What’s the difference between writing nonfiction and fiction? We all know nonfiction is true and fiction is imaginary. Most people can readily spout off all sorts of other ways nonfiction and fiction writing are different, but how are they the same? If the writer has the ultimate goal of writing a sellable book, there are lessons to be learned and applied from each side of the book shelf.
For instance, all the best stories have a captivating beginning to draw the reader in, a solid middle that comes to a climax or peak, and a satisfying wrap-up to end the book. That’s right, even if writing a nonfiction book to leverage your business expertise or a memoir, this basic formula matters. It makes a book more readable and enjoyable. After all, how will a nonfiction writer get the message about business expertise or life lessons across to potential readers if they get bored, not of the subject, but with the writing?
No matter if writing fiction or nonfiction, the main character needs to be relatable, likable, and trustworthy. The world, the problems, the pain, the solutions need to be believable and solvable. Yes, these things are true in the real world and the made-up ones, too.
One of the biggest mistakes nonfiction writers make in writing a business book is to dump a bunch of verbiage about systems, processes, and how-to advice onto the pages, but not let the reader into their world. Even if the book is a nonfiction business book, a reader wants to know the writer’s overall philosophy:
- What made you become the expert in ___?
- How and why you learned what you learned along the way.
- What motivates or inspires you to do ___?
In other words, the written message needs to create trust, build credibility, and inspire action.
Often publishing nonfiction, and getting paid for it, is easier than publishing fiction. There simply are more venues for nonfiction writing. Think about all the outlets for a true story, other than books, there are magazines, newspapers, and all news media from television and radio to blogs. But an online search reveals there are still outlets purchasing both nonfiction and fiction short stories, for instance.
Back to publishing nonfiction books
More readers read nonfiction than fiction. To look at the numbers briefly, women read more than men in general. Women read more nonfiction than fiction. But the percentage of male readers of nonfiction versus fiction is exponentially higher.
Writing both fact and fiction is a creative process. Many people say nonfiction writing is time bound and therefore is a very disciplined skill. I’d argue that if a writer wants to start and finish writing and then publishing any book, it takes discipline to carve out time from busy schedules, and then sit down and put words on the page. Therefore, my belief is an achievable schedule or process commitment to writing is a key to success.
The problem comes in when a writer makes a promise that is something like, “I’m going to write 5,000 words a day for the next month.” Then, before they know it, the stress of now having to force themselves to write 30,000 words today to catch up weighs heavy on them and shuts down the creative writing process. Some people do indeed write better and really get creative when pushed on a deadline, others get frozen by the fear of deadlines, self-imposed or otherwise.
The key point in writing is, no matter if writing nonfiction or fiction, both require an understanding of the writing process, how to create a marketable book foundation, and a commitment of time to produce a quality product.
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