First and foremost is all of the free stuff on the internet. Fast, convenient, easy to search out, it has made writing and selling non-fiction books a much more difficult proposition. So, what does it take for a non-fiction book to be a success?
Wendy Lawton at Books and Such did a nice blog on this at their blog (click here to visit) and caused me to start thinking about this topic. To read more I recommend you go there, but her main four topics were:
1. The book must meet a “felt need).
2. It must contain information not available for free on the internet.
3. Must be the right topic by the right person.
4. Writing has to be exquisite. All of the elements that make good fiction must also be in good nonfiction.
Can’t argue with a one of those, particularly not the third one. A key ingredient for being successful with a nonfiction book is the authors’ credentials for writing it. I got a book a few years back claiming to have the solution to a majority of the world’s problems. Wow, such a book should be in great demand, right? The problem is the author was 22 years old. Do you think the world would believe he had enough life experience to even know what the world’s problems are, much less have them figured out? Maybe it was true, maybe he really had figured it out, but without credentials the reading public would simply not believe it.
By the same token I really don’t want a book on brain surgery written by an auto mechanic, or vice versa for that matter. Could they know what they were talking about? Sure, under some circumstances, but would the reading public believe it? No.
Platform, platform, platform, critical in non-fiction. For a publisher to get behind a book they would like to see an author with a recognized name, or with a speaking circuit where they would be out creating visibility and causing the book to sell. A non-fiction proposal that does not have a very strong section on platform is at a great disadvantage.
I’m a Christian, a daily Bible reader and study the Bible on a regular basis, but even at that I don’t consider myself a theologian and I don’t consider myself a good judge of strongly theological work so I leave it to others.
Memoirs and personal experience books, how about them? Everybody wants to tell their story, but do you want to read everyone’s personal story? The general reading public for the most part is only interested in memoirs and personal experiences if they know the person. So how well is the author known? I have encouraged several authors to take these personal experience books and make them a work of fiction if they have some interesting material in them. Then it becomes about the story and not about the person that the reader does not know.
We have to remember that we don’t get published by writing a book that we really want to write, but instead by writing a book that others really want to read. That means a non-fiction book has the same challenge that its fiction counterpart has. It has to force the reader to turn that first page and has to hook them into wanting to read it inside the first dozen pages. It has to maintain their interest and move them through the book. Even textbooks and reference books are not popular if they are a dry recitation of facts and have nothing in them to maintain the interest of the reader.
All of these things and more come into play choosing to represent a non-fiction book. Small wonder that I find myself doing less and less of it. But one that meets these tests should be an easy sell.