Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Anyone for non fiction?

Reading the various news articles on The Bookseller website this morning, I noticed one in particular on some of the peer review sites that have sprung up in recent months as a means of authors circumnavigating the slush pile. The best known of these is perhaps You Write On, which is sponsored by the Arts Council. Authors are asked to submit one or two chapters for review by their peers, with the premise that agents and those in the book trade regularly scour such pages looking for new and upcoming talent. Apparently several deals have been struck by such means. You Write On is by no means the only site, as there are quite a few of these projects now. Harper Collins plan to launch their own such site in February next year.

None of these websites though cater for non fiction and in fact, when you think about it, there are remarkably few resources for non fiction writers at all. The reference section in Waterstones and Borders (and no doubt smaller shops as well) is crammed full of books on how to write a novel, how to write a book proposal, how to do this and how to do that, but try finding a book on say research for non fiction writers and you are hard pressed (no pun) to find any. Some of the larger branches may have a small selection, but by and large you have to look elsewhere (which means the Internet) for such titles.

I find this incredibly irritating and frustrating for several reasons. Firstly non fiction has a much larger share of the market than fiction writing - around 80 percent in fact, and also because there are more different types of non fiction books - cookery, gardening, mind body and spirit to name just three, they tend to be given much more shelf space as well, collectively anyway. Go into a typical book store and you will see what I mean.

Writers who are trying to get their lucky break are told to do several things - read writing magazines, make contacts and attend writers workshops etc. How though is the non fiction writer supposed to do that when there are no such classes or books available to help them? And this is my point.

Some years ago I found a course listed in my local adult education prospectus entitled Creative Writing. It stated in the prospectus that it was suitable for both fiction and non fiction writers and so taking their word for it, I enrolled. It turned out to be an expensive mistake and with hindsight I should have demanded both a refund and an apology.

During the first class the tutor asked us to introduce ourselves and say what we wanted to get from the course. I was one of the only ones there who was not only a published writer, but also actually working on a book, and something therefore tangible. I was also the only non fiction writer in the room. I was then told that the course was predominantly for fiction writers, but we will do non fiction at some point, and was I happy to continue along those lines. I replied that yes I was, as long as it was understood that we would be covering non fiction during the duration of the course. Needless to say, we did not.

I persevered though and did my best to write the fiction homework that was set each week. I found it a struggle though as this type of writing does not come naturally to me - we all after all have different gifts and talents. After a while then I started to bring in parts of the book that I was at that time working on, and read them out in class. The comments were breathtaking in their rudeness and ignorance, with one lady having the audacity to say that I had no right to be there at all, as my writing was not what she thought of as creative. The tutor in the meantime stood there and did precisely nothing. Well after that I did write a very stiff letter of complaint and as a result they stopped advertising those classes as suitable for non fiction writers.

I personally believe that ALL writing is creative, for the simple fact that you are CREATING something - it doesn't matter then what genre you are writing, whether it is fiction, non fiction, horror, science fiction or whatever - ALL writing is creative.

What then is the non fiction writer to do? Network with other non fiction writers (not as difficult as it seems, and most of them I have discovered are more than willing to talk) and then look for the nearest course in Journalism. This is the closest thing you will ever find to a course that will help you - as I have discovered since I began editing my village newsletter.

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