Non-Fiction–The Road to Becoming an “Expert”

Today I decided to do things a little differently. Yes, Mondays are still dedicated to learning about the craft of writing, but it recently struck me that I had exclusively focused on novels. The lion’s share of beginning writers definitely lean to wanting to write novels, but there are other kinds of writers out there, and they need some attention too.

Today we are going to talk a bit about the realm of non-fiction. What are the advantages of writing non-fiction? How do you become an expert?

If you want to have a career as a writer and make money writing, I gotta say that non-fiction is an easier path. Note I wrote “easier” not “easy.” Nothing about being a writer is easy, which is why you will never make it if you don’t LOVE writing with every fiber of your being.

After almost ten years in this business, I believe I have earned enough experience points to say that writing non-fiction has a number of advantages. For those of you who follow this blog regularly, but happen to be born-fiction people, read on. Non-fiction holds some advantages for all writers.

1. It’s easier to get an agent/published in non-fiction.

I can hear the groans and boos, but it is true. Non-fiction isn’t subjective like fiction is. It is easier to fill tangible needs, target an audience, gain a following and build a platform. Face it. If you have a blog about how eating nothing but Spam and mangos helped you lose 50 pounds in three months–the Spamango Diet–and you can add a list of testimonials and show how ten thousand people a week click on your Spamango Blog…it’s going to be a pretty easy sell (and generate contraversy to boot, :D).

Tosca Reno (pictured above) was a 200 pound, depressed, unhealthy housewife who became a competitive fitness athlete after the age of 40. Tosca busted all the misconceptions of women and age. She took her experience and wrote a weekly column In Oxygen Magazine and then later wrote a book. Her Eat Clean Diet is a popular phenomenon.

Your Inner NF Author

Are you a whiz at balancing your checkbook and saving every penny? Possess superior organizational skills? Are you a Toddler Whisperer who can calm even the most hot-tempered three-year-old? Then you may have the makings of a non-fiction platform.

2. NF does well being self-published.

Say you have a knack for matchmaking. You are the go-to gal for those who want to be set up on a great date. All your single friends rely on you for the best love advice. In fact, a number of the friends you’ve set up on dates have even gotten married, all because of you.

You have a popular blog and do regular community TV interviews, radio interviews and talks at local Rotary clubs teaching others your unique insight into romance. You decide to write a book with all the best tools and tactics for successful dating. Do you have to land an agent or get a publishing deal? In my opinion, no. Not right away.

If you have built a platform, then you can likely move a decent amount of copies on your own. Sell your own books for six months or a year and then add it to your agent pitch. Now you are able to show that your self-published NF has a market.

Nontraditional publishing works really well for areas that are a tad gray. For instance, back in the day when I was pitching agents about a social media book, I consistently got the same answer. “Kristen, this is the book everyone wants and needs, but no one wants to be first.” Every agent knew that a social media book was needed, but none of them could wrap their minds around how to write one that would have any kind of longevity. Social media simply changed too quickly and traditional publishing is…slooooow.

They recommended that I self-publish the book first. I didn’t self-publish. I happened to go with a new non-traditional publisher Who Dares Wins Publishing, and that has been an excellent decision. My book has been tremendously successful and has a growing worldwide fan base.

What advantages did I gain?

Now it is far easier for me to show a larger publisher that I am worth their time and money for future books. Also, because I had already finished a book, it was very easy to get an agent. I had a product and a platform. Gina knew I had the stick-to-it to finish, and not only finish, but have an excellent product. Also, the first book has given me scores of testimonials from people who applied my methods. That gives statistical proof that my methods do work. I am no longer a theoretical success, I am a proven commodity.

3. NF naturally lends itself to other endeavors that generate income.

Being a NF author can open doors of additional revenue aside from the book. Can fiction authors do this? Sure, but NF lends itself better to paid workshops, speaking engagements, television, conferences, etc. NF authors are much more likely to be interviewed on big shows like Ellen, The View, or The O’Reilly Factor. These appearances sell a lot of books. Yes, sometimes fiction authors will make appearances, but they are small in proportion to the NF experts.

Fiction can eventually pay money, but think of that as your long-term investment. It takes years to write the book, get the agent, get the book on the shelves, and then almost an additional year to receive a check. It’s gonna be a loooong time before you get paid.

What do you do in the meantime? How can you be viewed as a legitimate writer? Heck, how can you pay some bills? Non-fiction is a great option. Whether you are writing articles, paid blogs, reviews or even web content, that practical side of your brain can help you make ends meet.

Great, Kristen. But who would listen to me?

As you can see, there are a number of advantages to writing non-fiction. The pickle with non-fiction, however, is getting people to care about what we have to say. Hey, everyone has an opinion. Why should we pay attention to yours?

How do we become an expert?

Get a Piece of Paper

This is probably a “no duh,” but those individuals who grace the halls of academia long enough to get extra letters added to their names already have an advantage. If a pediatric neurologist decides to write a book about autism, it is likely readers will trust what she has to say.

Do we have to have to have an advanced degree for people to take us seriously? No.

Experience

Do you have something in your background that makes you uniquely qualified to talk on a certain subject? Above we talked about the neurologist who writes about autism, but what about the mother of an autistic child? Isn’t she also an expert? Yes! She is just an expert of a different sort.

This is mainly how I became a social media expert. First, it was because I spent far too much time on social media :D. I also happened to be one of the early people who saw what social media could do for authors. I find it funny that four years ago I was asking agents what they thought of social media for writers, and they looked at me like I had sprouted another head. Now many of these agents won’t take on a new author unless she can demonstrate a viable social media platform.

So how did I become an expert? I tried and tested every method the other “experts” of the time happened to be touting. What worked? What went BOOM!? I am infinitely grateful for the DFW Writers Conference and Bob Mayer for being my early guinea pigs. I didn’t get paid, but they gave me free reign to try different stuff, and that freedom was invaluable.

Actual Photo of Social Media Expert Kristen Lamb–The Early Years

We Are Not Alone–The Writer’s Guide to Social Media was birthed out of those years of trying different things, failing, then trying again. I always joke that the title of the book should have been I Made All the Dumb Mistakes So You Don’t Have To. In short? I became an expert based on my experience.

What if you want to write a NF book, but you don’t have a specialized degree/certification and you have no real experience? How do we start from ground zero, nada, nothing? Good questions, and we will answer them next week ;).

In the meantime, how do you guys feel about NF? What do you think someone has to do for you to consider them an expert? Suggestions? Advice?

Happy writing!

Until next time…..

Give yourself the gift of success so you can ROCK 2011. My best-selling book We Are Not Alone–The Writers Guide to Social Media is recommended by literary agents and endorsed by NY Times best-selling authors. My method is free, fast, simple and leaves time to write more books.

Also, I highly recommend the Write It Forward Workshops. Learn all about plotting, how to write great characters, and even how to self-publish successfully…all from the best in the industry. I will be teaching on social media and building a brand in March. For $20 a workshop, you can change your destiny….all from the comfort of home.

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  1. #1 by Piper Bayard on January 17, 2011 - 5:13 pm

    I’m glad you’re doing this series, because I’ve always wanted people to pay me to tell them how to do things. As far as experts go, I will always listen to the voice of experience over the voice of academic knowledge. I mean, who do you want flying the plane? The pilot who’s read all the books, or the pilot who has clocked a thousand hours? Thanks for clocking 10 years so I don’t have to. All the best.

  2. #2 by Austin Wulf on January 17, 2011 - 5:56 pm

    There’s definitely value in non-fiction writing. For those of us who want to pay the bills with words, NF is a great project between novels. If I had to guess, I’d say it’s more lucrative than fiction. And NF isn’t limited to books, either; magazines, newspapers, blogs, etc. are all ways to get paid for writing non-fiction.

    Thanks for the great post!

  3. #3 by A.J. Zaethe on January 17, 2011 - 6:03 pm

    I have often thought about Non-Fiction writing, but in truth, I can’t say I am the expert of much. I will definitely think more on it. Logically, I had assumed it easier to write. Now to take a look at this again.

  4. #4 by Gigi Salem on January 17, 2011 - 6:15 pm

    Well, when you consider the sort of blogging you do… isn’t that non-fiction? And yet, it’s entertaining as well as informative. I think this will be a great addition to my weekly reading!

  5. #5 by Marilag Lubag on January 17, 2011 - 7:05 pm

    As far as I know, most self-help books fly off the shelf, especially if it’s one of those about New Age/Law of Attraction, diet, get rich schemes. It might also be easier to write NF if someone went to college, the land where you’re required to analyze, criticize and make opinions based on what the others wrote before. I mean, college papers and NF books have the same format–tell them what you’ll tell them, tell them, tell them what you told them.

  6. #6 by Bob Mayer on January 17, 2011 - 7:17 pm

    One thing people can do is use their blog to write a book. Since you’re doing a blog to establish platform and inform people, use the content of it as the basis of your non-fiction book. I’m currently rewriting parts of my Novel Writers Toolkit on my blog. In an online course I’m teaching, I’m rewriting another nonfiction title.
    Kristen is right– nonfiction is easier to sell than fiction. You can target your audience for nonfiction.

  7. #7 by dtrasler on January 17, 2011 - 8:09 pm

    Hooray for non-fiction. As a playwright, i often feel left out at writing groups, since I’m not working on a novel. Following a Social Networking seminar last January, I decided to beef up my blog and follow the same advice you just gave: Use my expertise to write a non-fiction book. Since I’ve been writing plays for Community Theatre for a decade, and reviewing scripts for a publisher for three years, I figured I knew as much as anybody else, and probably a lot more than some people. I wrote “Writing a play for Community Theatre” over the course of five months and launched it through my blog, my writing company website (www.tlc-creative.co.uk) and through my theatrical publisher. I haven’t been able to buy my yacht yet, and I don’t push the book as well as you promote WANA on your posts, but I did it, I wrote it and people have bought it. I am an expert!

  8. #8 by Brooks J. Young on January 17, 2011 - 8:48 pm

    Thank you SO much for writing this post! I am writing a self-published Christian nonfiction book and felt like no one was blogging about nonfiction writing.

    I am a first-time visitor to your blog and will be back daily to see what’s. I am hoping for more writing on nonfiction.

    • #9 by M.E. Anders on January 17, 2011 - 9:36 pm

      Brooks, you will LOVE Kristen’s blog. Make sure you subscribe. She has many tips that can be applied to non-fiction, I assure you.

  9. #10 by M.E. Anders on January 17, 2011 - 9:35 pm

    Hear! Hear! I am definitely a non-fiction fan and writer. Just as you put it, Kristen, I dedicate part of my day towards my commercial/article/magazine writing. The other hours are dedicated towards my long-term fiction work.

    Being a Fitness Maven, I pour much of my energy and soul into training, education, and promotion of physique sports/endeavors.

    Here’s my latest post, An Ode to Style: http://wp.me/p1gAw0-4

  10. #11 by silvercannon on January 17, 2011 - 10:02 pm

    Thanks for writing this post. I would welcome more about non-fiction writing on your blog. Your posts are always informative and entertaining to read.
    Reading this one gave me an encouraging nudge in a direction I’ve been considering. I’ve been learning to write better. After the recent yearly goal-setting thing, which is very new to me in such a detailed form as I did this year and considering how complex my life is across the board, I thought it might be fun to write a very personal self-help book for my own use. A practice book of the numerous ways I’m trying to grow, organized written parameters that I’d be well to follow (like my specialized diet) and such. That would help my focus and maybe help with my lack of verbal acrobatic skills when questioned about such areas.
    The first one could be very rough because next year’s would be revised.I’d learn more about writing a book and then I could reward myself with printing one private copy with an online book printing site. It could be fun.

    • #12 by knotrune on January 18, 2011 - 12:10 pm

      I like your idea of a personal self-help book just for yourself, with all the stuff you’ve learned and stuff you want to implement written down and looking proper. A single copy of such a book from a pod company, maybe refined each year, would an excellent method for personal progress. I really like that :) I’m going to make a note of it, and maybe, eventually, one day get round to it…

    • #13 by silvercannon on January 19, 2011 - 12:21 am

      Replying to my comment # 11, my brilliant idea has been done…I just learned about a book called The Happiness Project by a blogger which is a New York Times bestseller. I’m sure there are more.

  11. #14 by educlaytion on January 17, 2011 - 10:17 pm

    I wrote a novel a few years ago. Great experience; terrible book. It will never be published without a super lift and massive implants, but I became a much better writer for going through the experience.
    Since then I am a total NF guy. That’s all I do. I’ve been fortunate to get paid here and there and am working on my first serious book length project. One of the best things about this blog is that I love your teaching, but your principles usually apply to us non-fic peeps just as much as fiction writers. I backed off from Writer’s Digest for a couple years until recently because I wasn’t feeling the 80% of info for fiction writers. But as this post once again proves you, madame, rocketh. Your blog is a literary mosh pit.

    • #15 by Author Kristen Lamb on January 18, 2011 - 3:00 am

      Awww. I so love your comments. Gives me the oomph to keep on keeping on. I needed to change it up. I got a nice e-mail from a NF writer politely reminding me that they need love too. I love NF, which is part of what makes me a skilled blogger. I had the same experience with my first novel, as you already know. But making fun of that bad novel has helped a lot of new writers avoid the same mistakes. Thanks for all your support!

  12. #16 by writerwellness on January 18, 2011 - 12:28 am

    It’s true about non-fiction being more accessible. I wouldn’t call it easier. I received 69 rejections on my non-fiction title before number 70 said yes.
    Joy

  13. #17 by Lisa Ullrich on January 18, 2011 - 1:31 am

    I love NF. I actually read more NF than fiction. The only thing with NF is you need to pay attention to references. When you’re just using your imagination, there are no references to list. I always hated citing sources in school.

  14. #18 by Tamara LeBlanc on January 18, 2011 - 2:01 am

    I’m not a NF reader. Not normally. I read your book cover to cover, but that’s not the norm when it comes to me.
    But learning about NF, and how, for the most part, it tends to be the lesser evil of the publishing world was very interesting.
    I also liked the pic of Tosca Reno. I read her articles I magazines and really enjoy her POV on exercise and health. Too bad I don’t practice what she preaches:)
    I suppose if I were to write a NF book (and that’s a huge if since fiction is what makes my heart go pitter pat) art would be the theme. I’ve painted loads of murals and canvas art. My mother and I even owned a hand painted furniture business years ago.
    But…hmm, even typing the words mural artist out makes me wanna yak. Painting trees and bunnies on walls is nothing compared to crafting romantic story lines.
    So I suppose I’ll stick to what makes me happy…and doesn’t make me dry heave.
    thanks for the words of wisdom.
    Have a great evening,
    tamara

    • #19 by Author Kristen Lamb on January 18, 2011 - 2:55 am

      I feel ya. But if you decide to blog to build your platform, all that blog material can be easily turned into a NF book.Then you are officially a published author and you could make some coin, too :D. As a fiction author, you will want opportunities to speak at conferences and teach. Great for money and networking. But I am a firm believer that you never do something unless you love it. I hope you will enjoy the upcoming blogs. The tips can help fiction authors too in promoting books eventually. Hugs!

  15. #20 by Sharon Hamilton on January 18, 2011 - 2:09 am

    Aha! At last something I don’t 100% agree with you on. Well, just a little I don’t agree with you on. I think the trend is in the fiction writer’s favor. Are you seeing and hearing those Indie authors making five and six figure incomes in ONE MONTH? I think they are the first of many.
    We can spot the trends and respond to them sooner with the self or epub route, something NYC is sometimes afraid of. The public wants inexpensive books fast, on impulse. Look what happened when downloads of music started? But you are right about one thing. When I want a good reference book, like yours, Kristin, I order it in print form, so I can flip through the pages and use what I need at the time. Those kinds of books will always sell in any market.

    • #21 by Author Kristen Lamb on January 18, 2011 - 2:49 am

      Actually we don’t disagree at all. I hesitate to put out opinions in areas where I have no experience. I can blog confidently about NF and can only give my armchair expert opinion on fiction. Personally, if you can turn out quality fiction fast? Self-publish. Build a following and a platform and sell your stuff off a website. Or get a great indie publisher like mine who will offer you a great royalty rate. In category romance? Erotica? Westerns? Pulp style novels that a writer can produce 2-4 a year (or more) to feed a need? Don’t bother with traditional publishing. It’s a win-win. If you don’t sell a lot of books, you still made more than you would have fermenting in the rejection pile. If you do sell and sell well, traditional publishing will take notice and hopefully offer you a sweeter deal. But, with almost 100% royalites, they are going to have to make a very nice offer.

      The paradigm is changing …and that’s why everyone must have my book :D! Ha ha ha ha! Build a platfform the way I teach and you will open a lot more doors of opportunity for yourself. Thanks for the compliment and taking time to comment.

  16. #22 by Donna Newton on January 18, 2011 - 10:42 am

    I love this post! As I loved your book, We Are Not Alone, A Guide To Social Media (plug, plug). I’ve had much success with writing non-fiction, in the form of freelance and commissioned magazine articles. It will be interesting to see how my fiction fairs in 2011/2012.

  17. #23 by Nigel on January 18, 2011 - 12:11 pm

    I so lick you’re blog. It’s the beast! :)

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