Writing: Fact Or Fiction?

Steve Dempster

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Nearly everyone who wants to be a writer looks at the fiction market as being the way to go - but another, vast market exists. What is it? Let's find out.

The minute you mention that you're a writer you nearly always get the same reaction. It goes something like this: ‘Do you write crime thrillers/science fiction/romance/spy stories etc . etc. etc. ’ I was pleasantly surprised recently when someone I met at a writer's circle said ‘I don't write fiction. ’ We had a very interesting conversation, the essence of which was this -

The fiction market is absolutely crammed with writers: established A-listers, journeyman B-listers and aspiring hopefuls or those with maybe just one or two minor pieces published. In other words - it's a buyer's market. That's why this person writes factual books. Fiction publishers have their pick of the crop and can afford to be as choosy as they wish.

In a way you can't blame them: the cost of promoting an unknown author can be very high indeed and publishers are a notoriously hard-headed bunch. After all, an editor of any publishing house is responsible to the owners for turning a profit. It's a business, pure and simple.

Factual books are a different matter. I would not suggest for one moment that publishers of factual books - and they range from cookbooks to erudite tomes on some very rarified subjects - are any less business-oriented. It's just that writers of such books are noticeably thinner on the ground than fiction writers, making the chances of publishing success that much more favourable.

Indeed, many fiction writers also write factual books. George MacDonald Fraser, the author of the hugely successful ‘Flashman’ series of fiction books, also wrote several factual (and entertaining) books such as ‘The Steel Bonnets’ and ‘Quartered Safe Out Here’. His ‘McAuslan’ series are a thinly-disguised autobiographical account of his time in the army and bridge the gap between fact and fiction.

What does this suggest? Perhaps that even such a successful fiction writer as Fraser discovered the market for factual books?

Whatever the reason for Fraser's decision, the fact remains that books written about factual subjects sell. So how can you break into the market? First requirement: know your subject. This may seem obvious but you simply cannot write a factual book by picking up bits of knowledge from the internet and hoping to appear to be an expert. However, if you have been, let's say, a financial analyst, or a pro football player, or maybe just a lifelong gardener, you may well be qualified to write a book.

Second requirement: know how to write. This is where a lot of would-be writers blow out their cheeks and adopt a rueful expression: ah, if only I could write . . .

If you simply cannot write, consider a ghostwriter. These are people who will turn your knowledge and expertise into a manuscript that will meet the requirements of publishers, yet put your name on the dustjacket. It may not be your ideal way of seeing you name in print but it's an avenue to consider.

If, however, you possess the ability and the knowledge of your subject, why not try writing a factual book? Writing courses and classes are readily available and you might find you possess more ability than you thought! The market is there for you - go out and get a piece of it!

Steve Dempster writes fiction, copy and informative article such as the one above. He also ghostwrites. For more information about writing in general, try visiting I Want To Write!


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