Aaand We’re Back

Hello Writers!
Plans are starting to take shape here at Solstice! We hope you’re as excited as we are for this year’s retreat.

Returning to our faculty this year are Louise Plummer, Ann Cannon, Dean Hughes, and John Bennion. We’re also happy to have Chris Crowe joining us for this year’s Solstice. Also new this year, we’ve got a couple of editors lined up and you’ll be able to meet with them for some one-on-one time where you can pitch your ideas and get valuable feedback. And if you’re lucky, we just might do some more dancing!

Leading up to the retreat, we’ve got some things lined up for you to look forward to. Look for some giveaways, an early bird special, and guest posts from our faculty.

In the meantime, polish up those manuscripts, dust off those family histories, and get ready to join us in July!

Author Post: Nonfiction. Really?

Enjoy today’s post by Solstice instructor and author Chris Crowe. To register for Crowe’s Solstice class on writing nonfiction for teenagers, click here.

How’s the publishing business?

Sales are down 2% from last year, but the business is still pretty healthy. Publisher’s

Weekly reported that last week (ending March 23, 2013), readers purchased more than 10 million

books. In 2013, total sales exceeded 470 million copies.

That’s a lot of books.

And 55% of those books were nonfiction.

You read right: nonfiction. Even in the shadow of blockbuster novel-movie series like

The Hunger Games and Divergent, nonfiction still outsold its flashier genre sibling, fiction.

Who cares?

Well, if you’re an aspiring writer, you should care. While it’s incredibly rare for any

single work of nonfiction to match the sales and audience-reach of a best-selling novel, the

aggregate sales of nonfiction regularly outstrip the aggregate sales of novels. That means that

there are far more nonfiction books than novels published each year, and that means that the

nonfiction market offers far more opportunities for writers to break into the business.

It also means that writers, interesting and creative people like you and like me, can write

about almost anything that interest us. Try this: go to Wikipedia, and search for “categories:

fiction books” and count the categories listed. Then search for “categories: non-fiction books”

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Category:Non-fiction_books. There’s a whole lot more going on in

nonfiction than in fiction.

* * *

Years ago, I had the chance to interview Bruce Brooks, a successful author of fiction and

nonfiction for teenagers. His first novel, The Moves Make the Man, earned him a Newbery

Honor in 1985, and his next few novels continued to impress and please readers. But in the face

of a rising career as a novelist, he wrote a nonfiction book. And then another. When I asked

him why, he said, “Well that’s the best thing about my job. I get to be interested in lots of

different things and turn those interests into books. In some ways, a book is just an another

excuse for getting deeply intrigued with something else.”

That’s one of the things that attracts me to nonfiction: I can follow my eclectic interests,

and by doing so, I can learn about all kinds of things. In fact, nonfiction writing may run counter

to one of the old truisms of writing, ‘Write about what you know.’ It’s often the case that good

nonfiction arises from turning that dictum on its head: ‘Write about what you can learn’ or

perhaps ‘Write about what you’re interested in.’

Digging into a topic you’re curious about take a lot of work—sometimes very hard

work—but like many difficult tasks, it’s work that’s intellectually and creatively stimulating.

And that’s something people, even experienced writers and avid readers, tend to forget:

nonfiction can be as interesting and creative to write and to read as fiction is.

* * *

Where’s nonfiction come from?

Anywhere.

Everywhere.

But most of the time nonfiction comes from curiosity and inquiry.

Here’s an example of how a childhood curiosity later led to a successful nonfiction book:

For his 10th birthday, James L. Swanson was given a framed engraving of the

pistol that John Wilkes Booth used to kill Abraham Lincoln. . . . Accompanying

the engraving was a clipping from The Chicago Tribune of April 15, 1865, the

morning Lincoln died. ‘I remember reading it over and over again and seeing

that sentence and wondering what happened next.’

Eventually, Swanson grew up and got to find out what happened next, and he shared

what he learned by publishing Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase for Lincoln’s Killer.

But it wasn’t curiosity alone that created an opportunity for that book. People wonder

about all kinds of things all the time, but few books result from casual wonderings. When

curiosity spurs a writer to action, the process of inquiry begins, and that’s what plants the seed

for a book.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines ‘inquiry’ this way:

The action of seeking, esp. (now always) for truth, knowledge, or information

concerning something; search, research, investigation, examination.

It’s the “seeking” for “truth, knowledge, or information” that leads to nonfiction, and that

seeking may take many forms. For a personal essay, it might mean remembering and reflecting

on one’s life experiences. For a biography, it might require interviews and library research. A

history might need field research and library research, and who knows what else. The process of

seeking is a large part of what makes nonfiction satisfying to write. Well, that and the learning

that comes from the seeking. And the freedom to pursue your own interests. And the

opportunity to share what you’ve learned with others. And the opportunity to leave the crowded

fiction market for the open field of nonfiction. And the opportunity to read, to think, to learn,

and to write.

* * *

By bragging on the benefits of nonfiction, I don’t mean to disparage fiction. I love

reading and writing novels, but novels have snared more than their fair share of attention in our

society. Nonfiction books, in their infinite variety, occupy more shelf space than novels do, but

even with all of that space they’re taking up, there’s still room for your book on that shelf.

Opportunity awaits you. Watch. Wonder. Work. Write.