WMBTSD Giveaway Day Sixteen: September 16, 2007

Did you know that the majority of the books published are nonfiction books?

Did you further know that the majority of nonfiction books are written by first-time authors?

Before you get too far along in your book concept process, you’ll want to read this book and allow it to inform your thinking.

You definitely don’t want to write the whole book, if you’re interested in nonfiction. Much more practical to write and sell the book proposal.

How to Write a Book ProposalSeptember 16th: How to Write a Book Proposal by Michael Larson (Writer’s Digest Books 2007).

This newly revised edition of the Writer’s Digest classic is the definitive resource for crafting effective book proposals. Michael Larsen details every step clearly and concisely.

Readers will learn how to:

* Test market the potential of a book idea and effectively communicate that potentail in a proposal

* Choose the best editors and publishers for a particular proposal

* Create a professional-looking proposal package

* Predispose a publisher to make their best offer

Larsen also provides insights into recent changes in the publishing industry, updated trend information, new sample proposals, expanded instructions for creating outlines, plus guidelines for becoming an effective self promoter.

About the Author
Michael Larsen is co-owner of the Michael Larsen/Elizabeth Pomada Literary Agency, which has been representing top fiction and nonfiction authors since 1972. He is the co-author of Guerrilla Marketing for Writers. Larsen frequently speaks at the country’s top writers conferences. He lives in San Francisco, California.




Here’s today’s question:

What’s your sensibility about writing nonfiction books? Do you have any biases or judgments about writing marketable nonfiction? Do you feel like writing a nonfiction book would diminish you from the ranks of “real writers”? Might it make sense, for your career, to write across multiple genres, including nonfiction? I’m curious to hear your opinions on this topic. 50-300 words please.


19 Responses to “WMBTSD Giveaway Day Sixteen: September 16, 2007”

  1. 1 dawn September 16, 2007 at 5:21 am

    I swear I’m not commenting just ‘cuz I lost the other one!

    I only write nonfiction and I’m working on a nonfiction book proposal. I feel like I’m very much a real writer. But I understand that people think writing stories is somehow more real writerly than writing essays although I think that the people who feel that way aren’t usually hard core writers or hard core readers. I mean, most serious reader/writers wouldn’t argue that Tracy Kidder or Annie Dillard aren’t real writers. And most of us know that Dorothy Parker’s reviews were often better than her short stories. And then the sad fact is that it’s a lot easier to be a working (i.e., paid) writer if you’ve got some nonfiction chops. So that’s something, too.

  2. 2 Beth K. Vogt September 16, 2007 at 5:44 am

    At a writers conference several years ago, someone asked me what I wrote. When I told him I was a freelancer who wrote magazine and newspaper articles, he said, “Oh, you’re not a real writer.”
    I was stunned. I wanted to say, “Am I a pretend writer? What I’m doing feels like real writing.”
    I guess becauase I wasn’t a book author, according to this guy, I wasn’t a real writer.
    Well, now I have a my first book published–and it’s a nonfiction book about late-in-life motherhood. And here comes your interesting question: Do you feel like writing a nonfiction book would diminish you from the ranks of “real writers”?
    No. Not a bit. Nope.
    It was real writing all the way–from proposal to final draft to editing my galleys.
    Words are words whether they are wrapped in a magazine cover or the cover of a novel or a nonfiction book–and I love my book’s cover, by the way!

    I love hanging out with my fiction writing friends–and they seem okay to hang out with me. So, I don’t think I’m “diminishing” them–or vice versa–in any way!

  3. 3 Meryl K. Evans September 16, 2007 at 6:18 am

    I just published my first book and received copies of it last week. It’s a nonfiction book about using Outlook 2007. While it doesn’t sound exciting and is limited to only those who have the software AND want a reference — it’s a great way to get that first book done.

    Regardless, I’m a nonfiction writer. Got little talent for fiction writing. I like being the messenger — the person who brings useful information to readers. I don’t feel less of a writer because I have no goals of writing the average American novel. A children’s book — maybe — a novel, unlikely.

  4. 4 Elizabeth September 16, 2007 at 6:44 am

    I know that a lot of people have an affinity for either fiction or nonfiction, even as readers; some of my friends never read nonfiction, for example. I like both, and would like to write both. Would that make me less of a “real” writer? I don’t think so. Does it makes sense in terms of a career? I’ve had a lot of “careers,” and at this time of my life, a couple more couldn’t possibly hurt!

  5. 5 Kathy September 16, 2007 at 6:50 am

    Here I go, “outing” myself again but…most of my book buying budget is spent on non-fiction books. I love them, need them and use them. When I’ve read a good non-fiction book– be it “creative non-fiction” (Eat, Pray, Love), or something for my other career (Using the MBTI for Career Development),– it’s like I’ve spent time not just learning something about writing but I’ve also learned things that will benefit my clients, my students and my audience.

    I believe there is a tremendous value in non-fiction in that it carries the potential to connect people in a way that is most different from fiction. Non-fiction can inspire people in much the same way fiction can (The Tipping Point) but it also has a little “bonus” within it’s genre that wispers “And this is all real” or “You can do it too!” (Writer Mama)

    I know enough not to make a statement about the qualifications of the fiction writer verses the non-fiction writer. We all know that some fictin writers go through hell to get their information correct for a book (Jody Piccault) and some non-fiction writers go through the hell and still find themselves embellishing (A Thousand Little Pieces). But are they differently qualified, usually. Am I expecting some sort of “qualification” of experience or expertise from the non-fictin writer? Absolutely. Whether that is academic or experiential, the non-fiction writer, I feel, owes me that.

    Either way, credibility counts and it will become clear one way or another.

  6. 6 Laural Ringler September 16, 2007 at 7:41 am

    I started a novel when my kids were one and three (entirely during afternoon naptime). It took years to finish (they stopped napping!), and now sits unpublished in a three-ring notebook. When a friend talked me into taking Christina’s non-fiction class, I began writing articles, and the writing and publication cycle was so much more immediate that I was hooked.

    Now I can even imagine a non-fiction book in my future, have ideas, and need to learn how to start down the road of making that happen. Could I have imagined myself here 10 years ago? Nope, I thought nonfiction wasn’t very creative, that it was a boring assemblage of facts process. I was wrong – nonfiction feels good.

  7. 7 Andrea McMann September 16, 2007 at 7:41 am

    I defintely don’t think that those who write nonfiction books aren’t “real writers.” I think they work just as hard (or possibly harder) than fiction writers. I think that writing both fiction and nonfiction could add depth to a writer’s career. Maybe those who allow themselves to write in more than one genre have less chance of facing the dreaded writer’s block. At this point in my writing career, I can’t quite imagine writing a nonfiction book. I just don’t know if I have it in me. Maybe “How To Write a Book Proposal” could enlighten me.

  8. 8 Heather Haapoja September 16, 2007 at 10:01 am

    I have the same hesitancy about writing non-fiction books as I have with specializing. I lack confidence that I could know enough about any subject to write an entire book on it. Of course, I realize that’s where research comes in, but it is a stumbling block nevertheless. I also have a very hard time settling on just one topic from the countless possibilities. There’s a strong tendency to jump from one idea to the next and never really get started. (One of those charming Aquarian characteristics! lol)

    I would love to find my focus, though, and take a chance in children’s book publishing with a non-fiction book. Though I love fiction (both reading and writing) I know that the non-fiction route is the best way to break in, and with good reason. Over the past few years of my son’s elementary education, nine times out of ten, he’ll bring home a non-fiction book on library day — this week’s selection, “Salamanders,” by Charlene W. Billings. Kids want to know things, and I have the ability to help them learn and make it a fun journey at the same time. What could be diminishing about that? ;o)

  9. 9 Susan Flemming September 16, 2007 at 11:16 am

    So much emphasis today is being placed on branding yourself as a writer. And while I do understand the economic and marketing sense behind this, I often feel frustrated that writers are encouraged to pigeon hole themselves in this way.

    I enjoy writing both fiction and non-fiction and could definitely see myself writing a non-fiction book sometime in the future. I have, in fact, been exploring the idea of writing some e-books and making them available on my website for download.

  10. 10 Rose September 16, 2007 at 11:43 am

    A good writer can make earwax interesting. I love reading good writing no matter whether it is real or semi real or sureal. I would put equal odds on a fiction writer and a nonfiction writer in a cage match.

    When I took design courses in college, I lamented that I wasn’t a real artist. Which mostly meant that I needed to take up smoking and try something more experimental like crostiching condoms. I was a writer too, but not a real writer. I wrote for the paper. But I didn’t own a beret. And I didn’t smoke enough. I had these romantic ideas about what a writer was, but then I realized the profound truth that a real writer is someone who really writes. I was more enamored by the Parisian backdrop and imaginary soundtrack.

    So now I write. I’d like to write a nonfiction book some day. But I don’t have romantic notions about publication. I was over at a friends house after she had just received her first nonfiction book back from the press. She had boxes of books scattered around her office and while we admired the cover art, her 4 year old son started taking them out and building some kind of a fort or car ramp with them. Kids keep us humble.

  11. 11 Karrie September 16, 2007 at 12:44 pm

    Wow. It’s intriguing that someone would say a nonfiction writer isn’t a “real writer.” That comment would cause me to list all the works of amazing “real writers” like war correspondents and Chekov who didn’t get into lengthy books. But that would be defensive and not really answering the question. So I will just imagine that the person who said that must lack confidence in him/herself.

    For myself, I am a little like Laural. I leaned heavily toward fiction earlier in my life and thought all nonfiction was as interesting as watching bowling on TV. My son helped me to see the light because he has always been attracted to nonfiction. As I read about snakes and reptiles with him, I began to see the beauty in nonfiction and how, as Rose said, “A good writer can make earwax interesting.”

    Don’t get me wrong. I long to write fiction and poetry, too. It’s just that right now and in this space of my life, nonficiton is the thing for me. I certainly never would have guessed it. But there are a lot of things in life that I never saw coming. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

  12. 12 Linda Harris September 16, 2007 at 1:39 pm

    How to Write a Book Proposal became my blueprint for writing my book proposal. I checked out a copy from the library and pored over it until the proposal was done. I’d sure love to own a copy. It’s the best book I could find on the subject. It became one of my Wise Guides–from Heather Sellers’ book, Chapter After Chapter. (By the way, in an earlier post, I called her Heather Sells, who is a completely different person.)

    Nonfiction is all I write. However, my book has elements of fiction in it (in the form of an allegory). I really don’t think there has to be such a dichotomy between fiction and nonfiction. Both can inform and inspire. What makes fiction writers more “real” than nonfiction writers?

    Beth Vogt (see above, the one who led me to this site) and I have a friend, Scoti, in our critique group, Inkspired. She can’t seem to remember the difference between fiction and nonfiction. When she’s speaking in front of our writers’ meeting (Springs Writers), I have to prompt her. What would happen if we would all forget that there’s a difference?

  13. 13 Darren Lipman September 16, 2007 at 2:15 pm

    I have no judgements about marketable nonfiction: Although I primarily write fiction and have little desire to write otherwise, nonfiction is as important to me as fiction is: Without nonfiction, everything I know about writing and the publishing industry would be gone. Without nonfiction, years of schooling would have been spent looking at blank pages. Without nonfictions, my desire to learn would be met with an empty page and sideways glances.

    I am a fiction writer. But in no way do I hold fiction superior to nonfiction. In fact, I feel they are equal, but different. When I wish to learn, I read nonfiction. When I wish to experience, I read fiction. And in the case of creative nonfiction, I can experience the best of both worlds simultaneously with much pleasure and learning. But with only one, my life would be incomplete: It takes two to see the world clearly.

  14. 14 Lorie September 16, 2007 at 3:15 pm

    I have no bias against writing a non-fiction book because since I’ve started freelancing, I’ve always thought if I end up writing a book, it will be non-fiction. I just don’t feel like I have a gift for creating characters and stories. If I ever reach that point, I will be proud of my accomplishment.

    However, I have a friend in a Ph.D program in creative writing, and sometimes I feel like, between the two of us, she’s the “real” writer. I think it’s similar to the feelings Rose mentioned above. What she does fits the stereotypical image while I’m writing about subjects like online auctions.

  15. 15 Donna B. September 16, 2007 at 5:39 pm

    Thanks, Karrie, for alerting me to this awesome Web site, blog and contest! Regarding today’s comment related to the Larson book, this is exciting news as I am developing my non-fiction book as we speak (and I would definitely be a first-time author)! I also have a book proposal but started getting panicky. What if an agent or publisher liked it and said, “Okay, send me your first three chapters.” Yikes! I’m not ready to respond. So I decided I needed to get some more meat on my bones before I could realistically send out any more proposals. And in response to today’s question, I’d have to say that anyone who doesn’t realize the craft that goes into writing a creative non-fiction book (or articles, essays, blogs, memoirs, columns, etc.) doesn’t really “get” what having a passion for writing is really about. Write on, all you Mamas!

  16. 16 Tricia Grissom September 16, 2007 at 6:34 pm

    I write mainly non-fiction, and that’s where my success has been so far. I have a non-fiction book proposal I’m ready to send out, but I got side-tracked with my fiction book, so I haven’t done anything with it.

    Most of the writing groups I belong to focus on fiction, and that used to frustrate me a bit. But it’s been getting better. The new contests they’ve posted recently have categories for non-fiction article and essay. I think essays are becoming more widely accepted because of the non-fiction nature of the internet. More people are writing essays, so more people are reading them.

  17. 17 Cath September 16, 2007 at 8:00 pm

    A writer is a writer is a writer.

    I write in both the fiction and non-fiction worlds, and the more I write, the more I learn about myself as a writer. And the more I tune into what appeals to me, as a writer.

    I thought I wanted to write a mystery for adults, but I kept writing children’s stories before I got through the first chapter of the mystery. I thought non-fiction would be boring until I started writing creative non-fiction and selling it.

    And then I noticed something else about my writing. My essays are better organized because of my plotting skills. And my fiction’s improved because of the regular practice of essay-writing!

    A writer, whether non-fiction or fiction, is still all about the writing. It’s as simple (and real) as that.

  18. 18 Abbey September 16, 2007 at 9:01 pm

    I write non-fiction newspaper and magazine articles. If I ever write a book (which seems very overwhelming at this point in my very brief career!), it will be non-fiction. I don’t think I have it in me to write fiction — not enough patience or creativity.

    That said, I still feel like a “real” writer. I write stories, bringing information and satisfaction to my readers. There are so many different genres in writing – I believe they are all equally important and should be equally respected.

  19. 19 Lisa B September 17, 2007 at 8:56 am

    I am totally leaning towards writing non-fiction. I love the tech world (yes, I’m addicted to my laptop) — and I love helping others understand how to use technology to improve their lives not to ruin them. I am fascinated at the prospect of writing fiction. I guess that fascination comes from the thought that I couldn’t do it — just make up stuff. Perhaps it would get me out of the mold I stick myself in.

    Regardless, it seems very overwhelming to write a whole book. I’m just trying to concentrate on articles 🙂 But I have a feeling writing a book proposal would be something I’d like to do one day.

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