It is always pleasing to be asked to write a book; so affirming and motivating, especially when the request is not prescriptive or in any way limiting. Quite the reverse: the only stipulation was that it should be complete. I was told that research into available guides on producing a quality non-fiction book had revealed the lack of an up-to-date work that covered, with equal depth, the entire process: generating a marketable idea, planning, researching, writing, editing, assessing and implementing publishing options, and marketing. This book had to be complete. That was all.
I gulped. But a challenge is always irresistible. I’d already had seven non-fiction works in various genres successfully published; perhaps I could distill that process as the basis for further research.
For the rest of the provocation, I have only myself to blame.
As I tumbled ideas around in my mind – while ‘sleeping’ – two thoughts occurred to me: to be of real value, the guide must show how to write in a modern non-fiction style which is accessible and emotionally engaging – i.e. narrative nonfiction – which is what publishers want; and I should explain specific techniques for a wide range of sub-genres including travel, history, memoir, biography and popular science, as well as documentary, how-to, and text books.
The first step, of course, is to ‘identify your readers’. An encouraging feature of digital technology, and its rapid spread across the planet, is that anyone with an internet connection, wherever they live, has access to a global market; I imagined my readers scattered all over the world, not only in Europe or America but in Africa, Asia and the Pacific, and I would have to bear their needs in mind. Having lived and worked in numerous countries, this part was not especially daunting, and I loved the idea of the book being a source of empowerment. But I felt the full impact of applying a global outlook when it came to the chapter on publishing options.
It was demanding enough to make sense of the moving target that publishing in the West has become, with its variety of players – from massive conglomerates to micro companies – all tussling for market share between print and digital forms, not to mention self-publishing and all its associated manifestations, opportunities and scams. But in some countries, publishing is still an emerging sector with minimal infrastructure; in others, traditions have grown differently and do not, for example, include the role of literary agents.
I designed Writing Your Nonfiction Book as a step-by-step guide with practical details and lots of examples. It should be read straight through first to see the general landscape, then returning to the beginning with refining an idea, by the time you reach the end, you will have a shiny new manuscript, an author platform, your chosen publishing option in action, and a marketing plan.
As I worked through outlining, researching, and composing this book, I felt quite exposed. A bit like a TV celebrity chef: talking about the ingredients and methods while demonstrating them on the page; placing the concoction into the ‘writing oven’ and hoping I’d got the proportions and seasonings right while waiting to see the results. My relief was palpable when the meal was tasted by editors and declared both nutritious and delicious. And there’s more: I’m delighted to tell you that the book has been adopted as a required text by an international writers’ college.
Over the last few months, I’ve been through a few less observable processes myself – from feeling boggled, stretched and exhausted, to finally, satisfied – during which the holiday season had to be postponed, along with a few blog posts. I will make up for that over the next few weeks with tips and extracts from the new book.
But soon, I will disappear for a week by the seaside to let my brain recover. In the meantime, I hope my efforts will enable you to write your book with rather less boggling.