A review of Dan Poynter’s Writing Non-Fiction: Turning Ideas into Books

The system is really quite ingenious, and makes a lot of sense. By setting up a manuscript in a way that looks quite like a book, prior to actually writing the book, you firstly create a kind of visual prompt – a strong motivator to work. Secondly, you create an organised and portable set of working folders which can be added to very easily. It sounds obvious, but I’ve been writing non-fiction for many years, and have always worked sequentially, on a typewriter, or computer.

Reviewed by Magdalena Ball

Does everyone have a book in them? Dan Poynter thinks so, and his book Writing Non-fiction: Turning Ideas into Books, is a very clear, easy to follow guide for would be authors to turn their expertise in any area, into a marketable work of non-fiction. Dan Poynter has written, and self-published over 80 books, and runs his own publishing company Para Publishing. His writing style is matter of fact, rather than literary, and Writing Non-Fiction provides a straightforward, and useful model for pulling together ideas into a book format. Throughout the book are a range of inspirational and informative quotations, along with a fairly simple set of instructions for things like choosing your subject, researching, coming up with a saleable title, organising cover art, structuring the book, developing a system, publishing, and promoting your book. The first chapter sells the concept of becoming an author, citing the fame, authority, money, and learning opportunities which writing a book can provide. Of course, as experienced authors of both fiction and non-fiction will attest, writing a book may bring the author none of these things. New books are published every day, and some of these, even excellent ones, fail to sell, or end up in cut priced remainder boxes, such is the fickle, and over-serviced nature of the publishing industry. Nonetheless, Poynter makes a provocative case, and some of his softer benefits, such as the learning experience, and the personal satisfaction are givens.

In Poynter’s “New Book Model”, almost anything can constitute a book, and books can be delivered in a range of cheap, and fast methods, including Print On Demand (POD), e-books, modules, and traditionally printed, or a combination of these. The main change, or thesis of Poynter’s is that books be built rather than written; writing being only a part of the process. To a certain extent, this concept of building a book, makes the whole process seem more achievable and less daunting, than thinking of a book as a total birth. The model is straightforward, and although there is nothing revolutionary about it, and many writers may just naturally follow such a structure, it is still a very useful process. The basic concept is that you Create the content by setting up, building content, content edit, peer review, final draft, create a .pdf (acrobat) file, and organise cover art. Then you produce it as a work, dtermining publication style, and promote it. Sounds simple doesn’t it? Of course it isn’t. You still have to write the thing. Nothing has changed, but the series of steps are like the old time management concept of eating an elephant one piece at a time. Instead of facing the big challenge of “writing a book” you start by researching your topic and checking your competition. Then you create a title and subtitle. Then you actually create a cover before writing the book, including artwork, back cover copy, and where relevant, dust jacket. You set the whole thing up in a binder, with envelopes, and even set up your chapters, and only then do you begin writing, and not necessarily in order. You can pick up any chapter and work on that at any time. Your binder goes with you everywhere, and you can work on pieces anytime you come across anything relevant or have a spare moment.

The system is really quite ingenious, and makes a lot of sense. By setting up a manuscript in a way that looks quite like a book, prior to actually writing the book, you firstly create a kind of visual prompt – a strong motivator to work. Secondly, you create an organised and portable set of working folders which can be added to very easily. It sounds obvious, but I’ve been writing non-fiction for many years, and have always worked sequentially, on a typewriter, or computer. For a lengthy piece of work like a book, the system is much more easily handled, and keeps all of that critical information together.

The book provides a lot of proformas, and templates, including letters requesting peer review, testimonials, information on self-publishing, and finding a publisher. There are also a number of links to web sites where you can obtain further information. Of course Writing Non-Fiction won’t necessarily make the process of turning your thoughts into a marketable piece of non-fiction any less work, and you may not achieve the fame, fortune, and glory that Poynter suggests, but the book, and particularly the system certainly makes it seem a lot more possible, even if you think you are too busy. After all, you only need to do one step at a time, and you aren’t writing a book, you’re building it.

For more information on Writing Nonfiction: Turning Thoughts into Books, visit http://www.ParaPublishing.com

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