Sunday, January 01, 2012

If you're writing non-fiction, here are four questions you need to answer

Eric Nelson, executive editor at Wiley is a really smart guy. Of course I follow him on Twitter.  Tonight, apropos of nothing, he dropped these helpful hints into the scrum (my guess is he's reading proposals and feeling frustrated.)

If you're writing a nonfiction book, here's a few questions to answer. Like, actually write them down.

#1. What is your best story, and how does it explain the larger argument of your book?

#2. What's a key distinction you draw in the book, and why has no one else drawn it?

#3. What's the key moment in the recent past that made the world the way it is today? (At least the part of the world you're describing.)

#4. Why now? What we do we know now, but didn't 6 months or 6 years ago?


Feaky Snucker said...

I think that's a reason I haven't finished writing my nonfiction about my life as a biological child whose parents took in high needs foster children. There isn't much out there from this perspective. I have plenty of material, and a scandal; one foster sister falsely accused my father of touching her - there was a full investigation, she called me as a witness; we know she lied and why. My dad was found completely innocent, but it was devastating. The problem is I'm not sure if it would be better as a 'so you're thinking of taking in foster kids' sort of book, or just a memoir. Sort of about a foster home that was GOOD, not a horror story you see everywhere on tv, but the ways (positive AND negative) it can affect the biological children in that home.

steeleweed said...

Wow? Makes me wonder now narrow a definition of non-fiction publishers have. There is a lot of writing (including fiction) that would benefit from considering questions 1 & 2, in one form or another. But there is a plenty for which questions 3 & 4 are pretty meaningless. Particularly writing history, memoirs, travel...

Gary Corby said...

I'd guess those questions apply to narrative non-fiction, but not real knowledge about the world?

Isaac Asimov would surely be the most successful non-fiction writer ever. But I doubt there was anything unique about what he wrote, since he mostly stuck to hard science. Plenty of others wrote on the same subjects, mostly in dry textbooks. Asimov was the best simply because he was the best writer.

(It will probably come as no surprise that I'm an Asimov fan.)