Thursday, November 8, 2012

The whole truth

... and nothing but the truth? Well, not exactly.

Let's look at dispelling an old myth once and for all - that fiction and non-fiction have virtually nothing in common. If that's how you perceive factual material then you are not moving with the times. We've come a long way from the dry old textbooks that us older authors were brought up with.

Swapping my author's hat to that of a publisher (and no, that's not a dunce's cap, either), I'm going to tell you what I look for in a non-fiction submission. For ease of working, I assess non-fiction books in 3 key areas which, together, tell me if a title has commercial merit or not.

To illustrate what I mean, I'm going to consider a book which has to do with growing cucumbers but what I'm going to say applies equally to any non-fiction title.

The storyline

Just as a work of fiction has to have a story, so too does a non-fiction book. What I mean by that is that you have to have a defined start and finish point. It doesn't matter how 'big' or 'small' this area is as long as it hangs together. Thus, you could choose to write about growing cucumbers from seed to picking or just concentrate on a smaller area of the process such as from sowing to planting out or treating diseases (from identification to elimination). It's very easy to try to be all things to everyone but don't even think about it because your book will quickly lose its focu

The target market

Assuming you're writing a book for commercial reasons, what you’re hoping for is that someone out there will want to part with cash in order to acquire the knowledge that your book promises. There also has to be enough 'someones' to make it all worthwhile. Accordingly, you need to think carefully about who these people might be. How about 'Growing cucumbers for people with no gardens', 'Growing cucumbers organically' or 'Growing cucumbers in a cold climate'?

The angle

There are going to be so many similar books that there needs to be something which makes yours particularly appealing. While it's going to be nigh on impossible to come up with a truly original presentation idea, you do need to think about what will make your book stand out from the rest. Decide at the outset whether it's going to be aimed at those with no knowledge whatsoever, people who dabble, or those with a high level of experience in your subject matter. Having done this, you should now be clear about the educational level of the language you will be using, the types and frequency of illustrations, and the degree of explanation which you will furnish.

Naturally, you need to bring all 3 elements together in order to produce a book which has a reasonable shelf-life and appropriate numerical appeal.

And that's nothing but the truth.

Clive West is co-owner of indie publisher Any Subject Books and you can see more about them on their website or on Facebook. For details of their book submission criteria, see their writers wanted page.

1 comment:

  1. These are all good tips, especially the part about the angle. I like nonfiction books, especially memoirs. I really like the ones that have unique themes, like Steve Almond's book Candyfreak, which is about his obsession with candy.