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Simon Whaley

Writers Bureau Tutor Talks About Writing Non-Fiction Books

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It's easy to get non-fiction books published in the UK these days. In an average year we have about 120-125,000 new books published and of those, about 20,000 are novels. So that means statistically, for every novel published, there are four or five non-fiction books published, so the odds are just that much greater. If you are used to writing articles then you can re-use the information that you've used in those articles, in your book and if you have those articles published that would give a publisher much more confidence in you because he will see you as an expert on that subject. The other benefit with writing non-fiction is, unlike a novel, you don't have to write the whole book first. You can produce an outline or a proposal and send that in to the publisher and if they like the idea, they will then come back and commission you to write the book. I've had three books done that way. The first one was called Best Walks in the Welsh Borders, another called Fund Raising for a Community Project and the third one was called Running A Writer's Circle.


My first book, One Hundred Ways For A Dog To Train Its Human, actually spent four weeks on the UK ‘Best Seller' list which was very nice indeed. It was published in 2003 and since then has actually sold over 210,000 copies. It also has three foreign editions, an Italian version, a Portugese version and a North American version. The follow-up book One Hundred Muddy Paws For Thought has sold over 50,000 copies but I've also had some success with some of my other books. Fund Raising for a Community Project tackles the dry subject of applying for grants. But it's actually the most borrowed book out of the nine I've had published from UK libraries and it's also the book I've done the most radio interviews for.


The best way is to try and target a series if you can. My first book One Hundred Ways For A Dog To Train Its Human, fitted in with the publisher's 100 Ways Series. I'd actually come across the book One Hundred Ways For A Cat To Train Its Human and realised that I could twist my idea to fit that, so I sent the proposal off to the publisher and they accepted it. Ironically, a friend of mine has written One Hundred Ways For A Chicken To Train Its Human. Following on from that one of my other books called Best Walks In The Welsh Borders, fitted in with the publisher's Best Walks Series by Francis Lincoln. I bought a couple of those books and realised that each of them had 35 walks in them with route descriptions, maps and pictures so when I sent my idea off to Francis Lincoln, I made sure that I had 35 routes with route descriptions, maps and pictures and they accepted it. What that means is, you don't need to reinvent the wheel. If you target a series you can follow the format that a publisher uses. So buy a couple of copies of the books in that series and look at them. Do they use diagrams? Do they use maps? If so, you need to do the same but it will increase your chance of publication.


A non-fiction book can be anything from 5,000 words upwards. I've written books of 5,000 words, 20,000 words and 50,000 words. A novel on the other hand can start at about 80,000 words and go up to about 250,000, especially if it's a family saga. So non-fiction books tend to be a lot shorter but there's more opportunities for them. The length all depends upon the subject matter that you are writing about.


No you don't need an agent to get a non-fiction book published. I say that because I've had nine books published and I don't have an agent. If you have an agent it does make things easier. There are one or two publishers out there that will only accept book proposals from agents but they're quite few. The opportunities for non-fiction is still quite great. My first book One Hundred Ways For A Dog To Train Its Human has three foreign editions. But it was the publisher that sorted that out for me, they liaised with the foreign publishers. If you are worried about a contract though, I would say join an organisation like the Society of Authors because they offer a free contract vetting service. I used those for all nine of my contracts.


The benefit of writing a non-fiction book is that opportunities come your way. For example magazine editors may approach you and ask you to write an article based upon the topic of your book. Hodder Children's Books approached me to write Puppy Talk for their children's division and that was because I'd written One Hundred Ways For A Dog To Train Its Human. Once you get a few books published there are other benefits. It means your books are now on the library shelves and every time someone borrows one of those books, you are eligible for Public Lending Right which is a small payment you get. The other thing I've done is radio interviews, for example, for the publicity of my books which have been very interesting. It's also nice because you often get asked to go out and about to do talks to groups and writers' circles, to talk about your books and it's also a great opportunity to sell them.


Annemarie Munro Writers Bureau's Student of the Year 2022

"I have seen my writing journey as an adventure: What can I write? What am I best at? What new aspects of writing can I discover and contribute towards? I have welcomed the wide range of modules covering different types of writing, challenging me to try new aspects in style and content, pushing me gently outside my comfort zone with encouragement.

"I signed up for the course in December 2020 as a Christmas present to myself and I started the first module in January 2021. I have had eight pieces published: three paid earning £1080 and a star letter where I won a £250 hotel voucher."

Annemarie Munro - Writers Bureau Student of the Year 2022

Read Annemarie's full story

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