Ever Thought of Writing Non-Fiction?

If you aspire to be a published writer yet find the path to becoming a novelist a tricky one, it is worth considering that there is much more non-fiction published than fiction. Manuals, educational books, guidebooks, popular science, hobbies, lifestyle, business and craft books fill the shelves of the bookshops. Narrative history, travel books, biographies and autobiographies can be big sellers. Academics must publish to be taken seriously, and many people in the public eye want to get their story down in writing. Much of the content of magazines and newspapers is also non-fiction, even if the odd detail is embellished to sell copy.

It is also to a certain extent easier to see your non-fiction work published, especially if it fills a gap in the market or tags on to an already popular theme. Publishers are taking less of a risk than with fiction as they will only take a non-fiction book if they know the niche it will fall into. They are not gambling on having to build an audience for an unknown author, as it will primarily be the subject that sells the book.

For the self-published author it is also a promising route, provided you have researched the market well and know where to position your book. You may be well placed to do this already; you would not attempt to write The Butterflies of Yorkshire without having a long-standing interest in butterflies and owning a shelf full of books already written about insects.

This is not to say that writing non-fiction is an easy option. It requires considerable research and preparation before you write a single word, possibly taking years. A novelist can, at least in theory, sit at the computer and start writing prose on day one. A successful novelist can follow up with a sequel, then a series but your non-fiction work may not have a sequel. You may indeed only have one book in you, if say butterflies are your life and you’ve rarely been out of Yorkshire. While a novel can take off and make good money with the help of a good agent and the right PR, the subject of your factual book may constrain the likely sales no matter how brilliant it is; there are only so many people interested in the butterflies of Yorkshire.

Non-fiction can be a slow seller, but also a steady seller. It rarely hits the shelves with the force of a blockbuster, but interest doesn’t die away after three months. Unless those butterflies go extinct, or someone writes a better book you can keep re-stocking Yorkshire bookshops for a decade. Once the book goes out of print it may only take a few tweaks of the text and a new cover to produce a second edition, whereas an up-to-the minute thriller doesn’t stay up-to-the minute for very long.

A quick glance at the bibliography page of my website will show that in addition to being a thriller writer I’ve written and edited archaeology textbooks, ‘popular’ books for the non-specialist reader, an art biography, as well as dozens of academic and magazine pieces. Over the next few months, I’ll be discussing various aspects of non-fiction writing based on this experience and hope you’ll follow the thread and share with your colleagues.

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2 thoughts on “Ever Thought of Writing Non-Fiction?

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  1. Great advice Jason.

    I’ve always wanted to be a writer, but unlike many do not have a natural gift for putting thoughts down on paper. However, I have produced (and Co-authored) lots of nonfiction.

    Now 73, I think I am ready to write more and have just self published a tiny children’s book for my grandson.

    I would be interested in your professional opinion. Are you interested in reading it.

    It is a photo story with sone text. A6 landscape designed to be read by an adult to a 4 year old child who already lived books.

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