Successful Nonfiction is a much quicker, and simpler read than Poynter’s other writing books. Rather than the detailed and specific instructions that his other writing books contain, Successful Nonfiction is a series of 109 “soundbites,” or inspirational tips for writers, each a couple of short paragraphs. At first glance, the book seems superficial, but the advice is actually, in the main, both useful, and reasonably original – offering a lot more than simple chicken soup styled inspiration.
Reviewed by Magdalena Ball
Successful Nonfiction: Tips and Inspiration for Getting Published
by Dan Poynter
2000, 144 pages
Dan Poynter is the master of the nonfiction self-publishing game. His book, The Self Publishing Manual, is one of the most clearly written, practical guides to producing your own nonfiction book, without the use of a publisher. He has also written a large number of books and pamphlets on writing nonfiction, parachuting and even cats.Successful Nonfiction is a much quicker, and simpler read than Poynter’s other writing books. Rather than the detailed and specific instructions that his other writing books contain, Successful Nonfiction is a series of 109 “soundbites,” or inspirational tips for writers, each a couple of short paragraphs. At first glance, the book seems superficial, but the advice is actually, in the main, both useful, and reasonably original – offering a lot more than simple chicken soup styled inspiration. Many of the tips come from Poynter’s other work, including a quick recount of the steps to putting together a nonfiction book, hints on what to write about (where there are lucrative markets), ways of getting more (more mileage, more money and more words) from your work The easily assimilated format means you could take on one tip a day, committing each one to memory (in an almost calender like fashion), or just sit down and read the whole thing in a day or two.
The book is divided into chapters covering the nature of writing, why one should write, why a book is the best kind of writing, what to write about, how to conduct research, building your book (a Poynter speciality), copyright considerations, finding an agent and publisher and promoting your book. There are also suggested resources for further reading and a list of website links relating to the chapters. Some of the tips are fairly obvious, such as “Don’t Allow Interruptions” (obviously this piece of advice is not for the writing parent of young children…), or “Write for Money,” but there are also a wide range of very concisely written specifically valuable pieces of advice on things like rewriting, knowing when to get some extra assistance (almost always! it is surprising how many self-published authors decide to leave out professional copyediting and proofreading, and how much poorer their books are as a result), obtaining reader feedback, some great ideas for choosing writing topics and how to work with those topics, recycling your work, how and when to sell and retain additional rights like foreign language, recording, and electronic, creating a title and structuring the book and some really good ideas for self-promotion.
If you are writing a novel, or any kind of fiction, Poynter is not your best guide. He is pretty seriously biased in favour of the more lucrative (generally) nonfiction market, and this is most certainly where his expertise lies. However, for anyone who wants to put together a nonfiction book, Poynter’s guides are very useful, and will provide both the impetus you need and a range of very easy to follow steps to get moving The most crucial part of any writing process is getting to work – getting started, and continuing to move forward, and Successful Nonfiction is a very quick to work with and useful fast reference for doing just that. You may well decide that you will buy it for a writer as a gift, as this is what it is sold as, but again and again you will return for those useful and heavily distilled nuggets of Poynter’s collective wisdom. If you own Poynter’s other two books on nonfiction, , The Self Publishing Manual and Writing Nonfiction: Turning Ideas into Books this book won’t teach you anything new, but it is a very inexpensive and handy reference, and a perfect example of Poynter’s own tip on recycling your work (p88). This is a very good distillation of the Poynter points.
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