Tag Archives: non-fiction writing

Non-Fiction Makes Money and Sense

Non-fiction can be both fun and profitable and November 2015’s posts showed us that and more.

Writing non-fiction, as Brent Nichols noted, can reunite us with our passion to write fiction. Brent also said other cool things like “And how would I communicate that thrill to my readers? By being specific.” For all his pearls of enthusiasm, check out Writing about Writing.

Others also revealed that non-fiction can teach us to be better fiction story tellers. But more about that later…

First, you need to know that yes, you can earn a living writing non-fiction.

Non-fiction to supplement fiction? It does happen and Colette Black shared her experience with finding a subject (which she was most enthusiastic about) and selling it. Collette sums it up best in her article, My Best Sale, when she says “… the numbers add up just fine.”

In Writing How-To’s for Fun and Profit, Guy Anthony de Marco showed us the fun in choosing non-fiction topics. As he said, everyone has something they like to do, and we all have some special knowledge to capitalize on. Guy has masterfully taken his hobbies and interests, even his grandmother’s old recipes, and has produced non-fiction books. Besides giving him a break from writing fiction, it has helped his bank account!

While Guy gave us great ideas on what kind of non-fiction books we could write, I provided some pointers on how to make sure you’ve got the perfect idea, about checking the market for what’s selling, and how to give the idea form. (See How to Write Non-Fiction Books for Profit) But the thing that Guy and I both stress, is that you’ve got to enjoy what you’re writing about. Again, that’s key in both fiction and non-fiction.

Ghost writing can be challenging, fun or frustrating. The challenge is that sometimes you’re dealing with sensitive subject matter, you need to portray the story to both the author’s and publisher’s satisfaction, and the deadlines may be tight. Yet, the results can be tremendous both for you and the person whose story is finally on the page. Evan Braun shared his ghost writing experiences with us in My Brief Career as a Ghost Writer.

In Writing for Magazines and Newspapers, Jace Killan shared a secret niche for non-fiction writing, and that’s newspapers, magazines and online articles. Oftentimes, these articles are used to supplement or give credibility to advertisements. Check it out.

Are you a mercenary or a freelance non-fiction writer? There is a difference. A mercenary writer is not a freelance writer. It involves writing for pay, no matter the subject. Do you want to be a mercenary writer or a freelancer? Check out Tereasa’s article, The Mercenary Writer, before you decide.

Get rid of fiction’s money woes! Apply for a grant.

Grants can be lucrative sources of funding and you’ll increase your chances of success if you apply the advice I provided in Grants – Money to Write. Grants are to be found on the local, regional, state/provincial and federal levels from governments, businesses or organizations. And, they can be used for research, for writing, for living, for retreats – the options are as varied as the sources. So, don’t be shy, seek them out because they’re there for both emerging and professional writers.

Of course you can write both fiction and non-fiction! You have the talent!

In Learning from Non-Fiction, Billie Milholland provided a valuable perspective on how fiction and non-fiction intermingle in her writing life and how they feed off each other. Writing non-fiction can be stimulating and rewarding and enhance a fiction career.

Still not convinced that you can write non-fiction?

Then reread Adria Laycraft’s article Fictional and Technical Writing – What’s the Difference? While fiction and non-fiction may seem to have very different goals, voice, and content, when it comes time to the actual writing, they’re really not that different. In either case, the writer must elicit the desired emotion from the reader, create a good structure of all the necessary key elements, research subjects thoroughly, and ensure proper word selection all to create the best possible content.

Rather than hiring a ghost writer to tell the family stories or to write the memoir, sometimes you just have to write the non-fiction stories. Follow Frank Morin’s advice – interview the grandparents, write their stories and you’ll give them the best Christmas present ever! Remember also that those personal stories, or some element of them, can inspire a new fiction. Check out How to Distract Grandma from Pestering you for More Grandkids.

Non-fiction is a necessary tool to further your fiction writing career.

Those conniving cover letters! You’ve spent months, even years perfecting that novel and your success in the market place hinges on how you introduce your book and yourself in a cover letter! Fear not! In The Art of the Cover Letter, Kristin Luna demystifies the cover letter by giving us a simple yet effective way to write one.

Oh dear blurb, how shall I blurt thee out? Mary Pletsch knows how! In Blurbs: Baiting Your Hook, Mary explains that a blurb is not a summary. It’s role is to make you read more and Mary’s points make it easy. That’s it for this blurb, go check out the blog if you want to know more!

Whether we write fiction or non-fiction, there is a certain syntax, a voice, we all have that makes our writing genuine. Kim May’s blog Finding Your Voice Through Blogging, reveals her path to finding her voice. Her observation that we write a million words to find our voice makes a lot of sense. As I heard it said, if we try to emulate someone else, then we’ll only ever be second best. Be yourself and you’ll always be number one!

As writers we live and die by the book review. How to tell a good review from a bad one? How to give a good one? A reader and receiver of book reviews, author Jeff Campbell shared what works and doesn’t when it comes to writing book reviews. Sometimes we have to give it and sometimes we have to take it – Batman style. For more on Batman read Batman, Boldness and Book Reviews.

Then, there’s the dreaded interview.

You’ll be interviewed, either in person or by phone or by email. You may even have to conduct one. Understanding the craft of the interview is an important but often over looked form of non-fiction so read An Interview on Interviewing where I interviewed Celeste A. Peters.

Interviewing someone who has conducted countless interviews was daunting but fun! Celeste’s and my greatest challenge was making sure we were on the same page. I had a goal and Celeste had a goal along with a wealth of information to share. That meant I had to do what all interviewers must: understand the subject matter to some degree: know something about Celeste’s work and trust that she’d do a smash up job (and she did); and ask questions that would be fun for her and interesting to readers.

And finally, we had a great example of using non-fiction to promote our fiction when Gregory D. Little, rocket scientist by day and author by night, launched his book Unwilling Souls. This book sounds good – I’ll have to check it out.

I hope you enjoyed non-fiction month and found our posts not only interesting but useful. Happy writing!

How Writing Non-Fiction Improves Your Fiction

20121014_134802This month we’ve been reading about story in non-fiction and how we can make money from it, and we’ve even got some tricks and tips to write non-fiction. So today, let’s do a something different.

Let’s apply a little of what we’ve learned so far.

First, read a piece of non-fiction. This can be a newspaper or magazine article on a subject or a news story, the blurb on a book’s back jacket, or an advertising article. Now, answer the following questions:

  • Do the first lines draw me in?
  • Is the article boring or interesting? What makes it so?
  • What is my emotional response to the article – happy, sad, excited, bored out of my skull, interested (want to read more)?
  • Is the conclusion satisfying?
  • Do the accompanying artwork and photographs enhance or detract the piece? How?
  • Is the title captivating? Informative? Does it have too much detail or not enough? Is it too long?

smokeyEvery article or story must capture the reader’s attention by creating interest. The title and first lines are critical as are any photographs or art work. This is no different in fiction. Title, first lines and book jacket artwork are what intrigues a potential reader to buy your book.

The hook, the ability to draw the reader in emotionally, whether to solve a problem, or tell a story as with news reporting, is what sells newspapers and magazines, gets people subscribe to blogs, read and reading information based advertising.

All the things we’ve talked about, the hook, the title, telling a good story, emotional impact – are story elements that are told without a strongly embellished plot, sometimes without a plot, sometimes without a protagonist (unless it’s an interview, memoir, or article about a specific person), without dialogue, without world building – without many things we use to create fiction, yet good non-fiction can captivate and move us just as much.

So now that we understand how the tactics of fiction and non-fiction writing are similar, let’s answer the question the title asked: How does non-fiction writing improve my fiction stories?

untitledNon-fiction can improve our fiction writing because through it we learn to tell a story about elements we normally take for granted in our world building. It increases our observational skills, our ability to impart aspects of life we may normally consider mundane in a way that is interesting. Making the ordinary interesting, finding the story in the non-fiction aspects of our worlds, all of this adds depth to our story and enhances our characters interactions with their world. Non-fiction also teaches us to write to our target audience and to express that information in an informative yet entertaining way.

So read non-fiction, even try your hand at writing it, and watch your fiction blossom.

The Mercenary Writer

A guest post by Tereasa Maillie.

That overly quoted English tome, the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, defines mercenary as “one that serves merely for wages; especially: a soldier hired into foreign service”. I’m not a soldier, although my forthrightness and commanding voice usually gets me the title of “El Generalissimo” or at least “Sir”.

I am a mercenary writer. I write ‘merely’ for wages. I have and continue to take contracts purely based on pay. I don’t really care if it’s on the fish industry, crocheting with your feet, or how to get stains out of your cat. Those are some of the ‘foreign’ topics I could write about without prior expertise. I write or edit in cold efficiency. I have very little emotion towards the subject or the writer I’m editing for. I parachute in, do my job, and get out. Is there a pay cheque involved? Will you pay me fast? These are the questions a mercenary asks.

That does not mean I don’t research the snot out of the topic I’m writing about. That’s part of the deal. As a mercenary I will know the topic inside and out to get it right. One contract I just finished was editing a MA thesis on Public Transportation in Israel. Three days in and out and a ton of cash at the end. I suddenly had to grasp and understand the topic. There was blood (red pen ink) and tears (the writer who thought all words are sacred), but the result was a defendable paper. They will receive their degree.

Mercenary writer does not equal freelance writer. I do have some freelance writing gigs. Freelance has a soft, kind consultation. I’ll work with you to make your copy beautiful. I’ll give you tea and cookies and a snuggy while we look at your first novel about your grandma during the war. But don’t mistake me for the cute and cuddly type when I have a deadline on copy ad to be delivered in 5 hours, and you’ve hired me to edit your software specs in one week.

Mercenary writing came out of a necessity to eat and a need for personal freedom. In 2009, I had just finished my time in purgatory working on my MA in history. It was soul crushing as the whole university system and my own advisor were neglectful or abusive. Who can be creative in that environment? My research contract job then turn the same worm: a stressful and meaningless existence with little creativity. This job was all about legal matters and projects that never ended. In a fit of misery, I quit my contract job and started working at a library, but all I could get was part time work. I needed work that was going to fit into my library schedule but help pay bills. Thank toast I had been writing short stories, essays and plays for years, which got my foot in the door to prove to myself and to the clients that I could write.

Can you trust a mercenary? I was at a full-time writing job, and one company point-blank stated that they did not want any freelancers, as they wanted you to be loyal to them only. I was angry: I can be loyal. I am loyal to each project and client as I have to bring all my talents and professionalism. This is the cost of being a mercenary in any field. You are a hired gun, for money. Your loyalty lasts as long as the cheque comes in. That means next week you could work for their competitor. That does not sit well with everyone.

The paid work can take over your life. Mercenaries always are looking for the next gig, the next cheque. That cuts into your personal writing time. It cuts into your creative energy. I have not finished one play since I started. I have been able to focus enough passion on my short story work that a few are done and making the rounds. However, because I’ve taken so many tours as a mercenary, my finances are stable. I can now make plans to take all of this month off just to write my novel. That is the payoff.

But maybe my heart is a little colder than it used to be.

TereasaTereasa Maillie is a writer and researcher. She also has a very un-secret life as a producer and playwright. Her work has appeared in various poetry and short story anthologies, most recently in the Found Poetry Review and Beyond Imagination. She has a background in historical research, having attended the MA program at the University of Alberta. Her previous work includes the history of oil and gas in Alberta, Chinese medicine, First Nations and Métis history. Currently, she is a lead researcher on the Governor General Award nominated Calgary Gay History Project, focusing on the history of Calgary’s LGTBQ community.

Blurbs: Baiting Your Hooks

Have you ever seen an interesting-looking book cover and turned the book over to read the bit on the back? Or have you ever been browsing online and scrolled down to the paragraph that tells you what the book’s about? Those short paragraphs are called “blurbs,” and they’re almost as important as the story itself. Readers check them out to decide if your book is the sort of story they’d be interested in reading.

If you’re self-publishing, you’ll definitely need to learn how to write an enticing blurb. But even if you’re hoping to be traditionally published, it’s a useful skill to have. When I made my most recent novel pitch, I was asked to provide a blurb that would introduce the main characters, the principal conflict, and a “hook” that would make my audience want to read more. If I couldn’t get the publisher (agent, editor, etc) interested in my story, how could I convince them that readers would be interested?

I want to emphasize that a blurb and a summary are not the same thing. If you’re asked to provide a summary, the publisher/agent/editor wants to know your entire story, including how the plot will be resolved at the end. Unanswered “hook” questions (“how will Ali save the kingdom now?”) are frustrating and unprofessional in a summary.

Blurbs, directed to your potential readers, are different. If the blurb explains how the story ends, it will be the opposite of enticing–why bother reading the book if the back spoils the surprise? The point of the blurb is to give the reader some basic information about the start of the story you’re telling, let them know what kind of story it is, and make them eager to find out what happens next. Blurbs and summaries serve different functions, even though both describe “what the story is about.”

SteamedUp_FBThumbI learned to write blurbs thanks to the folks at Dreamspinner Press, who published my short story “Ace of Hearts” in their steampunk romance anthology, “Steamed Up.” Dreamspinner requests that authors provide blurbs for short stories as well as novels and novellas. Even though the blurbs aren’t used “on the back of the book,” they do provide the company with material they can use to market the story and the anthology.

Blurbs need to be tightly focused. Dreamspinner suggests approximately five sentences: long enough to give an idea of the story’s flavour, short enough to skim. Blurbs aren’t a place for world building, minor characters, or other small details. Keep your focus on the most important factors:

Who is/are your main characters?
What is their primary goal? What major challenges do they face in achieving that goal?
Where is the story set? Sometimes the setting hints at the genre (a spaceship might be science fiction, for example, and a magical kingdom is definitely fantasy). If it doesn’t, be sure the blurb gives some clue as to the genre.
What kind of story is this (action, romance, horror, mystery, etc)? This may be different then genre. It’s possible to have a romance about werewolves, or a fantasy story where the plot revolves around a murder mystery.
What will the reader feel: Fear? Romance? Excitement? Curiosity?

If your book has a specialty theme, let your readers know! (ie, if it’s a historical romance but also a pirate story, the blurb should make that clear. You want readers looking for pirate stories to know that your book qualifies!)

When you edit your blurb, ask yourself:

Do I have a feel for who the main character(s) are – not just names, but who they are as a person?
Do I know where these characters are “starting out from” and what they hope to accomplish?
Do I know what obstacles are in their way?
Do I know what sort of story I’m about to read – not just genre, but tone (rollicking adventure? Dark and gritty? Scary and creepy? Humorous? Tragic?)

Most importantly: does this blurb make me want to read more?

Here’s my blurb for “Ace of Hearts.” “Ace” is a romance between a pilot and a mechanic, told in the tradition of the old British boys’ adventure stories. The story’s set in a steampunk alternate universe during the time of the First World War.

Barred from serving as a professional pilot due to a childhood injury, aircraft mechanic William Pettigrew nevertheless finds himself caught up in the political conflict between his home nation of Albion and the enemy Boche. When he meets dirigible ace Captain James Hinson, William can’t quite muster the courage to confess his attraction, nor does he have the self-confidence to interpret James’ advances as anything more than friendliness. Then James is shot down over enemy territory, and squadron command seems reluctant to go to his rescue. William finds his courage put to the test as he is forced to decide between loyalty to his chain of command, or taking a gamble on love.