Tell me about telling a non-fiction story in book form.
December 8, 2011 1:35 PM   Subscribe

I have a journalism background and an idea for a non-fiction book that is biographical in nature. This would be my first attempt at writing a book of any kind. What should I know before beginning this process (other than it will take up all of my time and I'll likely never see a dime from it)? Suggestions specific to non-fiction writing appreciated.

Without getting too specific, the book would profile a pair of regional entertainers from a bygone era. One of the principals is deceased, but I believe the other one would be willing to grant me interviews as needed, along with the supporting players.

My motivation for wanting to do this: I want to tell this story, I want to try my hand at long-form writing, and I want to be a published author, even if it's self-published. However, I believe a local or regional publisher (possibly a university press) might be willing to pick up the book down the road. I believe there is a built-in potential audience of nostalgic fans of the entertainers, and possibly some broader appeal to fans of their genre. But regardless of what happens with it from a publishing perspective, writing the book is something I want to try on a personal level.

To the authors and book industry types out there: what should I know before beginning this venture? Is there anything I need to know from a legal perspective, since I'm writing about some people who are still living? Since it is a biography, am I required to call it "authorized" or "unauthorized"? Tips and suggestions appreciated.
posted by iamisaid to Writing & Language (6 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Get a contract first. Then you have to write it, and have a schedule.

Yes, seriously. Speaking from experience.
posted by lothar at 2:07 PM on December 8, 2011

Look for some books or articles about writing a book proposal, which you'll want to shop the book around to agents or regional presses. They may also want some sample chapters. Mostly, to get published, you need to convince someone that a) this is a story that needs to be told and will sell and b) you are highly qualified to write it.
posted by newrambler at 2:10 PM on December 8, 2011

I was going to submit this as a suggestion (not an affiliate link or anything). Michael Hyatt is the former CEO and current Chairman of Thomas Nelson Publishers. I would assume his advice as to how to prepare a proposal and pitch it would be helpful.
posted by jasondbarr at 2:28 PM on December 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

I agree with what's been said so far. Another tip would be to think of similar books that do what you're trying to do, and do it well. Can you articulate what is so good about these other projects? Doing so will help you to be more articulate about your own project when pitching it. This kind of research can also give you ideas about structuring your book, and help you generate a list of publishers that publish books like the one you're trying to publish. Finally, don't get discouraged.
posted by 6and12 at 5:54 PM on December 8, 2011

Is this the kind of thing that you want to write, regardless of it being published in any form, or the kind of thing you want to publish, and will only write if you can do that? Because if it's the former, heck, start writing and then try to maybe sell it later. If it's the latter... you should probably come up with a proposal. I co-wrote one of these about a year ago, and this doesn't seem like a bad place to start. Then shop it around to editors and agents. Interested parties will get back to you.

Really though, consider getting an agent. Talk with them about what you're thinking about doing and whether this is something they think they can help you sell. If the answer is "No," then you should probably only do this if it's something you want to write regardless.
posted by valkyryn at 6:04 PM on December 8, 2011

I think the book "Thinking Like Your Editor," by Susan Rabiner, could be helpful to you.
posted by hungrytiger at 11:31 PM on December 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

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