Posts Tagged 'fiction vs. nonfiction'

Ask the Right Questions

We often get requests from authors about how to work with us to publish their books. The first thing the potential author asks is “how much?” That’s the wrong question. If you’re only interested in pricing, go to one of those online puppy mill presses–they publish the prices of their packages and the a la carte add-ons (like editing) and you can crunch the numbers and get your pricing.

But do you know what your pricing includes? Now that’s a right question.

Here are some more right questions.

  • Can you get the files, including the cover design and page layouts if you want to?
  • Do you get editing that follows Chicago Manual of Style (the book publishing industry standard)?
  • Do you get to keep all the profits from the book or do book orders need to go to the publisher so the publisher gets a  piece of the action on every order?
  • Do you have to store your books with them or do you have choices on where to store any books you’ve paid for?
  • Does the publisher publish anything (read: vanity press), or is it discerning in what it publishes (even if you  pay)?
  • Do you have a human contact point you can rely on or is it hard to connect with the same person through your project?

Your book is in print a long time and you really can’t afford to link your name (read: credibility) with publishers everyone recognizes like those puppy mill presses. They may work okay for novels, but they aren’t a good investment if you’re expecting your book to highlight your expertise or show off your good business acumen.

Which brings me to another right question. Why are you writing your book? If you’re writing it because writing a book is on your bucket list, any publishing option will fill that purpose. But, if you’re writing your book to show off your expertise (speakers, consultants, doctors, lawyers, experts, etc.) or to increase your potential for business, then you need to make a good business decision regarding your choice of publisher.

If writing a book were easy, everyone would do it. But most don’t start by asking the right questions–they only think about price and we all know you get what you pay for.

Happy writing.



Why Is It So Hard To Sell Fiction?

A comment from a reader reminded me of something I teach in my book publishing seminars–it’s harder to sell fiction than nonfiction. Many who attend my seminars write fiction and become frustrated when they hear how difficult the market is to sell fiction to publishers.

Granted, success stories such as J. K. Rowling and Stephen King exist, but they are not the norm.

Why is it so hard to sell fiction to a publisher? The answer begins with a field trip to your local brick-and-mortar bookstore. Look at all that precious real estate and what populates it. Assuming 100 percent is the total for books available, what percentage is fiction? Nonfiction? Remember, nonfiction includes everything from biography to reference to special interest to technology.

Seminar attendees typically say 30/70–30 percent fiction and 70 percent nonfiction–and that’s a pretty good guess. Why do you suppose the bookstore populates its shelves primarily with nonfiction? Because that’s what people buy!

A second exercise you can do to determine why it is so hard to sell fiction takes place in your own home. Look at your personal library. Look at your own behavior. When someone asks to borrow a novel from your personal library, you’re probably willing to hand it over (especially if you’ve already read it). However, when someone wants to borrow a nonfiction book (cookbook, history book, whatever), you’re probably more likely to suggest that person buys his/her own copy (even if you’ve already read it).

What does that mean? Every book you pass around to someone else is another book that doesn’t get sold. Publishers don’t get any money and neither do authors on books that aren’t sold new (even the sales of used books don’t generate any income for authors or publishers).

Book publishing is business, not dream fulfillment. Given that readers are less apt to purchase fiction and, thus, so are publishers, you can see that it’s difficult to sell fiction to publishers.

Yet, we love to read a good novel and many are inspired by successes like Rowling and King, so continue to write in pursuit of creating a great novel. Selling fiction is hard, but not impossible.

Happy writing!

Effective Writing is Specific, not General

It’s easy to use general terms when writing. For example, we can write “The car raced down the road,” and we’d be following the “Show, Don’t Tell” advice of good writing. The active verb helps create the image for the reader.

But the sentence “The car raced down the road,” is still too general. We can make the image even more clear with more specific writing. Follow the progression below.

  • The car raced down the road.
  • The car raced down the dirt road.
  • The black car raced down the dirt road.
  • The black car with the crumbled fender raced down the dirt road.

You get to decide how specific you want to be. My point is the more specific you are, the more effective your writing becomes.

Look at the progression and you’ll also note each sentence adds more words. Be careful about how much detail you add lest you become too wordy, something you don’t want to do. The art part of writing entails determining how specific you should be without losing your reader in a sea of unnecessary detail.

Just as a woodcarver starts with a chunk of wood, then begins removing pieces until the desired shape forms, so should you whittle away at your writing. Think  of all the details you could offer the reader, then remove any that get in the way of clearly showing the reader the image or concept you want the reader to see.

Notice how your favorite authors use specific writing in their work. As a reader, you probably connect better with writers who specifically show you what they see so you can see it too. It doesn’t matter if you’re writing fiction or nonfiction. Be specific and you’ll get your message across more effectively than if you write in general terms.

Happy writing!

Fiction and Non-fiction Writing Share Similar Preparation

Sometimes we get hung up on differentiating fiction and non-fiction writing when we’re better served as writers if we understood they share similar preparation.

Both require research, for example. Even if writing fiction, you need to be accurate in what you write. Readers know stuff and they’ll challenge your credibility as a writer if you get it wrong. Once you’ve alienated a reader, you have very little chance to get them back. Plus, they’re willing to share their disappointment in you with anyone who will listen.

Of course everyone knows research is vital to non-fiction writing, but don’t underestimate it in your fiction writing as well.

Another thing fiction and non-fiction writing share in the preparation stage is you determining why you’re writing the book. Are you writing it because you have a good story to tell? Storyline(s) are important in both fiction and non-fiction writing. Are you writing it because you want to explore an idea or emotion? Again, this applies to both fiction and non-fiction. Are you writing it to give the reader something to ponder? Yep, both fiction and non-fiction writing do this.

One more thing fiction and non-fiction writing have in common during preparation is how do you want to get your message out? Do you want to use description? Character profiles? Statistics? History? You have many choices, but one thing to always remember is your job is to get your message out while doing your best to meet reader expectations.

If you’re writing genre fiction (romance, mystery, thriller, horror, sci-fi, western, etc.), follow the formulas for the genre. If you’re writing non-fiction, provide the information the reader needs without overloading the reader with information that can  confuse or blur the point of your book.

Preparation is critical to writing a good book for both fiction and non-fiction writers, so don’t overlook its importance.

Happy writing!

Who Do You Write For–Yourself or Your Reader?

When I ask my students the question about who they write for, themselves or their reader, they often get the deer-in-the-headlight look as if it’s a trick question. It isn’t. It’s a real question.

If you write for yourself, why not just journal? If you write for your reader, you’ve got a few things to think about besides yourself.

For example, who is your reader? Think beyond age and gender. Think education, think profession, think relationships, think whole person. Of course you’ll have many readers and no two will be exactly the same, but they will have things in common, so try to visualize the commonalities.

After you’ve acquainted yourself  with your reader, begin to ask questions about what the reader already knows about your topic (this includes both fiction and nonfiction writing, by the way). Then give some consideration to what your reader wants to know and see how you can rectify what you’re offering with what they’re wanting.

Some writers find it a bit intimidating to think about their readers. I’m not sure if that’s a security thing (as in, am I good enough to write this?) or what, but if that’s an issue for you, let it go. It’s getting in the way of your writing.

As I used to tell my managerial communication students in graduate school, “Your audience wants you to succeed. They really are pulling for you. If you’ve ever seen a speaker flounder or if you’ve ever  read a bad piece of writing, you know how painful it is to be on the receiving end. Thus, be assured, your audience wants you to succeed in your communication with them.”

Take some pressure off yourself and you will improve your writing. Your reader will be glad you did and you will too. Remember, writing is a one-on-one with the reader–except you’re not getting the feedback you would if you were face-to-face. Thus, you have to anticipate whatever questions the reader would ask and answer them. Does your reader want you to succeed? Absolutely! And you will, if you keep working.

Happy writing!

Publishers’ Decisions Criteria

While I certainly would never presume to represent every publisher and what criteria is used to decide which property to publish, I know there are some criteria that publishers who care whether or not a book sells use.

  • Will the book topic appeal to enough readers to make a profit? (This is about the size of the market of potential buyers.)
  • What are the credentials of the author? (This is a question even in fiction–look at the biography of  Patricia Cornwell.)
  • How much editing will the book need? (Editing costs money, so the better shape your manuscript is in, the better your chances of appealing to the publishing house’s decision maker.)
  • What is the author willing to do to create a buzz about–and sell–the book? (Remember that publishing is business and whether you invest in yourself or sell your intellectual property to a publisher, someone has to recover that cost of producing the book.)
  • What’s the competition for the book? (If someone with a platform–a speaker, consultant, celebrity, for example–has written a similar book, the public will hear about and buy it before buying a book written by an unknown.)

At Expert Publishing, we don’t accept every manuscript presented to us.  Oh sure, we could take author’s money (like the Internet puppy mill presses do), and publish books we know will fail, but that would diminish the quality of every author we publish and we’re just not willing to do that.

We ask questions about how the author is going to market the book. Why do we ask that since we don’t get a portion of the sale? Because if the author goes into publishing thinking of it as business instead of dream fulfillment, the author will approach the entire project differently and be thinking about sales. The more books the author sells, the happier the author is and the quicker we reprint!

Write with your marketplace in mind, and keep in mind the first place you’ll “sell” your book is to a publisher who doesn’t publish everything submitted to them.

Happy writing!

Research and Writer’s Block

One of the causes of writer’s block is lack of information–you’re blocked because you don’t know what to write.

How do you cure lack of information? Research!

I know that sounds boring and academic, but it doesn’t have to be. All research is about is gaining new insights/information you can use in your writing. Whether you’re writing fiction or nonfiction, you need to keep your facts straight.

How do you get facts? There are four primary ways:

  1. Look things up. With so much information at our fingertips via the Internet, the problem isn’t so much getting information as it is deciding what information is useful. You’ll want correct spellings of names, the correct sequence of events, correct quotes, etc.  Also be sure you get credibile sources because once you write something as fact, you’re held accountable for that fact by your reader.
  2. Ask people. People know stuff and one of the best ways to get them so share what they know is to ask questions about topics you’re interested in. How do you know who to ask? Brainstorm with yourself and others. For example, ask, “Who do you know who’s interested in…?” or “Who do you know who can tell me about …?”
  3. Make observations. It’s been said that writers are observers of life. Well, so be it. Tune into the world around you and notice what you notice. Jot down your observations. You may even try an experiment or two to see how people react in a specific situation.
  4. Connect with your reference librarian. In my classes, I get on my soapbox about this one. Save a job. Use your reference librarians, for they are a wealth of information–or at least they know where to get information. And, if you’ve never used a reference librarian, you are in for a real treat because these people LOVE what they do and help you beyond your expectations.

If you’re suffering from writer’s block, start researching. The ideas will come faster than you can capture them. The worst thing you can do is nothing because you’re denying your readers the benefit of your good writing. What are you waiting for?

Happy writing!