentially a business case or a business plan for your book.”