skip to Main Content
How To Take Your Nonfiction Books To The Next Level, With Orna Ross And Joanna Penn: Advanced Self-Publishing Podcast

How to Take Your Nonfiction Books to the Next Level, with Orna Ross and Joanna Penn: Advanced Self-Publishing Podcast

Do you want to take your nonfiction books to the next level? Are you keen to learn how digital tools are changing nonfiction publishing for authors?

In this session, Orna Ross and Joanna Penn focus on advanced nonfiction considerations for authors. Both believe that almost all writers, including poets and novelists, benefit from including non-fiction in their publishing mix.

In this revealing podcast, these two leading indie authors share behind-the-books stories about their own creative successes and challenges in writing and publishing nonfiction.

In this podcast, you'll learn:

  • Why everyone should have nonfiction
  • Structuring and wrangling the material
  • How many books do you create to meet the need—one big one or lots of them?
  • Standing out in the market: personal story and voice vs/ business publishing & AI
  • The craft of nonfiction; literary nonfiction
  • Multiple products—books, workbooks, audio, courses, live events

Ingram Spark logo

The Advanced Self-Publishing salon is brought to you by Specialist Sponsor Ingram Spark. IngramSpark is the award-winning indie publishing platform that offers authors like you a way to publish your book and share it with over 39,000 bookstores and libraries worldwide.

Find more author advice, tips and tools at our self-publishing advice center, https://selfpublishingadvice.org. And, if you haven’t already, we invite you to join our organization and become a self-publishing ally. You can do that at http://allianceindependentauthors.org.

Listen to the Podcast: How to Take Your Nonfiction Books to the Next Level

Don't Miss an #AskALLi Broadcast

Subscribe to our Ask ALLi podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, Player.FM, Overcast, Pocket Casts, Spotify or via our RSS feed:

Subscribe on iTunes   Stitcher Podcast Logo for link to ALLi podcast   Player.fm for podcasts   Overcast.fm logo   Pocket Casts Logo  

Watch the Podcast: How to Take Your Nonfiction Books to the Next Level

Do you want to take your nonfiction books to the next level? Learn how digital tools are changing nonfiction publishing, with @OrnaRoss and @thecreativepenn in the latest #AskALLi #podcast Click To Tweet

Now, go write and publish!

About the Hosts

Joanna Penn is a New York Times and USA Today bestselling thriller author, as well as writing non-fiction for authors. She is also a professional speaker and entrepreneur, voted as one of The Guardian UK Top 100 creative professionals 2013. She spent 13 years as a business IT consultant in large corporations across the globe before becoming a full-time author-entrepreneur in September 2011. For more information about Joanna, visit her website: http://thecreativepenn.com

Orna Ross launched the Alliance of Independent Authors at the London Book Fair in 2012. Her work for ALLi has seen her named as one of The Bookseller’s “100 top people in publishing”. She also publishes poetry, fiction and nonfiction, and is greatly excited by the democratising, empowering potential of author-publishing. For more information about Orna, visit her website: http://www.ornaross.com

Read the Transcript

Joanna: Hello everyone and welcome to the Alliance of Independent Authors, Advanced Self Publishing Salon, with me, Joanna Penn and Orna Ross. Hi Orna.

Orna: Hi, Joanna and hello everyone, welcome again.

Joanna: Welcome again. Here we are and I can't believe how fast the year is going. It's just crazy.

So, today we are talking about taking your nonfiction books to the next level, because of course Orna and I both work fiction but we also write nonfiction.

So, we're going to get into that as our topic today, but before we get into that, we are just going to do our update as ever. We are authors, as well as, talking about writing, so, we always like to give you an update.

And the first update obviously is about the Alliance of Independent Authors. So, Orna as we speak on what is it Monday, the second Of March 2020, very important to date stamp this at 7pm. UK, time, what is happening with the Alliance this month?

Alliance Update

Orna: Well what should be happening is the London Book Fair, which as anybody who kind of knows us, knows is a highlight of the year for us. I launched at the London Book Fair back in 2012. You were there?

Joanna: I was.

Orna: Yes. So, lots of are — still existing members were there. And every year we celebrate our birthday there.

We do all sorts of education and things and London is one of the best publishing fairs for authors of a great author HQ and, and so on.

But of course, coronavirus has struck and is here now in the UK, as some sort of so many places, and we quite London Book Fair has said that it is going ahead. And obviously we've got a lot of thinking to do ourselves. I'm sure they are thinking too, about, you know, do we go ahead? What is the responsible thing to do? cramming 9000 people into a room, you know.

Joanna: With no ventilation.

Orna: With no ventilation, as we were saying earlier on, everyone else gets sick at London anyway, everyone ends up causing colds and things after London Book Fair and you know, a city of 9 million, all of those things that everybody's thinking about. So right now, we don't know what, what’s going to happen with the actual live fair. We do know that Self Pub Con the Self Pushing Advice Conference, which I run in the wake of the fair, bringing some of the sessions there we record some live sessions there and broadcast them in the conference and we were on 24 sessions over 24 hours. We do this twice a year and we'll go ahead, thank heavens for virtual.

Let's hope the internet doesn't catch cold, or yeah, so Self Pub Con will definitely go ahead, if London does find, you know, if London Book Fair does find that it has to cancel and we're all awaiting the word from the UK Government tomorrow actually. And if they find that they do have to cancel, then we'll try and see if we can do some of those planned sessions virtually, so that the program is not affected. So, we'll do our best we'll carry on and life happens, doesn’t it and every so often what do you do.

Joanna: Yes, life does happen, and we were also talking about this because, of course we understand that a lot of people are, you know, there's anxiety with things that are out of our control. And that happens in life in general and we're writers.

So, the one of the great ways to deal with stress and anxiety is to write about it. So, I'd say — I mean, I'm not someone who, well, I'm a thriller writer, and I read a lot of pandemic thrillers. So, I am quite hyper vigilant at the moment and I think a lot of people are so I'm dealing with this kind of by writing about stuff in my journal, but also, you know, I'm writing a novel, so I might as well put stuff in there.

So, use it people, I mean, you might as well and in just carry on, basically. So yeah, that that's all we're going to say on that topic. For now.

So, let's get on with our personal updates. Orna, what have you been up to?

Orna: Yeah, well, it's interesting that we, we planned this nonfiction session without realizing, I think the both of us were actually going to have a nonfiction books going up, here you’re a little bit ahead of me. Mine actually loads at the end of this week. It's just coming back from and just back from the proofreader, and I have to just do the checks. And so that is the long awaited by me, creative self publishing.

Maximizing Self-Publishing

So, this is sort of my view point on self publishing and how to maximize what it means for us all, and looking at the sort of seven processes that are involved in, in publishing a book and how do we take the most creative and the most personal approach to self publishing?

So, I think, you know, it arises as were seeing a lot of authors coming in who bring with them a lot of ideas about what publishing is and a lot of myths and misunderstandings about self publishing. I have them myself before I actually self published myself. It's and it's taken me a long time to really kind of catch hold off this whole very enormous chaotic hard to pin down, impossible to quantify, industry and say sort of what I definitively thing so it was important to me, in writing this book, that it would stand the test of time, so it isn't kind of, you know, having to upload your book to KTP. It's not that kind of book. It’s timeless principles and processes for publishing and for running an author business and doing that in the most creative way possible. So yeah, I'm excited that it is out. It is — we’ll be talking about the different kinds of “how to” fiction later on. So, it's our sorry, the different kinds of nonfiction and it is very much in the how to sort of end of nonfiction. And you?

Joanna: Ahh well me, well yes, I have one, here's one I prepared earlier.

Orna: Ayyy, it’s out, and it’s brilliant, is all I can say.

Joanna: Thank you, Audio for Authors is out this Friday, the sixth of March, but it's so interesting because of course, I uploaded the audio book, which I self narrated a number of weeks ago and it's not there yet on anything and there is apparently a backlog.

So, it's so it's kind of annoying because we can't do pre orders on audio. But I just remind people you can do pre orders on print so what I love with Ingram Spark and of course I should mention Ingram Spark is the sponsor of this podcast on The Alliance of Independent Authors network and with Ingram's when I put up my pre orders for the print book, a couple of weeks ago, and for the hardback, large print and the paperback, and that's been great.

Even my mom pre ordered, which is very cool because she doesn't normally do that. She buys it later, obviously as moms do, but having a.

Orna: Some moms.

Joanna: Having a pre order for print is brilliant and of course we can do pre orders for e-books.

So, now I remember when we didn't have any of those things, we didn't get pre orders for e-books until like a new five years ago or something. So, I'm now – okay, my next campaign is going to be getting pre orders on audio, so we can actually have a date when they go live, rather than this ridiculous upload them and wait and see. It might be three weeks, it might be four weeks, it might be 10 days, it just will appear, at some point.

So, that was just my little comment. I'm very grateful for the fact that we have pre orders, but I still think that we've got further to go on that.

Orna: Yeah, we want all three formats to be equivalent, on all matters. And I mean, we are getting there, we really are, considering that audio used to be considered a subsidiary, right and now is very much, you know, a core right for indies and we can do the app. So, yeah we will — I'm certain we will manage to make that happen.

Joanna: To make that happen.

Orna:  Yeah, I think so, it’s a matter of time.

Joanna: I think so too. I started writing, I'm kind of pointing in the wrong direction, but I can’t even do it.

Orna: Go over your head.

Joanna: Next sort of talk fantasy book in my MapWalker Series Map of the Impossible. So, I'm about 30,000 words into that and it's quite hard getting back into it, after the nonfiction you know that switching heads, but I feel like I'm one of these writers. I know some people just embed in fiction all the time.

But as we're going to talk about, you know, if you're the type of person who likes to write nonfiction, likes to do the different creative projects, you have to learn to switch projects. So, I'm back into that and I feel like it took me about a week to get back up to speed with the series. I totally forgotten all this stuff and now I'm like, okay, all right. You know, I had one of these mornings this morning when I thought, oh ok, this isn't so bad, but it goes up and down every day.

But good to be back to fiction, even though we're talking about nonfiction today.

Orna: Yeah, and that is life as the Indie, very often the book you're talking about, and the book you're writing are two completely different things. That's pretty much par for the course.

Quick question before you leave your audio book. Mary Tara wants to know, are you narrating this time?

Joanna: Yes, absolutely. I am indeed, “Audio for Authors” narrated by me, and but it's funny because if you're used to my voice on the podcast, of course, audio book narration is definitely more of a measured tone than the overly enthusiastic tone I often have in podcasting. So, but yes, indeed I am. I am narrating. Okay, so let's get into the topic for today.

Taking Your Nonfiction Books To The Next Level

Which is taking your nonfiction books to the next level. So, let's start

Orna:With what do we mean by nonfiction anyway, when we're talking about it as a kind of author entrepreneur?

Orna: Yeah, well as I kind of briefly alluded to earlier nonfiction is one of the macro genres. So, there are three that's fiction, nonfiction and poetry and within those kind of macro genre, lots of things happen. And especially in nonfiction, breaks down into genre, sub genre, sub, sub, sub genre and so on.

But the big kind of divide in nonfiction really is between sort of narrative nonfiction, which aims to tell a story you take a creative sort of approach and is a very often focused on the author and the artist perceptions and views of life or the author telling their own story in a memoir, for example, and where the other end of it, we're talking about sort of self help, advice, how to type of nonfiction and the focus there is very much on the reader.

But you know, where the reader finds themselves, how weak you know how we can help, them how we can provide value, they have a problem, how we can solve this that kind of thing. So, it's that different sort of a direction in which your nonfiction lens is turned, I think a very often decides the form that your book will take, because everything is different in those two, the voice, the shape of the words on the page, you know, the sentences, how long it takes to write very often, and all that kind of thing. And so, yeah, I think that's that and then you've got, obviously books that straddle both and do it and do a bit of both. And I do think that nonfiction has the potential to be a lot more creative than it often is, you know, so we do get a lot of very sort of step, step by step instruction, all sorts of stuff which is great and it ticks the boxes on everything, but there is also I think, a plenty of room for the other kind of nonfiction, which is, is more creative, more leisurely, you know, a more interesting read. And there's some amazing stuff at that end I think coming out all the time.

And yeah, it will be great to see Indies really moving into that territory and inhabiting it and I think we're really good on the how to end, very often up there at the very top and all the various niches and genre and sub genre, but not so much maybe on the narrative nonfiction end.

Joanna: I think this there is another subcategory which is kind of academic books.

Orna: Yes.

Joanna: And that is an entirely different business, I say business model, it's a business model for the academic publisher, but not necessarily people who write it, but yeah, I think I agree.

I feel like you know, my books like audio book and your self published or well, both of us have put elements of our personal story and kind of, you know, just personal details and voice and we'll come back to that in a minute. But for me, it's the difference between and I – and I use the wonderful Indie Rachel Herron, with two r’s as an example, who wrote a wonderful memoir about knitting, which I have got. Now, I'm not into knitting at all. But I just thought this was a brilliant way of structuring a memoir, which was each essay is based around something she was knitting. And so, it appealed to fans of the memoir genre, but also appeal to those who enjoy crafting and knitting and that type of thing. But that is a very different book, to a how to knit a woolen jumper

type book.

Mindset Of The Reader

So, the I think the big difference is the mindset of the writer, which is either, I want to put together something about my life, or I want to teach somebody else something or help someone else solve a problem. And it's that solving a problem that makes the type of nonfiction, I guess we're really talking about is that we want to sell a number of them. And in that case, you are looking at keyword research around book titles, which is why my nonfiction books have very obvious subtitles. You know, like How to Write Nonfiction. In fact, it's one of my books, How to Market a Book.

I mean, there really is no, you know, hiding what the book is about. But that is a good tip, for writing nonfiction to market, if we're going to talk about writing to market, it fits with my expertise, but it also is written to a topic that people are buying books in. So, what do you think about that, because right to market is a very difficult topic for people to think about, but if you want to sell some nonfiction, it can be more easily done.

Orna: Without a doubt, and I think it's it doesn't have to be an either or a for me, it's very much about finding that kind of sweet spot between what you want to do, but also what is your value to the reader and, you know, where do those two kind of come together that will actually give you your micro niche usually and it's well worth putting a lot of time into that.

And so, you need to begin with yourself regardless of which one you're going to write, you need to look quite deeply into your own motives for writing this particular book, what is the goal essentially, you know, are you writing this to help? You know, do you want to kind of give information? And if you do, you know, what sort of tone is it going to take? Do you want it to be inspirational and tone? Do you want it to be entertaining? You know, what are your goals, but then when you decided that and you understand that and then getting really strategic about, as you say things like the categories on the keywords, also the cover, the book description, and you know, there are conventions once you've decided what kind of book it is.

You need to start looking at the books, that are around that book in the online stores, really pulling apart, you know, the ones that are selling. Why are they selling? What is the appeal? What are the keywords? You know which category is it in? All that kind of stuff.

So, I don't think that doing that necessarily means you have to throw out your own sense of passion and mission and whatever it is that kind of making you want to write this book. But you definitely can't just go off if you want to actually sell the books, you have to just go off on that. You need to really think you know carefully about what value you're bringing.

Do You Have To Be An Expert?

Joanna: And in fact, that brings up a really probably the number one question that people ask around writing nonfiction, which is — Do I have to be an expert, an expert in order to write this? and I feel the answer is yes, and or no, depending on what you write. So for example, it is very clear that Amazon and Google and people are cracking down on books like in the medical, medical field and health fields that have claims that are not backed up by evidence, and are favoring books in those fields written by people who actually know, who have qualifications. So, it's very hard to tiptoe around this and this is also happening in the finance niche. So, this is money and health are two big areas, you know, Google with SEO, you know, a lot of people have seen their rankings drop, because they're not official experts.

So, and — this is very difficult again, because one part of me says, absolutely, they should absolutely do this, this is really important. And the other part says, what if something's on the, — cusp of, of someone's experience. So, I would generally say, like the topics I wrote about, you do not have to have an MFA to write a book on writing. I don't have any qualifications in writing whatsoever. I've just written a load of books

Orna: Well that is your qualification.

Joanna: That is my qualification, that’s the point.

Orna: There are people writing books about how to write books, who have never written a book. Lots of them.

Joanna: Presumably they wrote that book.

Orna: Sorry?

Joanna: Presumably they wrote that book, about writing books. But no, I think the other type, the type that we're talking about, generally, you don't have to have a degree in something in order to write about something or be a speaker about something. Or even most of us learn on the job, even if it's an official job, you learn on the job. So, there is a balance. It would – let’s say, it depends on the topic you write about.

Orna:  I think that's true and I think you need to look at also, this whole concept of value. You know, the value that you bring, because one of the things about self publishing is, you know, in the old days, an idea would come into a nonfiction publisher and the publishing team would sit around and say, no that's really a magazine article, there isn't enough in it for a book or they would say, no, that person hasn't got what it takes to have the confidence of the reader. You know, those kinds of judgments would be made about it. Now, we get to kind of put the books out ourselves, and we don't always know enough about, you know. Where the book is located in the marketplace? Wat's around us in terms of competition, and partners? and its value to the reader.

So, some kind of very hard looking at ourselves and our value I think is necessary because you can spend a lot of time writing a nonfiction book, and it can absolutely go nowhere, you know, so you don't want that. And I will go so far as to say that everybody's an expert at something. But it can take a little bit of trial and error before you find out what your expertise actually is and what your value actually is and thinking about that before you put the book out. There is probably a better idea before you put the book together.

So I think one of the things about nonfiction, this type of nonfiction that we're talking about the types that you and I write, and one of the things about it is that you can do an awful lot more planning up front, generally speaking than you do with fiction.

I know that there are exceptions to that, but I'm just generalizing because you have to. So, it's worth doing that planning, it's worth doing the thinking, you know, very often we're just going to sit down and write it. But it's worth doing a lot of thinking and a lot of research, if you were to pitch the book to a rights buyer and it was unwritten, it would, you would have to give a very detailed proposal. And that proposal would have to include a comparison with all the books and a justification as to why this book is necessary. So, it has to be unique in some way. It has to stand out from all the others, it has to be bringing something that the books that are already up there at the top of the best sellers in that particular niche.

You know, what, what are you doing that's different, and the difference has to be significant enough for the reader to be tempted and say, oh, yeah, gosh, I need to read that. So that's what you want them to be saying with a nonfiction book. With fiction book. It's kind of oh, I’d love to read that but with nonfiction very often, it’s I need to read that. So, what in your book that makes it a necessary read for the kinds of readers that you're trying to attract?


Joanna: Hmm. On that we do have a question is — that relates, Angie, I won't give out your whole name. But I've written a book about being bullied and what worked for me to move on. I was told I need public liability insurance, in case someone sue's me for the advice I gave that may not work for them. I presume you're in America, because in the UK, we don't particularly worry about that kind of thing. But what do you think?

Orna: Well, I think it's a funny kind of insurance. And but again, things may be different insurance and copyright and liable and all of these laws vary, very much territory to territory.

If you're telling your actual story, if you haven't gone, if you haven't been prescriptive in your advice. So, if you haven't said, you know, here's what you should do, here's what you should always do, in every case, and that sort of prescriptive advice might run you into trouble, it might be something you just want to think about anyway, insurance aside, I don't — I am not aware of the value of public liability insurance in this regard.

I — it's not something I've heard, but I definitely though have heard of people taking liable cases where they thought, they were described as a bully. And that will be a much more common sort of scenario and that you need to protect yourself against.

So, you know, I would go back into your story look and see where you prescriptive? Did you kind of tell people what they should do? If you did just soften it a bit, just say, this is my opinion, you know, here's, here's what worked for me. Put your disclaimers in and you'll be fine and I would forget about insurance.

Joanna: Yeah, what Angie says I am actually in the UK. So, what I mean like in my latest book Audio for Authors, I have a couple of chapters about copywriting, about money and I just put the beginning of each chapter. I am not a lawyer. This is not legal advice. This is my own opinion based on experience. Please seek advice from a professional or in fact, in the healthy, The Healthy Writer, we also put the same thing.

Ewan, who is a medical doctor in the UK said, I am a medical doctor, but I am not your, doctor. Therefore, this is not advice for you. This is opinion based on experience.

So, I think these types of caveats are going to help, but I certainly you know, we both know people who've written memoir, and you know, which is not prescriptive, who've still had issues with people they might have portrayed in a negative light. So, look, there's always risk I mean, personally, I steer away from saying anything negative about anyone in writing, or whatever. But, you know, you have to write what book you're going to write. So yeah, pragmatic, but again, we can't offer you legal advice, but the Alliance has –


Orna: I was just going to make the disclaimer. We have disclaimers all over the place as well on our nonfiction, because it's really important that people know that, and they thought they don't also take what you're saying as gospel truth because everybody's situation is very different.

But my feeling just about your particular situation with the disclaimer that this is not legal advice, is a public liability insurance doesn't seem to me to be the right vehicle here to protect yourself anyway, even if you were trying to do that. So, yeah.

Joanna: Okay, cool. Let's move on. Because we have lots to cover. We don't normally answer questions so much live, but there were some coming in that are kind of applicable.

So, let's talk about how many books so there is a big question about do you write the magnum opus, huge doorstop book with everything you know about a topic? Like that's one option, or do you write lots and lots of little books, that split the topic down into different things? What do you think?

What is Your Goal?

Orna: I think you split it down, is my sense and there are a few reasons why I think that's the way to do it. First of all, I think and  again, I'm speaking generally always this depends on your goal. But if —  so if you are we spoke about academic books or if you're in academia, there will be constraints on what you do and how you do with expectations around length you will want to kind of meet if you're establishing yourself as a sort of a thought leader and you may want to have this magnus opus at the top of the room that everybody is wildly impressed by. But generally speaking, for most of our members, for the average indie author, it makes a lot more sense to produce shorter books. It doesn't mean that it takes any less you know, are longer necessarily it may take you roughly the same amount of time to write those.

But the potential for commercial return is obviously higher if you can turn it into a series. But it has to be done in a way that actually works. So, it would probably take a bit more planning because you want to be putting out that first book when you know what's actually going on. I'm speaking here about a book that would have been a great big fat book years ago, that you can narrow down into smaller books, I'm not really talking about, say the way you cover authorship Joanna where you have, you know, a book on one particular aspect and then another one, then another one, they don't necessarily following any particular order, and people can pick up wherever they want to.

But there are also books that you break down where you kind of need to start at book one, just like a fiction series, and read — it makes more sense and you make most out of the book if you can actually read it in order and not sort of five books, three books, seven book series where you break it down small, you can plan the arc exactly as it would have been in a in a big book, but your reader is likely to absorb the information and give your attention for a short book. And unless you're a particular kind of reader, there are some people who love long books, but they are the minority and not the majority of your readers. And, and then, of course, you can charge, you can't charge seven times the cost for large books that you would for seven small books. So commercially, it makes sense as well.

Joanna: Yeah, again, I think it's that what you're aiming at. I mean, like this audio book, it's got audio books at audio for authors, audiobooks, podcasting, voice technologies, I really considered putting it out as two separate books, one on audio books and one on podcasting. And I decided to make it one, just because I wanted a coherent offering in that space, and I'm not planning to do loads of books on audios. It really is like, my collection of thoughts — on the whole topic. And the voice technology thing was not big enough for its own book. You know, so it felt right but the other thing I'd say is –

Orna: It also was sorry, just to say it also was what we were talking about earlier, I think, correct me if I'm wrong. But your USP, there are lots of books on podcasting and there are lots of books or audio books, but there isn't actually, to my knowledge any other one, that kind of survey’s the whole word voice, which is rising up in so many different ways. So.

Joanna: I hope so. I mean, it hopefully it's different in some ways. But I would also say that even, so I wrote a big book “Business for Authors” back in 2014, which I felt was exactly what everybody needed. And it included chapters on tax and strategic planning and business plans. And it's pretty comprehensive, and that just, it really hasn't sold many copies over the years and what I was so confused. I was like, why don't people — why aren't people buying this? And one it was early, obviously in the space but the other thing was I decided to put the a lot of the information that was most useful to most people, into How to Make a Living With You're Writing, which is a much better title, because who wants to run a business, when you can make a living with your writing and how to make a living is my best nonfiction title by far. So, what that is, is some of the same information but much shorter. So, it's about 27,000 words, How to Make a Living and Business for Authors is 70. So that was taking similar information and a big book and turning into a small book and in fact, Tony Robbins did this. He wrote literally, like this chunky doorstep book, called Money Master the Game. And it was brilliant. I loved it. But clearly, it didn't sell enough books because he came out with a short version, like this called Unshakeable about a year later, which was all the most useful bits in one shorter book. So definitely, even if you feel like I've done a big book, you can split it down into other things later and put a really good title on it.

Book Titles are Key

Orna: Yeah, the title is so key, with nonfiction.

Joanna: Let's talk because we said this would be a next level thing. I do want to skip on to that because I'm looking at time. So, there are two levels, two next level things we want to talk about.

The first one is craft. So how can you stand out with your craft? And the other one is business. What can you do to do next level business? Business-y things with your nonfiction so Orna do you want to start with craft?


Orna: Yeah, so I mean, I spoke I spoke briefly about and it's obviously very difficult to craft, is the hardest thing in the world to kind of talk about because it's very much a doing thing. But I think the first thing you need to do if you're actually talking about trying to take your nonfiction to the next level creatively is that you step away from doing what you would normally do.

However, you would normally approach the topic and one thing you can do is look at it from the opposite end. And you know, flip it over and think about how you would handle it differently.

But it's also very much I think, at the creative level, it is about developing your skills, the kinds of skills that make fiction work, make this sort of nonfiction work as well. So, we spoke briefly about story. And I think every nonfiction book will have some stories as examples and things. So, I'm not really talking about that kind of short story that says everything, unless they're really inspired, you know, really pointed and interesting stories. I mean that you see that a lot in self help books, you see ones that do very sort of mundane poverty stories, but then you see some, and for example, some Zen Buddhist books that have stories in them that are completely mind blowing and throw you out of you know, your sort of everyday mind state into a different mind state through the power of story. So, story is one thing I mean, everybody in marketing is talking about storytelling marketing, as a marketing tool.

So I think when you're thinking about your nonfiction and you're thinking about the stories you're going to tell in the book and you're thinking about the stories you're also going to tell around the book in your content marketing generally. So, story, also in terms of, I think, why we're good in nonfiction uploading in little short stories that are illustrative, can’t say it, anyway, you know what I mean? that illustrate the point we're trying to make good at doing that. And, you know, bringing it to the next level is often very much about looking at the entire story arc of the book, actually working you know, working on the emotional responses of the reader second guessing them being a bit detached from your materials. So very often, it's about having a first draft completely done to the level of satisfaction that you would perhaps normally put a book out at and then you start to think about okay if I wanted to recreate this or what if I wanted them to really feel pain and chapter two, and you know, feel consequent , joy and in the last chapter and bring them through and journey, how would I actually begin to craft that? And then you're into things like exactly like fiction, things like pacing, like withholding certain information and until later on in the book, and you know, an arc of rising tension, a climactic sort of something that makes them feel that they've had that whole deeper and more satisfactory reading experience. So yeah, I think that's just.

Joanna: I also think, and again, it's coming back to voice but I'm listening to audio books. So, the book I just keep recommending it's called Underland by Robert MacFarlane. It is a narrative nonfiction. It's called A Deep Time Journey is the subtitle and his writing is incredible. And it's lyrical in a poetic way. And you can in the audio book, you can hear the language that I may not have noticed when I read because I read so fast that I made skipped over in nonfiction, I may skip over beautiful language for meaning.

Whereas with audio, I'm actually listening. I've listened to this audiobook three times already. And I just love — because I'm learning about language in listening to it. And when I narrated “How to Write Nonfiction”, because my understanding has moved on quite a lot. I, you know, my last edit of sorry, “The Audio for Authors book”, you know, I actually was editing for voice, which involves listening for sounds, repeated sounds, you know, and as well, I'm living with a thesaurus much more now. And with Math of the Impossible, I'm using a thesaurus every second line because I know that I will want to change that word later. So I'm really finding that the — and I'm sure this will deepen my craft in both nonfiction and fiction, because that poetic language is often quality is very difficult, but that is often a deepening of the craft. It's, you know, you know what I mean?

Orna: I definitely do. Absolutely and I think also in terms of doing that kind of conscious improvement of one's own craft, through, essentially what we're doing there is we're being apprentices and you know, as the fish of the master kind of thing and learning how to do with by seeing how somebody else does it in a way that we think is, is completely amazing.

When you're doing that — it's when Joanna talks about hearing this much more. The audiobook for me is the absolute opposite. If it's the audiobook, my mind goes off all gathering after a while I don't concentrate at the same level, it's got to be the text.

So, know yourself in terms of which way is the best for your learning in that regard. It's also very useful. You mentioned reading it three times. I think it's a really useful thing to read a book like that twice, at least, you read first just for the joy of it as a reader, and then you go right back to the beginning and you start to rip it apart as a writer looking at how did he or she get the effects that they managed to get. you know that bed where I was really kind of blown away what did they do? At what point did they prepare for that moment? And to know was it just before it happened? Or was the ground actually laid much further back in the book and looking at the word choices, looking at the sentence structures, looking at the paragraphs, looking at the chapter length, all of these things are part of the process of the effect that you're trying to have. So, it's great to do this. I haven't done it for ages. I'm actually at creating my own appetite here. Yeah,

Joanan: Well, it's rare to find a book, especially as our own craft develops. It's rare to find a book that we go whoa that is stand out. But “Underland” has one like all the prizes, as well, has one so many prizes.

Orna: Yes.

Joanna: And what I just want, one more thing to add on that is detail. So you know, it's a fiction thing you don't say “Orna picked the flower”, you know, you have to specify what flower it is and that's one of the things in his book, it's a lot about rock and nature and stuff. And he knows all the words for all the things, but it's also able to evoke color and sense, sensory detail, all the things that we're told to do in fiction, he is doing it in nonfiction.

So yeah, definitely details, specific details are really important. But let's move on to the business. The next level.

Orna:  Just before we leave I do have this is one of my typical recommendations, but I don't remember the full name, but it will go into the show notes. A really good book about how to approach this, it's a very long book and it's a slow book, but it's called “ Ensouling” nonfiction and he's very much about taking the reins off and letting yourself go on that kind of writing into the dark thing that you tend to do more often with fiction or poetry, but also about how to get into create state, when you're actually thinking about the subject that you're writing about. I mean, in a sense, honoring the subject through nonfiction in the same way so he's quite poetical I that he feels strongly that so much nonfiction is just too dead and to boring.

Joanna: And I would agree at this point.

Orna: Why have we left it, you know be so boring why don't we actually do more of it and so his name is Stephen something and I will put it in the show notes.

The Commercial Side

Joanna: Okay, brilliant. So, the next level is also the commercial side. So, nonfiction suits itself to show many more streams of income than fiction. So, for example, “The How to Write Nonfiction” book over there, that is in e-book, paperback, hardback, large print, workbook edition, which is just some of the questions, or all the questions with lines available. And also, I have a multimedia course and evergreen online course which is videos, and then I have also spoken on that topic as a paid speaker.

So, I've turned that material into lots and lots of different things. I've also put chapters out as podcast, interviews, not interviews, you know, his podcast episodes and yeah, generally just turn that into lots of streams of income. Orna what about your experience with nonfiction?

Orna: It's similar. So, you know, sometimes it's going one way blogs get turned into books and then it divides back down the other way, but lots of different ways of putting it out. And also, I think of drawing in community around the topic.

I think nonfiction lends itself I mean, fiction fans are also something but it's something else, nonfiction where people gathering because the information is there or because and yeah, they just want to go deeper into the topic. Maybe a book allows or received the information in different sorts of ways. So, you know, membership organizations, Patreon.

There are all sorts of different ways. So yeah, to take it and develop it and I think if you don't, it's kind of a waste, not just from your own commercial earning point of view, because books, of course, a very low value, and can be put out in different ways that make them much more premium.

So, from the commercial perspective, but also I think you reach different readers with different formats for the words. And I think, you know, one of the things that self publishing is great about and has facilitated in great way. And I think we're seeing more and more and more we talked about is using the 10 business models of the exact lines, that authors can be used to earn a living, and just that ability to turn the same stuff into lots of different things so that you can get a decent income from it. And we're seeing that more and more and the idea that, you know, in the old days, if you didn't sell enough books, you've had to get a job that would supplement you. Now what you try to do and what some indies are doing super successfully is you take the very same stuff that you're putting into books, but you, you market them and, you know shape them up in all sorts of different ways. So, it all becomes part of your body of work. So yes, you might, most relish putting together long form fiction or nonfiction, but putting together you know, teaching materials or whatever it might be, that actually has a bigger return for you. And I would say observing a lot of indie authors now, it's when somebody gets a premium product, whatever's is on top of the books that they tend their business tends to take off, to the degree that they can actually go full time. So, it's worth it's really worth thinking about that and it's more than repurposing it is repurposing content, but it's more than that.

Joanna: Yeah, definitely. Yeah, I have three more things. I just remembered, one; affiliate income, so I have a free nonfiction book, My Successful Self Publishing is free as an E book on all platforms. So it's useful, but it's also stuffed full of tutorials, like for example, a vellum tutorial, which means if people go and choose to use my link, of course they don't have to, you know, we're all about ethical affiliate income. There's also I use my ethical link to The Alliance of Independent Authors in there. So, this is a free e-book that brings in income through affiliate revenue.

Secondly, a download page. So, if you're going to do a nonfiction book, you can say get the extras on my download page, and then invite people to sign up for your email list. Because so often, if you sell through the mainstream platforms, you don't get people on your email list. So that's a really good thing.

And third, Joseph Alexander just popped into the chat and of course, he's famous for guitar books, which are brilliant example of a, could be a series but each one is standalone. And one of the things Joseph's doing that I've also done is translations. So,to turn nonfiction into translation is much easier than fiction. Because even though we have talked about craft, certainly Joseph's books, they're very crafty. But they are essentially some words around music. So, it's much cheaper to get some of those nonfiction books translated. And I in fact, today, I've actually released, well uploaded the German version of “Mindset”, which went through AI translation, and then an editor and it's now being narrated. So, and I obviously couldn't have done that and I don't want to do it for fiction in that way, because fiction is the, you know, more arty art form as such. So that's three more things you can do and give you thought of any more Orna?

Onra: Well, we have a list of 10, it's late in the evening now, and I can't remember one of them. But there are essentially as far as we can see, and there will be more I think, evolving over the years but as far as we can see, there are 10 models of our being and you know, currently used right now by indie authors to make a full on living from their writing and if you google “10 income”.

Joanna: We will put a link in the show notes.

Orna: We will put a link in the show notes. It 10 this models for authors essentially and they're all there.

Judy has a question around affiliate marketing, I struggled to make my amazon affiliate codes work and don't really understand the overall tactics of it have you time to give a quick 123 on it?

Joanna: The quick answer is you need traffic for affiliate income. And then you need to have something useful that someone in the niche, that the reader really wants. So obviously in a book about successful self publishing, you're going to need editors, cover designers, formatting software, all the things that suit things like tutorials, so you link to those tutorials in the book and that helps. Lena says I wish people interested in ancient Egypt, but ancient authors might not be but lots of other people are interested in ancient Egypt.

So off the top of my head, like I don't know about that niche, but if there were things like guide to translating hieroglyphics or you know even things like — I've with books and travel which is my new site was a year old now but I've thought about doing affiliate stuff with travel companies with gear, you know backpacks, with all of that type of thing with it which don't relate to the author niche at all. So, you actually have to get very creative. You know, we're all very creative around what you think of with affiliate marketing so if your fiction contains dog stuff, you know dogs you could have an affiliate page to your favorite pet food, there will ever so many ideas with affiliate marketing but think about it as things ethically things that you use, and can personally recommend that you are telling people about who also would find those things useful. And you also have — make her say that you get a percentage of the sale so you have to keep all of that above board. So yeah, very important to keep it all above board. What any thoughts on that Orna?

Orna: Traffic, traffic, traffic, traffic. You know, I see people saying my affiliate page doesn't work and then but when you look at the actual google analytics, there's nobody on the page. If the right people are there, then you don't need to do any fancy footwork, Julie to make them click through, if you've done the job of getting the right people onto the page who want what you're offering, just the text link, you know, saying that exists is usually enough. But you do need quite a few people and so yeah, so you need to be kind of working in that niche.

So, I would have thought that your Judy, your nonfiction would work quite well with this. Not the Amazon affiliate really is not is not for other people who are offering a you know, perhaps more substantial affiliate or more unusual things and kind of more books tends to go better. So yeah, there we go.

Joanna: Okay, so we are out of time. It seems like that resonated with people. So really glad you guys turn up live and also hope that was useful for anyone who listens later, for Orna. Just a quick one. What's happening? Coming this month, where can people go to find the conference?

Orna: Yes. So, we are on one of the longest website addresses in the world selfpublishingadviceconference.com selfpubcon for short. And yeah, we'll be there the usual format, 24 sessions, 24 hours and lots of really great people and panels. As I said, if we don't manage to do the panels live from the London Book Fair, we hope to bring you those people who would have spoken at London, and that will be able to do it virtually and bring it to you and we'll have lots of competitions and yeah one to one with our sponsors and our speakers and our thanks to the sponsors who make it all happen. Our booth sponsor is Ingram Spark again, and Publish Dragon and Naturally Speaking are our silver sponsors.

So yeah, I'm looking forward to I always, always love it because I always learned a huge amount. And our topic actually is quite linked to this show is author income this time. So, we've got 24 sessions on making a living. We won't say the business word, and how to make a living with your writing or how to just help us how to increase your author income, multiple streams of income, how to think around all of that. So, there will be sessions on pretty much everything we've discussed here.

Joanna: Okay, so, next month, we are going to talk about tools and useful software for authors. But kind of funny because we just mentioned that, but this this, I've been doing some keyword research this month. And this seems to be one of the most popular topics that people search for. So we thought we would go through, you know, our writing software, publishing software, but also business software, things like accounting and management of all the things we do and between us, there will be quite a lot and so I thought that would be quite an interesting topic. So, we'll be doing that at the beginning of April. So yeah.

Orna: Yes, that's great. And Val has a question.

Where will we find the show notes? The show notes are issued with the podcast, not with this live session. So, Friday week on the Self Publishing Advice Blog, every Friday essentially. So, if you go to selfpublishingadvice.org, you will find the sign up for the podcast side of the page and you can get your alerts to sign up to your favorite podcast, listening, whatever. And you'll find the show notes there each Friday. So.

Joanna: Yeah, fantastic. Yeah, this goes out on video first, and then audio later, so you get double whammy of fun. Okay. All right. Well, I guess happy writing. Happy publishing.

Orna: Happy publishing, happy author business.

Joanna: Next time.

Orna: See you next month. Bye, Bye now.


Author: Howard Lovy

Howard Lovy is a novelist, nonfiction author, developmental book editor, and journalist. He is also the news and podcast producer for the Alliance of Independent Authors. You can learn more about him at https://howardlovy.com/


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Latest advice, news, ratings, tools and trends.

Back To Top
×Close search