5 Things to Keep In Mind While Writing A Non-Fiction Book
“Writing nonfiction means I tell people’s stories for them, not because they’re special but because we all are,” said author Jo Deurbrouck, and rightly so. Non-fiction is a genre in books that deals with facts essentially. Everything that is written under this category is factual information or real-life events. This means that every non-fiction book holds the truth that already exists in the world. Non-fiction has subgenres under its ambit with self-help books, memoirs, biographies or autobiographies to name a few. If you identify yourself as a non-fiction writer then it means that you have a story to tell or information to share with the world. Having a vision is an important first step in your journey to becoming a non-fiction writer, however, one cannot write a book with just a vision. There are several parameters one needs to consider before they dive into the world of non-fiction. Through the course of this blog, we will navigate through some of the most crucial aspects of writing non-fiction.
Asking all the right questions
Even though non-fiction is primarily factual in nature it still relies heavily on the storytelling element of the book. In order to make your reader resonate with the book, it’s imperative for the author to have a complete understanding of their own idea and voice. One cannot start writing a non-fiction book on a whim. You need to study and explore all aspects of a potential book. A very fundamental and simple method to cater to this process is by answering the three big W’s. This will help you in laying the foundation for your book. In order to explore an idea, it is important to ask these questions while conceiving it. WHAT does your idea aim to achieve? WHY is it relevant or important? WHO is your audience? While answering these questions do keep in mind to back each answer with research or stats. The aim is to achieve clarity about one’s own idea. Extending on the same practice, it is advisable to dig deeper on every aspect of your topic. Explore each and every passing thought to its very end. This process would help you to understand the scope of your research and hence, your potential book. Furthermore, it will also give you a fair analysis of where you stand with respect to your research and groundwork.
Know your audience
WHO is your audience? Answering this is very pivotal when you’re defining your target audience. When a reader opts to read non-fiction they are making a conscious decision to consume the material that is based on facts. Therefore, honesty and factual verification are paramount when it comes to writing non-fiction. You are not creating a make-belief world rather presenting your experience/ knowledge of the real world. Hence, everything you write needs to be credible in order to gain the trust of your readers. There are several books written on the same topic by different people at the same time. It is important to study whether your book has the potential to offer ideas that haven’t been explored yet. Similarly the relevance of your idea with respect to your audience. Once you have conceived an idea of the kind of audience you want for your book it’s time to check out if they actually exist. Analyse the current market for your subject and check the audience demand for the existing topics. Another way to go about the same is to conduct surveys amongst your expected future audience. This will also help you achieve a clearer answer to why your idea is relevant. Additionally, this will aid your demographics and psychographics. Two important parts of data dictate the value of your book.
The right kind of storytelling
The success of a book depends on two things – what the book is trying to say and how it says it. If you are writing a self-help book or a how-to book then it’s imperative for you to keep the content of the book engaging. One cannot simply present the reader with all the facts and the stats and expect them to consume it. A book that only offers facts and information, more often than never, is perceived to be boring. Even if your book is highly information-heavy you can still work around the storytelling part in order to gauge interest. Several renowned authors write self-help books and include anecdotes from their own lives to keep things interesting. Furthermore, this approach helps the reader to resonate/relate to the author. Robert Herjavec in his book You Don’t Have To Be A Shark provides insight into the world of “selling” along with his personal life experiences that are vulnerable in nature. Herjavec provides simple methods that could help a person in the world of business in addition to creating a bond with the reader. With Herjavec’s rags to riches story, a reader will find his method to success more credible.
If you are writing a memoir or a biography it is important to ask yourself if the reader wants to know your story. While writing non-fiction, it is imperative to look at your own story with a lens of objectivity. You may feel passionate about the story because it is your own. However, it is crucial to consider if the story objectively holds some grounds and would resonate with the reader. On an occasion where you are convinced that your story matters, it is all about how you tell it to the world. For example, if you are writing a memoir make sure to highlight all the themes. Use simple and emotional language that would appeal to the reader’s senses. From Scratch by Tembi Locke beautifully recounts the author’s love for her husband and the pain that came along when she lost him to cancer. The book highlights major themes of love, relationships, loss, personal struggle etc.
Research Research Research!
Research is your holy grail while writing non-fiction. As mentioned before the whole genre relies on truths and facts and therefore, one cannot present false information. This is the most academic and unavoidable part of the writing process. It is important to understand that research is paramount. This is the ‘behind the scenes’ that brings credibility to your work. It is imperative to fact check everything that you quote in your book. While fact-checking and working on your bibliography, it is important to use legitimate sources to do the same. For example, one cannot just use Wikipedia as a fact-checker. Consulting professionals and advisors is valuable in the process. Data and surveys are your best-friends while working on non-fiction. Everything that you quote requires to be backed by academic research or your personal valid experience. One cannot compromise on the legitimacy of the data stated. This process should ideally also involve you making a style sheet that you can refer to maintain consistency throughout your book. A style sheet essentially helps the writer by presenting a set of rules that one can follow with respect to grammar and ethics of the writing while creating the book. This will also help the author to stay away from making problematic statements in their book such as using sexist or condescending language. If you are writing a memoir or an autobiography it is still very important and highly advisable to fact check every event that you mention. For example, if you are talking about a period from your life that dealt with a certain disease you must present the reader with all the correct information pertaining to that disease. One cannot manipulate real-life instances for the sake of the story under non-fiction. It’s important and crucial to remember that you need to provide citations and references in your book. This provides legitimacy to the content inside the book. It will also make you a credible writer. There are different ways and formats to go about this. One can pick a method depending on the style guide they chose to follow.
Use a Style Guide
Rules are meant to be broken except when you are writing non-fiction. As the name suggests a style guide provides a writer with a manual set of rules that deals with formatting, writing and conceptualising the document. They essentially ensure consistency and uniformity. There are various style guides available and each one conforms to a different set of rules with respect to the subject. Some of the basic rules that one will find in every style guide pertain to punctuation, quotations, capitalization, abbreviations, and spelling. Additionally, a style guide will also provide the reader with rules for citation and referencing sources with the help of numbers, adding tables and charts, setting up headers, and laying out the page. We are going to explore a few of the style guides that are known and commonly used in this blog. However, this list doesn’t include all the style guides out there. Consult your editor or do your own research before deciding on a style guide.
– The Associated Press Stylebook Style Guide for News Writing and Reporting
The Associated Press Stylebook Style Guide is mostly used by journalists, reporters, PR writers and others who write for public media. The Associated Press Style is commonly known as the AP style. It dictates congruity, clarity and conciseness in writing. The AP Style guide is sacrosanct for anyone working in or writing for the news industry. It is adopted as the industry standard by newspaper journalists, reporters, editors, and other media platforms. AP style guide lays out strict guidelines for checking grammar, punctuation, and the basics of news reporting. Furthermore, it also provides rules on capitalizing, spelling, numbering, and abbreviating.
– Chicago Manual of Style Guide for Writers, Editors and Publishers
The Chicago Manual of Style (CMOS) is one of the most well-known and highly recommended style guides for writing and citing sources used in publishing. CMOS deals with the aspects of writing and editing, and includes everything from English grammar and style usage, to constructing and publishing print and digital material. The use of Chicago Style is highly visible in social science periodicals and historical journals. The guide facilitates the reader with a range of formats specific to citing sources and formatting papers. CMOS lets the writer use footnotes/endnotes. The updated version also includes guidelines for handling electronic publications, proofreading digital content, and referencing online materials.
– MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers Style Guide for Writers, Editors and Publishers
MLA Style dictates the rules for citing sources in both printed and digital material. The Modern Language Association (MLA) is built of language and literature scholars who give a steady approach for quoting and referencing text from authors and creators of original works. Unlike other styles for citing sources, MLA style provides the option for parenthetical citations in the text, followed by an alphabetical list of cited works at the end of the text. Another distinctive feature of the style guide is that it shows one how to cite sources for all types of print and digital periodicals. Additionally, it does the same for other types of multimedia such as film, TV, radio, and videos. MLA also suggests typeface, font size, spacing, page numbering, and margin sizes.
– The Economist Style Guide Style Guide for Finance and Business Writing
The Economist Style Guide is curated on the basis of the house style used by the writers and staff of The Economist newspaper and website. John Grimond, the editor of the newspaper, created this style guide. The fundamental aim of the guide is to help both writers and readers how to write clearly and shortly, in a style referred to as plain English. The guide talks about common errors that writers make mentioning cliche usage, punctuation, and grammar. The Guide forms a solid foundation for understanding basic grammar and writing for writers. It also provides some of the differences between British and American English. Additionally, it also provides insights on the reference information, addressing many things from business equations and stock market symbols to chemical elements, United States presidents and British chancellors. The Economist Style Guide is must-have for anyone who writes articles, reports, books, and research papers.
– The Elements of Style Guide for English Writing
The Elements of Style Guide is a reference book that has been recognised by many for decades now. The Guide is for anyone who wants to improve their writing skills and understand the inner-workings of the English language. It’s a small book with 100 pages that provides eight rudimentary rules of style usage, ten general fundamentals of writing, a few formalities on the form (such as using titles, numbers, and quotations), along with a brief compendium of misspelt words and misused phrases. Every writer should own a copy of The Elements of Style Guide for English Writing.
– The Oxford Style Manual
The Oxford Style Manual is a style guide for writing and structuring documents curated by the staff and students of Oxford University. The main aim of the guide is to provide a uniform and consistent style throughout all written and published material. This Guide is recommended for anyone who is a writer or an editor. The guide consists of 16 subject-based chapters covering English punctuation, abbreviations, capitalization, sentence syntax and grammar. It informs the reader about how to handle quotations, images, tables, figures and sources, and foreign dialects. Additionally, it also provides material on citing and referencing digital media, how to submit documents online to publishers, and current copyright laws for print and online media. The guide also sheds light on specific writing problems, such as common spelling problems; using hyphens and punctuation in multi-syllable words; differences between British and American English; and handling troublesome or unconventional terms.
As tedious as it can be, finishing non-fiction is in itself a success. Irrespective of the genre, the book has the responsibility towards the story that you are trying to communicate with the world. The above-mentioned five steps will guide you through communicating that message with clarity. It is important to remember that when it comes to writing non-fiction your resources are paramount. Therefore, at every stage starting from defining your Ws it is imperative to identify what suits your book the best. Every stage must be done with utmost patience and attention. The good news for writers is that there are several options available in terms of style guides and manuals to navigate you through the process of conceptualising your book. Most of them are available in digital format as well for easy accessibility. One must do their share of research to find their correct fit.
When you finally sit to write it is important to stick to it till the very end. The process could get tedious and thus, one can take constant inspiration from other sources of information such as podcasts, blogs, and videos that are on your subject. This will keep you motivated to stay on your path. Another thing that will be beneficial in your writing process is to get a professional editor to review your book objectively before it goes out for publishing. In order to learn more about the publishing and editorial aspect of conceiving a book click here. Author Thomas M. Cirignano said that “Each of us is a book waiting to be written, and that book if written, results in a person explained.” This quote essentially entails everything one requires from a book. Your book should be an honest attempt at explaining or educating the world.