Monday, November 3, 2008

Non-fiction Is Easier Than Fiction

Fiction is harder to write than non-fiction, or it should be. When you write fiction, you have to make it up as you go. When a writer writes non-fiction, he should know his subject well enough that he doesn’t have to make anything up, he just has to figure out the best order for the information and find a way to get the point across to the reader. Let me show you what I mean.

A college professor has spent years studying fish. One day the dean comes to him and says, “I want you to write a book. It will make the college look better.” Now the professor could decide to write about the history of Egypt. “That will give me a chance to learn about Egypt.” But he won’t do that. Instead, he will go to his files, pull out his work from the past several years and he will write about fish. In all likelihood, he could write much of the book from memory, but he will use his work and the work of others to insure the accuracy of his statements.

That brings us back to the subject of platform. Our platform is what we know, what we have learned, what we have experienced. Because of what we have learned, people look to us when they want to learn more about that subject. If we don’t have a platform that will support what we are writing then we can’t expect people to buy our work. I am amazed at the number of people writing devotional books without a platform to back it up.

If we take a closer look at that, what kind of platform would work well to support a devotional book? One person that comes to my mind is Maggie Chandler. She is pretty much unknown outside the BMAA, so she is a good example. Her platform is that she is a pastor’s wife, she has worked with Lifeword, she has written a popular column for the Baptist Trumpet, and she has spoken at various women’s gatherings. If she were to publish a devotional book, she would probably be able to sell several thousand copies if she and the publisher promoted it well.

Contrast someone like Maggie Chandler with another writer. This writer has been reading through the Bible and she gets to the book of Proverbs. As she reads she notices something fascinating, so she writes it in her notebook. She reads some more and writes something else down. “This is really cool! Other people need to see this. Maybe I should write a devotional book.” So she sets off to write a devotional book. There may be nothing wrong with what she has written or it could be that what she has gleaned isn’t as impressive to people who have studied the Bible more. There is nothing about her life that would convince people that she is qualified to write a book of devotionals, so the book won’t sell.

A good platform takes time to build, but people who have a good platform will find it much easier to write about things their platform supports than will people who have no platform. It may not be trivial to write a book, but people with a platform have a wealth of knowledge from which to gather information. People without a platform will struggle to find significant material and will have trouble getting people to pay attention.


Avily Jerome said...

I have found non-fiction to be much harder than fiction- and I think you just put your finger on why!

I have no platform.

I am the world's best mom- but since my oldest is only five, and hasn't yet had a chance to make me look bad, most people probably won't buy a parenting book from me.

I'm a strong Christian, with a good marriage. But since I've only been married for five years and haven't really had to go through a particularly trying time in my marriage, most people won't care about my book on marriage.

Ok, I think I'll stick with fiction until I'm older and have more to talk about.


Avily Jerome said...

I meant six years... I've been married six years.

Yeah, the math on that one could have gotten my srong Christian claim into trouble... I really have been married for six years though!

Timothy Fish said...

I'm glad you corrected that.