Nonfiction

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Nonfiction

Postby Blondie » 09 Feb 2010, 12:30

Hi guys,

Thought I'd start a thread to address some concerns for those of us who do the nonfiction thing.

I've been researching some of the nonfiction-specific pages/companies/agents, and found a trend towards memoirs. How many people here are writing a nonfiction piece that is NOT a memoir? What is it? How do you define your genre?

Also, why are you writing nonfiction? Is it to change the world, make money and be famous...tell Dr. Phil what's up with a 200 page slap down?

On the business side - what are your thoughts on having a nonfiction proposal submitted for an unfinished project? One agency actually prefers this, and while I can see it having some value, I'm not sure I totally agree. Your thoughts/experiences?

-B
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Re: Nonfiction

Postby Mira » 10 Feb 2010, 09:10

Hey Blondie, I'm doing the non-fiction thing, but not for a couple of years. I'm doing self-help stuff, so it will involve some research, but mostly platform building,.

I'm writing to change the world. :)

Which speaks to your question about the proposal. The danger of submitting a proposal before the book is finished is that other people will really want to tell you what to write. For some of my books, that's fine. But for others - no. There are some books that will be my life work, and they need to be my books, from my heart. Otherwise I'd feel as though I were betraying myself. Not to say I couldn't use feedback, guidance and editing, but the heart of the book needs to come from me. Does that make sense?

Is that your hesitation too?
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Re: Nonfiction

Postby Blondie » 10 Feb 2010, 14:41

Mira,

Yes, one of my concerns is the issue of having an agency put words in my pen, but that's not my hesitation. I'm fortunate enough to have a solid platform already, and am one of a very few people actually able to write this book. Or so I've been told. In fact, I've been asked to write this for a few years now, and am finally doing it. My biggest hesitation is that it's not done yet. So, while I could use some assistance with feedback/editing, and would very much like to be involved with others during this process to get it right the first time, I don't like the idea of shopping around an unfinished product. For no other reason than that. But, I keep getting the idea that this is the way to do it...

And like you, I am writing to change the world, too. One book at a time, huh? ;)

-B
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Re: Nonfiction

Postby Vegas Linda Lou » 10 Feb 2010, 18:36

The agents I've met at writers' conferences all seem to sing the same song when it comes to nonfiction: you'll need a well-crafted book proposal with components that include a comprehensive promotional plan (including what you're currently doing to build your author's platform), market/competitive analysis, bio, outline, annotated table of contents, and two sample chapters (preferably the first and one from the middle). However, it's not expected that you have the entire book already written--and many agents prefer that you don't. Check out Michael Larson's book on writing proposals--it's considered one of the best.
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Re: Nonfiction

Postby Blondie » 11 Feb 2010, 08:57

Thanks Linda, I will definitely look into Larson's book! Nathan has a pretty good article on the lasagna-like nature of the proposal, as well. If you don't mind my asking, what sort of project have you been asking the agents about?

Open Question: Why is it, do you think, that agents prefer the book not be written? I could see how it would be acceptable to market an unfinished project, but to actually request an uncompleted work over a finished manuscript? Anybody have insight? Linda? Nathan? Bueller?

-B
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Re: Nonfiction

Postby Vegas Linda Lou » 11 Feb 2010, 11:11

Because my book, Bastard Husband: A Love Story is a memoir, I haven’t had to write a proposal. (Memoirs are the one type of non-fiction that’s expected to be completed and polished before querying agents.) That’s info I’ve picked up through my writers’ group and conferences I’ve attended.

My next project will be non-fiction as well; the working title is Invisible No More! An Aging Nymph’s Guide to Getting Noticed at Any Age. I envision it as a cross between humor and self-help, targeted to women over 40 who need a little boost in self-confidence. (I’m a gutsy broad!) For that I’ll need a proposal, but right now the project is on the back burner. Next week my one-woman show, “The D Words: the Funny Side of Dating, Divorce and Other Delights,” opens here in Las Vegas and I’m crazy busy with that. I’ll be happy to put anyone from Nathan’s blog on the guest list—just email me at linda@bastardhusband.com.
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Re: Nonfiction

Postby Blondie » 11 Feb 2010, 12:35

Linda,

Thank you for the invite, on behalf of all of us. I don't think I will dig out of the east coast snow to visit Vegas, but I wish I could. The title of your first book made me laugh! Love the sardonic humor.

Despite using personal experience to inform the material, I don't think mine counts as a memoir, but it's probably safer to have at least the majority of the project done before really shopping it around. I'm curious to hear more about your experiences in the nonfiction process though, if you are open to an email on that subject. Recognition of you busy-ness duly noted, of course! ;)

I'm not sure how far you've made it in the proposal process, but how have you researched competitive analysis? I am having difficulty finding sale stats for anything that comes close to being related to my book.

-B
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Re: Nonfiction

Postby Vegas Linda Lou » 11 Feb 2010, 12:59

You’re right; it’s not easy to find sales stats. Even a book’s ranking on Amazon can vary greatly within the course of a few days; you’d have to track the ranking for a while to get a real sense of how it’s doing.

As I understand, it’s more important that you include the relative number of books already written on the topic and name those that have had the most success. Then, and most importantly, you want to show how your book will be different from what’s already written by presenting your unique angle. For example, there are a million books on divorce and quite a few “divorce memoirs” out there as well, but I say mine is unique because it’s the only one that tells what it’s like to start over alone in Las Vegas and get out of a post-divorce funk by doing stand-up comedy for the first time. (To cheer myself up I also became a hospice volunteer--how’s that for a sub-plot?)

Feel free to email me if you have any questions you’d rather take off-line. I’ve learned quite a bit in the past several years and am willing to help other writers in any way I can. I would never have gotten this far without the help of those a little further down the path, so I’m happy to share my lessons learned. God knows there have been a lot of them!
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Re: Nonfiction

Postby Mira » 12 Feb 2010, 09:32

Blondie - you are lucky to have a platform and a unique take. :)

I don't know why they want an unfinished work, honestly, my best guess is that they want to help shape it specifically for the market and/or sell it to an editor that way - it gives them more creative control. It may be easier in their minds to shape the work from the start, then to ask for changes after the fact.

If you're not worried about editorial control, then I'd say - go for it. You'll have a team helping you out, and knowing that you're represented can be a big worry off your mind. The only downside is if you have trouble writing to pressure - then I'd wait.

From the few brief posts here, I'd say you present as pretty darn on top of things - sharp, bright and assertive. I'd bet someone will snap you up. :)

Linda - I SO wish I could come to Vegas and see you. I love Vegas, and I love your sense of humor and gumption. I also love the title of your book - it makes me laugh every time. Your book for women over 40 sounds great - aging population, you're hitting on an emerging concern.

Someday, when I've actually written something, I may hit you up for some advice. That's very generous of you. :)
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Re: Nonfiction

Postby Vegas Linda Lou » 12 Feb 2010, 10:03

OMG, there's no end to my amazing advice--I could tell the pope how to say Mass.

Thanks, Mira!
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Re: Nonfiction

Postby Richard I » 12 Feb 2010, 15:25

Hello - my nonfiction is an outgrowth of the fact that I'm a geologist - it relates to U.S. dependency on minerals for everyday things, an import dependency greater in many cases than the well-publicized foreign dependence on oil imports.

Also, why are you writing nonfiction? Is it to change the world, make money and be famous...tell Dr. Phil what's up with a 200 page slap down?


It's to increase awareness - no illusions of changing the world... and to make some money. And I thoroughly enjoy both the research and the craft of trying to popularize science.

On the business side - what are your thoughts on having a nonfiction proposal submitted for an unfinished project? One agency actually prefers this, and while I can see it having some value, I'm not sure I totally agree. Your thoughts/experiences?


Whether correct or not, my perception has been that publishers (at least for unpublished people like me) want to have the possibility of some kind of control - if they see something that is a good idea, well written, by someone with a platform, but that could use some different spin to be more marketable, they'd like the book to be not quite done so they could have that kind of influence - maybe. I accept that. I actually have about two-thirds of the book in virtually final draft (as far as I'm concerned, at least), with three sample chapters as polished as possible so that when I query agents (soon, I hope) I'm ready with the full proposal. I've left four chapters unfinished pending what an agent may say and then, I hope, what a publisher may say. It will be pretty easy to tweak the existing chapters to change the spin - there really are not too many ways you could spin it - but two of the unfinished chapters lend themselves to a couple approaches that I can imagine a publisher preferring one or the other.
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Re: Nonfiction

Postby aspennow » 12 Feb 2010, 20:00

My third non-fiction book is about Community Branding -- How to market to ethnic, cultural and religious communities, both in US and around the world. You don't make any money writing books -- you can do better fetching fries at McDonald's. But non-fiction provides a credibility foundation for speaking and consulting, especially overseas.

But I am more convinced that the model of "the book" is broken for a variety of reasons. So I am pretty sure this will be my last "book" in this format. From here on out, it's non-fiction, quick-and-somewhat-dirty ebooks, sold cheap.

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Re: Nonfiction

Postby cassandrabonmot » 12 Feb 2010, 20:28

Dear Blondie,

I'm writing a humor book. I called Barnes & Noble and asked how humor books are classified, e.g., 'Stuff White People Like.' The manager at my local B&N told me 'non-fiction.'
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Re: Nonfiction

Postby Blondie » 12 Feb 2010, 21:26

Mira - Thanks for the confidence! I guess we'll see what happens in time, huh?
I'll be curious to know how your research and proposals go.

And Linda's advice is great! Her email was as helpful as the posts. Thanks Linda!

-B
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Re: Nonfiction

Postby Blondie » 12 Feb 2010, 21:35

Richard I wrote:
Whether correct or not, my perception has been that publishers (at least for unpublished people like me) want to have the possibility of some kind of control - if they see something that is a good idea, well written, by someone with a platform, but that could use some different spin to be more marketable, they'd like the book to be not quite done so they could have that kind of influence - maybe. I accept that. I actually have about two-thirds of the book in virtually final draft (as far as I'm concerned, at least), with three sample chapters as polished as possible so that when I query agents (soon, I hope) I'm ready with the full proposal. I've left four chapters unfinished pending what an agent may say and then, I hope, what a publisher may say. It will be pretty easy to tweak the existing chapters to change the spin - there really are not too many ways you could spin it - but two of the unfinished chapters lend themselves to a couple approaches that I can imagine a publisher preferring one or the other.


Richard - the above seems like an interesting approach.. I think I like the general idea of leaving a little bit for people to play with and spin while having the core squared away as you like it. Maybe this is how it's supposed to go? If the book is already written, I wonder if the need for a proposal still stands, or if a Query Letter alone will do the trick. Hmmm...

It's awesome that you enjoy doing the research and will get to practice your craft! Good luck!

-B
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