Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The Benefits of Writing Non-Fiction

If you happen to be reading my daily musings over at Free the Princess, you'll recall that on Friday I announced I'd be writing a work of non-fiction that's tentatively titled The Steampunk Research Primer, with the aim of collecting enough research on the Nineteenth and early Twentieth Centuries to give my fellow Steampunks a base point to start their own research from. I came to this decision because of three things: Gail Gray suggested it, L.T. Host coerced me into it, and I realized that it's taken me roughly a year to get to my current amount of knowledge about the Victorian period.

Why is that time frame important? Well, Harry Harrison said at one point that it took him five years of part-time research to get to the level of know-how he needed to write A Transatlantic Tunnel, Hurrah! Remembering that got me to thinking: How much faster would I have been able to draft CALLARION AT NIGHT if I had a primer like the one I intend to write at my fingertips? Probably a heckuva lot quicker, that's for sure. And then this has a double benefit for me, at least, in that my knowledge of the period will become even greater through putting together this primer.

There's a secondary benefit to writing the SRP as well. That, of course, happens to be platform-building. Let use another example: I'm going to be part of two panels at Upstate Steampunk in Greenville, South Carolina this fall. While on these panels, I'm going to discuss the roots of Steampunk literature, which as you may or may not recall, I spent the entire month of April on over at FtP.

The resulting academic paper, which I will hand in at that conference, will then be included as a writing credit in any query letter/non-fiction proposal I write. Why? Because it means I got published. If/when the SRP gets picked up, I fully intend to also mention that in any query letter I write.

Beyond the fact that it means I will be able to say I wrote the book on basic Steampunk research (which is kind of cool by itself), it will prove that I have the writing chops to put a coherent, salable book together. Will it translate directly into being able to craft a compelling novel? Probably not directly, but it does mean that someone enjoyed my writing style enough to take a chance on it. It also means that I know the type of people who'd buy my novel if I've already written a non-fiction book directly targeted to them.

The point of rather rambling post is this: We hear time and again that platform is an important part of being a writer. Non-fiction is dependent on platform and marketing plans and so forth. What better practice can you get than putting together a non-fiction proposal and trying to get it sold? Particularly if you know your topic well.

It's a thought at least.


L. T. Host said...

I think this works well for your genre, as well as the historical fantasy, etc., but for me? Not so much. Well, mostly. You already know about my NF idea and why I won't be writing it anytime soon, though :)

I'll focus on my fiction for right now, and just cheer you on through your proposal.

Susan Kaye Quinn said...

I think it's a great idea - plus, I have this idea that non-fiction is selling well, and may be easier to break into, assuming you have timely material/platform. I'm not exactly sure why I think this, and I don't have anything to back it up.

But for you, I hope it's true! :)

Stephanie Thornton said...

I actually had an agent recommend I write a non-fiction book on Hatshepsut. That's a daunting thought- I'm not an Egyptologist and have no platform. I'm in awe of your foray into the realm of non-fiction!