Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Writing Non-Fiction (How to Books)

(c) copyright 2010 Hamdani

Some writers believe non-fiction writing is more challenging. I think it's the opposite. Why? Because non-fiction limits us to a set of facts. Fiction, on the other hand, allow the imagination to run wild. Sometimes,as a result of imagination, we consequently, run upon bestsellers. That's not to imply fiction is not without format or rules. It is. For example, I write fiction thrillers. These books demand short scenes. Short scenes create suspense and impact. They make the reader turn the page (provided the writer is talented). So much for fiction; after all, this session is about non-fiction How-To books, a most lucrative category. I should know. I have a great seller out there.

We maintain tighter parameters when writing non-fiction. The free flowing imagination of the writer becomes inconvenienced by the truth. The truth is not always interesting, however, and is often flat boring. That is especially, true, when writing a litany of facts. Such writing is more effective that sleeping pills. In fact, it is a healthier and environmentally safe. Safe, because there are not plastic containers to toss, healthier as an alternative to overcoming insomnia (safer than pharmaceuticals). Save your money and spare yourself the 100s of side affect of taking sleeping pills (......may cause internal bleeding, hypertension, migraine headaches, suicidal tendencies, encourage bad writing and cause people to tear up viable manuscripts). Okay, I made up some of those symptoms, but you get the point, don't you? Poor writing, writing a list of facts is boring.

Seriously, here's the key to writing effective non-fiction.

* write what you know. (You've heard that somewhere before
haven't you? Right. That's because it's true. It works).

* Offer accounts of human experiences, not just facts.

Here's what I mean by that. In my book, How to Build a Putting Green (c)copyright 2007, I didn't limit the book to a list of facts. I, like all good writers, revealed several accounts of my experiences (not all good experiences) to demonstrate to the reader the things that can go wrong. In other words, laugh at yourself. They'll understand.

Maybe you're writing about your experience in starting a business.

Make it human.

Talk about your greatest fears when first starting out. We're you afraid that you were one of the few women to ever start a business in your particular industry? Maybe, you didn't have the assets sufficient to obtain a bank loan. Maybe, you later learned that most people do not, but you succeeded, anyway.

You don't have to give away your trade secrets to make your book interesting; you simply have to give. A wise person once said, "....they don't care what you know until that know that you care." So, don't be foolish, love 'em. Love the reader and the story will happen.

What were your greatest pleasures? I'll bet you can remember when you landed your first major contract, can't you? Remember, the dinner? Cocktails? You probably celebrated the night with your most significant other, didn't you? Then, tell us about that, and then get back to the facts.

* Employ a good'ole no-non-sense editor. Find a skeptical
editor who happens to be a good writer.

I am a strong believer that fellow writers can make great editors. We know what to look for. We can, also, readily identify the boring points. We, often, know how to spruce it up.

* Do not try to organize your thoughts. No-no-no. The
truth is often spontaneous and not often organized. Just write
notes. Don't stop to organize notes when you're in-the-zone and your writing is flowing. Have a cup of coffee, tea or whatever you drink or
smoke and reminisce on moments in the past...exploit the economy of emotion.

Focus on memories that makes your cry, or re-generate anger, hostility, sadness or joy. Write it down, and have another sip. (I'm just kidding about the smoking part. Really, I am).

Now, let's get to another fact. Ask yourself, What would you change if you had to do it all over again? Maybe, you would try a different approach. Maybe, you would sign on a different partner. Maybe, you would choose a strong drink and try a different profession, altogether. In any case, list those facts. It might go something like this.

* Never enter a negotiation unless you are fully aware of
the concessions you are willing to make.

* Know the advantages of negotiating your book deal on the
publisher's turf (at the publishers office).

* Know the benefits of negotiating the book deal on your own
turf (in this case, we're alluding to your own terms).

Here's what I'm getting at. A non-fiction book has a more distinctive market. A golf putting greens book is written for whom? You've got it. It's for golfers. Believe it or not, some people have asked me: Barry, who is the book for? (They arrived on that short, happy bus. They were a few cans short of a six pack....know what I mean?) Anyway, the market for your How-To book is somewhat obvious, however, that doesn't mean peripheral market members won't buy your book.

Here's an example. Years ago, I met a young African American man by the name of Ian Fitzwilliams, a Canadian. Ian owned a small business. He sold colorful cookbooks. He made several million dollars selling cook books, door-to-door. He made the cover of a popular Canadian business magazine. I can see him in my mind's eye, on the yellow magazine cover where he sat on a pile of cook books stacked some six feet high.

I was curious about this man. I contacted him and posed a few questions, one of which is, "How in hek did you sell so many cookbooks, so soon, and why did the cooks buy them?" No, he wasn't offended.

Ian answered, "Barry, it's not so much that people cooked, but they did believe if they bought the book, they would (cook). Get it?

C'mon, not all of you are on that proverbial slow bus that I mentioned above.

The same wisdom applied to my book, and may very well apply to yours. Not all people who bought my book were good golfers, let alone good at putting, but they believed that if they bought the book they would become so. In reality, they may or may not. That's not our problem, as writers. We give them the how-to information and it's up to them to apply it.

So, what are you waiting for, start writing.