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Five REALLY GOOD Reasons to Write Non-Fiction

Five REALLY GOOD Reasons to Write Non-Fiction

Non-fiction is a HUGE market. Really huge!  And yet it is a market that many freelance writers ignore. Usually when we decide to earn an income from writing, we focus on becoming the next Stephen King or J.K. Rowling. Not too many people dream of writing a best-selling book that tells the reader something they might want to know. Or even something they don't know they want to know! That's good news for you and me. Why? Because while a BIG proportion of writers competes for a nibble of the fiction pie, a MUCH SMALLER group of writers is quietly providing material for the lucrative non-fiction market. Here's a little exercise to get you thinking. Walk through your house and have a good look at the titles on your shelves. Check out your study, your bedroom, your living room. Don't forget your kitchen. Mentally classify your books into fiction and non-fiction titles.

Here's what I found. Most books in my living room are fiction but I also have books on gardening, wildflowers, home maintenance, healthy living, bushwalking and pet care. In my kitchen I have twenty-seven books related to food. (By the way, books on cooking and wine account for 10% on average of books sales). In my study, I have three bookshelves crammed with reference books and magazines.

Conclusion: Over two thirds of the books in my house are non-fiction.

Think about the amount of space given to non-fiction of titles in bookstores. There are whole sections on biographies, pets, crafts, sports, spirituality and sexuality and a whole lot of other alities! Now think about your local library. And your school library.

People were paid big dollars to write these books.

Now think about those little readers the kids bring home from school. You know the ones. They have a few sentences per page about a simple concept - maybe snails and slugs or how to make a paper plane or a kite.

People are paid well to write these books too!

While you're doing all this thinking, consider these remarkable facts about the massive non-fiction market.

FACT 1: The biggest selling book in the UK for eight weeks in a row was a NON-FICTION book on punctuation. That's right. A book on the unsexy subject of commas, colons and dashes called Eats, Shoots and Leaves outsold popular fiction titles such as John Grisham's The King of Torts in Dec-Jan 2004.

FACT 2: Almost 46% of all new books sold in the US in 2000 were non-fiction. That's about 638 million books!!

FACT 3: Over 7,700 different magazines are published in the USA every year and this figure is growing rapidly. The biggest increase is in special interest topics such as health and fitness, home interest, family, computers, music and entertainment. Each new issue is jam-packed with fresh material, much of which is obtained from freelancers.

FACT 4: About 90% of unsolicited material sent to publishers is fiction. That means your NON-fiction submission could be competing with a mere 10% of the slush pile.

FACT 5: Most non-fiction writers do less work for more money. Consider these two scenarios:

Scenario 1
Ben is a small time writer with big dreams. He has a great idea for a fantasy story involving a clash between inter-galactic worlds. Ben has researched the market and found that sales of science fiction novels are rising. He spends twelve months plotting and drafting and editing his masterpiece and then studies the Writers' Marketplace to find a suitable publisher. Now for the Long Wait. Since the target publisher receives hundreds of submissions every week, Ben will be lucky to receive a reply in three or four months.

What are Ben's chances of a contract after all that effort? As an unknown writer, Ben has a better chance of winning the raffle at the state fair. Firstly, his target publisher would need to be looking for a story just like Ben's to suit their publishing list. Secondly, the publisher's own successful and well-known authors must be somehow rendered unable to provide a manuscript to fill this niche.

It's not sounding too good for poor old Ben. Especially when you consider that major publishers buy approximately 1% of the unsolicited fiction that thumps onto their desk.

Scenario 2
Bev is also a small time writer with big dreams. She has a great idea for a book on ways to amuse toddlers on long plane trips. She's researched the market and can't find a book of this type anywhere. Bev spends a couple of months putting together a proposal and an outline. She also writes a killer query letter backed up with all sorts of statistics. When her proposal is ready, Bev studies the Writers' Marketplace to find a suitable publisher. So far so good. But now it gets even better. Bev doesn't have to wait too long for a response since the non-fiction editor receives only a few dozen submissions a week. If the editor likes Bev's idea, she has a 50% - 70% chance of publication.

The fact is that non-fiction pays well and sells well. It amazes me that so few people consider writing for this market. Perhaps they feel they don't know enough about any one subject. This is crazy thinking. Not every non-fiction book has to be written by an expert with a Ph D. A large amount of non-fiction material is written for magazines or for the educational market. I've sold over forty non-fiction books to an educational publisher and the topics range from worm farms to soccer to water conservation to bushfires. I didn't know any more about these subjects than the average Jill but I learnt how to find out. I also learnt a lot about the issues that hold writers back from non-fiction. Issues like how to find markets, how to approach editors, how to make a submission look professional, how to write a proposal, how to find photographs and tons more.

Publishers Weekly

© Jill McDougall http://www.jillmcdougall.com.au
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