By Liesa Malik
Gasp! As storytellers and novelists, the word “nonfiction” can sound very constraining. It conjures up all sorts of nasty images, like:
- Talking to, or interviewing total strangers
- Taking notes when people talk too fast
- Maybe even boring topics to write about.
But after over twenty years in marketing, and with a degree in journalism, I have to say that writing nonfiction is a terrific occupation for those of us who aspire to becoming published authors. Here’s what I mean.
Many Great Fiction Authors Started in Nonfiction Work
Ernest Hemingway started his writing career as a reporter for the Kansas City Star, and his work in the Spanish Civil War generated the background for his novel, For Whom the Bell Tolls.
Stephen Crane never participated in the Civil War. Instead, his experience covering the Spanish-American War for the New York World led him to create The Red Badge of Courage.
And these are not the only journalists-turned-novelists. Mark Twain, John Steinbeck, E.B.White and many more learned the craft of writing through their reporting of the day’s news before launching successful careers in fiction.
Writing Nonfiction Improves Your Research Skills
My granddaughter once told me she likes writing fiction because “you don’t have to get all the stuff right.” As experienced writers we know this isn’t true. You cannot put your protagonist at a gold mine located in Limon, Colorado, because a little research will tell you that Limon is a flat, prairie town named after a railway man, and gold mining had little to do with the formation of the municipality.
But research can become a rabbit warren of wasted time without a plan. When it comes to writing nonfiction, writing several small articles on a topic of interest turns it into the background you may need for your next novel. Often, the response to one well-developed question will result in a full article of, say, 1500 words.
Robert Lewis Stevenson wrote several travel essays as he explored his world, and through the experience developed the knowledge that would help him write such great tales as “Treasure Island” and “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.”
If you write science fiction, your research naturally lends itself to writing science. If you haven’t the expertise to write deeply on a subject, you can still write for children’s magazines and grow both your knowledge and your credentials from there.
If you write murder mysteries, police magazines may be a great place to both soak up the atmosphere and give you a venue to write up information you garner on investigating murders.
After all, it is said that writers often write to learn.
Writing Published Nonfiction Will Help Your Author Platform
Today, the author platform is all about you being a real person to your readers. Unfortunately, while you and I know we’re “real” we may not be “real-well-known” in the areas of literature we want.
But, when you start building a reading audience by guest posting on friends’ blogs about topics you are expert in, you’ll build demand for your work.
Let’s say you have an elephant for a main character in your book (don’t laugh: think “Water for Elephants” by Sara Gruen). A couple of trips to your local zoo, and a few articles written based on your growing knowledge will help others to see you as the expert you’re becoming.
You’ll also gain more audience from people who are interested in elephants.
And can you hear them now? “So-and-so wrote a great article on elephants for Zoo Lovers’ Digest. Now they have a novel out with elephants in it. Maybe I should give it a try.”
Writing Nonfiction Adds a Positive Effect to Your Bottom Line
We are all engaged with the “starving artist” image. But do you really want to go through life without the funds you’d like, just because you write for a living? Writing nonfiction articles placed in magazines, newspapers, blogs or even your own corporate business news can pay good money. Carol Tice writes a great blog on writing commercially. She has enough business that she can even afford to turn some down.
In his book, The Freelance Writer’s Bible, author David Trottier posts these popular nonfiction writing prices:
Case Studies . . . $50-$60 per hour
Ghostwriting . . . $25 – $60 per hour
Business Article . . . $.75 to $1 per word
This all adds up to great opportunity, if you’re willing to use nonfiction as your stepping stone to fiction writing success.
Liesa Malik is a freelance writer and marketing consultant originally from Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, but currently living in Littleton, Colorado with her husband and two pets. She has always enjoyed reading mysteries, from The Happy Hollister series, through Trixie Beldon and into Reader’s Digest’s Great True Stories of Crime, Mystery and Detection. A graduate of the University of South Florida with a degree in Mass Communications,
Liesa has built on her writing interest with long-standing membership in Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers and recently joined the board of Rocky Mountain Mystery Writers of America. She is the author of Faith on the Rocks: a Daisy Arthur Mystery. Most days you can find Liesa either at her desk or at a local ballroom dance studio. For more about Liesa, please visit her website.