Guest post: The Nuances of Non-Fiction by Kristine Millar

Tonight’s guest blog post, on the topic of writing non-fiction, is brought to you by Kristine Millar.

The Nuances of Non-Fiction

You may have come to a point in your life where you believe that you have reached a level of expertise in a subject enough to write a book.  Alternatively, you may have credentials in a certain discipline and through your sheer passion for the topic; you become compelled to write about it.  In both cases, you are driven not only to impart information, but enlighten and sometimes (hopefully) inspire the reader.  Before you start clacking away on that keyboard, consider the distinctive nature of the non-fiction process.

Know your product…

Take the old adage ‘write what you know’ relatively seriously, and if you are writing a traditional academic, reference or technical non-fiction book, you will really need the experience and qualifications for people – and indeed publishers – to consider your work.  However, that is not to say that you cannot improve your knowledge with extensive research.  Indeed, never assume that you know it all, and always look at current arguments, innovations or approaches in your field of expertise to ensure that you are keeping with times, or – even better – are ahead of the times.

If you are writing narrative or creative non-fiction, it is just as important to have your facts right.  Accurate accounts of events are essential, and you should ensure that all the details are correct.  In addition, be sure that you can verify the story and have the reputable sources to do this.  The rest is up to your creative talent in making the story engaging and entertaining.

Non-fiction writing requires that the author has qualifications and/or experience in the subject. Your prior knowledge provides the gauge through which you choose your angle.  You may have twenty years experience as a social worker and wish to write a book that broadens the perspective of a particular issue in the field.  Indeed, having some expertise on the topic or in the field is the only way that one can identify ‘gaps’ in the market.  If we understand a subject through study or experience then we should also be able to identify which aspects of the subject have been neglected.

The gap in the market….

Try to find books in the market which are in the specific topic area that you have chosen.  If you search too broadly, you might be led to believe that your topic is unique and you have hit the jackpot!  Unfortunately, this is highly unlikely.  Keep refining your search and you will find that there will be several books close to the topic for which you wish to write about.  Don’t be disappointed.  This is your opportunity to find out what is missing in these books.

Another thing you must do is actually read them!  Either buy the book or borrow it from the library.  You can always purchase books on the second-hand market, so you do not need to invest a great deal of money in this process.  By taking this advice, you will find that it is an invaluable stage in the process of not only finding a gap in the market, but for refining your topic.

As with any book you wish to write, you always need to study the market place to see what else is out there, what style and approach other authors used, and even what their credentials are.

Research, research, research…

Now that you have refined your topic to a specific area, make sure you have access to what other people with expertise are saying about the topic or issue.  Obviously, you want to ensure that these are peer-reviewed sources from reputable experts in the field.

Academic journals are an excellent source of current debate and argument on just about any topic.  When you are on-line, you may find that you are only able to read the extract and that a fee is charged to download the full article.  However, if you keep searching, you will find that some university sites around the world do offer some free access to journals.  When you find these, save them in your ‘favourites’ straight away.  These sources are gold!  Some online magazines also provide high quality articles; it is just a matter of finding them.

Do not forget that the old fashioned library is also a great source of information.  If they have very little in your topic area, it is worth paying for a public member library card from a university library.  Trust me, it’s worth it.  This allows you to gain access to all the journals they stock and you can photocopy what you cannot borrow.  Always remember to write the author and publication details down whenever you take notes from a resource.  It is essential to cite your sources in your endnotes and bibliography later on.  You don’t want to be in a position where you have a great source of information to use but are unable to identify where it came from.

Structure, style and permissions…

The structure and style of your book will depend on personal preference.  Most non-fiction books have a table of contents, a notes section, a bibliography and an index.

As far as the style is concerned, you might see a style you like and adopt that approach.  Often experts in their field use case studies stemming from their work.  Sometimes, they are the best method to use to illustrate their point or support their argument.  Many self-help books utilise this approach, as do more academic works of psychology and medical science.

If you wish to use direct quotations from another source in your book, you must be granted permission.  In order to get this, you have to send out permission requests.  Details are usually on a publisher’s website.  Take into account that different publishing houses have different rules.  Although this process is time consuming, you cannot skip it, it’s the law.  Start sending them out as early as the completion of your first draft.  Most will grant permission free of charge, although some publishing houses will charge a fee.

Thank you, Kristine!

Kristine MillarKristine Millar has been a writer for many years, starting out as a poet and reading some of her work at writer’s festivals.  She holds a first class honours degree in anthropology and has qualifications in both psychology and professional writing.  These studies have given rise to a preference for a cross-disciplinary approach to the analysis of human culture.  She enjoys writing about current social and political issues and her work appears in online magazines.  Her first book is a work of philosophy and is called “Meaning, Self & the Human Potential”.

And Kristine told me a little about her book…

book coverMy book is a philosophical exploration of the ways in which we create meaning through our value systems, ideologies and perspectives.  It includes an analysis of the psychological and cultural factors which contribute to the formation of values and meaning, and the anxieties we face when we lose meaning in life.

These anxieties reveal a great deal about our human motivations and our potentials both on a conscious and unconscious level.  Further, they provide a window through which we can discover our true potential.  The concept of self actualisation is explored as well as our capacity to lead a moral and meaningful existence without a reliance on a transcendental source. Central to my message is to overcome the fear of death and to believe in the human capacity for good.

Kristine’s website is http://www.societyandself.com.

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If you would like to write a writing-related guest post for my blog then feel free to email me with an outline of what you would like to write about. If it’s writing-related then it’s highly likely I’d email back and say “yes please”.

The blog interviews return as normal tomorrow morning with novelist, poet and artist Baldip Kaur – the five hundred and seventy-second of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, bloggers, autobiographers and more. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further. And I enjoy hearing from readers of my blog; do either leave a comment on the relevant interview (the interviewees love to hear from you too!) and / or email me.

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As I post an interview a day (amongst other things) I can’t unfortunately review books but I have a list of those who do, and a feature called ‘Short Story Saturdays’ where I review stories of up to 2,500 words. Alternatively if you have a short story or self-contained novel extract / short chapter (ideally up to 1000 words) that you’d like critiqued and don’t mind me posting it online in my new Red Pen Critique Sunday night posts then do email me. They are fortnightly episodes, usually released on Sundays, interweaving the recordings between the red pen sessions with the hints & tips episodes. I am now also looking for poetry for Post-weekend Poetry.

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