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Thread: How to begin researching?

  1. #1
    practical experience, FTW mirrorkisses's Avatar
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    How to begin researching?

    I have an idea for a non-fiction novel that I want to write about women who have broken the boundaries of traditional art in music and created a path for the female musicians of today. But I realized that to write this book, it will take a great deal of research. I love to do that, but I'm afraid mine may not be up to par, or I may not do it well.
    I don't know where to even begin with this. Any suggestions?

  2. #2
    Finestkind underthecity's Avatar
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    I'm guessing you mean "nonfiction book," not "nonfiction novel," because this sounds like a compilation/encyclopedia kind of book, not a story with a beginning, middle, and end, although I guess a book like this could be written that way.

    I have to admit I don't fully understand your theme, but I would suggest you start with a list, just off the top of your head, about the artists you think would be applicable to this book. Don't worry about building a comprehensive list yet. More names will come through your research.

    Consider how many total you would like to feature and how long each entry should be. 1000 words? 1,500 words?

    Since your subject will span decades, probably to the beginning of recorded music, start googling the names and see what's already been written about them. Obviously don't rely on opinion blogs for information, but these can serve as jumping-off points.

    You'll also see entries highlighed in google books, which will give a good snapshot of books available online. However, these are not comprehensive and will likely be missing key pages that you may need for further info. Also, Billboard magazines are in google books, so you'll see articles and entries in those too.

    Google-books doesn't include all books ever written. What you see online will serve as a partial resource. You should note their titles and authors and then go to the library and see if you can find both those books and other similar ones not featured online. And in those books you should find information about the artists in your lists that will not be available online.

    If you're feeling especially brave, you can try contacting living artists by email or phone to see if they'll talk to you for insight. And if they do, they'll surely give you more names you can add to your list.

    I'm thinking that a hundred would be a good list to shoot for.


    Anyway, that's how I would approach it. Hope that helps.
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  3. #3
    Resident Curmudgeon ResearchGuy's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by mirrorkisses View Post
    . . . I don't know where to even begin with this. Any suggestions?
    Talk to reference librarian at a good library (large public library or large college/university library). You will probably come away from such a conversation with more than enough leads to get started. (And I'd share the question about what you mean by "nonfiction novel." You probably must mean "nonfiction book.")

    --Ken

    P.S. This is an antique, but the principles are still sound, and it might be worth a look.

  4. #4
    crazy mean SuperModerator Old Hack's Avatar
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    I'd advise you to do your best to only use primary sources in your research. And to listen to everyone's comments about "non-fiction novel". Good luck.

  5. #5
    practical experience, FTW mirrorkisses's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by underthecity View Post
    I'm guessing you mean "nonfiction book," not "nonfiction novel," because this sounds like a compilation/encyclopedia kind of book, not a story with a beginning, middle, and end, although I guess a book like this could be written that way.

    I have to admit I don't fully understand your theme, but I would suggest you start with a list, just off the top of your head, about the artists you think would be applicable to this book. Don't worry about building a comprehensive list yet. More names will come through your research.

    Consider how many total you would like to feature and how long each entry should be. 1000 words? 1,500 words?

    Since your subject will span decades, probably to the beginning of recorded music, start googling the names and see what's already been written about them. Obviously don't rely on opinion blogs for information, but these can serve as jumping-off points.

    You'll also see entries highlighed in google books, which will give a good snapshot of books available online. However, these are not comprehensive and will likely be missing key pages that you may need for further info. Also, Billboard magazines are in google books, so you'll see articles and entries in those too.

    Google-books doesn't include all books ever written. What you see online will serve as a partial resource. You should note their titles and authors and then go to the library and see if you can find both those books and other similar ones not featured online. And in those books you should find information about the artists in your lists that will not be available online.

    If you're feeling especially brave, you can try contacting living artists by email or phone to see if they'll talk to you for insight. And if they do, they'll surely give you more names you can add to your list.

    I'm thinking that a hundred would be a good list to shoot for.


    Anyway, that's how I would approach it. Hope that helps.
    I guess basically the way I've gone about research I've done in the past applies here. I feel better about it now.

    I have no worries about contacting artists. I've done it in the past for interviews. But the names I am using are for more popular artists so it would be harder to get them.... Most of the ones I get are independent artists.

    I also believe that you are all being too picky with words between novel and book. They are both books. In the industry perhaps I will go with the word book, but nuances aside this is a casual area and the need to correct someone other something so small is irrelevant.

  6. #6
    practical experience, FTW
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    There is no such thing as a nonfiction novel! People are trying to clue you in so you don't look foolish in front of agents and publishers. Please take note.

    As far as your book goes, I would think you would need to have contacts to pull of this sort of thing. Publishers and agents want to know why you are the best person to write this book. It is something to think about.

  7. #7
    Resident Curmudgeon ResearchGuy's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by mirrorkisses View Post
    . . . nuances aside this is a casual area and the need to correct someone other something so small is irrelevant.
    No offense intended, but "nonfiction novel" has a rather specific meaning. The prototype (or at least most-often-cited example) is Truman Capote's In Cold Blood, a fictionalized telling, at novel length, of a notorious murder case. The term "creative nonfiction" is sometimes applied to the genre. By definition, a novel is fiction. But Capote, by using techniques of fiction to narrate fact, created an influential sub-genre. If you refer to what you intend to be a nonfiction book AS a "novel" in any communications with a literary agent or a (legitimate commercial) publisher, you will be shooting yourself in the foot. In other words, it is not a small thing.

    Clarification of terminology is one of the ways in which folks here seek to help aspiring authors.

    --Ken

  8. #8
    practical experience, FTW mirrorkisses's Avatar
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    I know the difference, and people assuming I don't is insulting, but this is a casual conversation on the internet. Not a business deal. So using the words interchangeably is not a big deal in casual conversation unless you've got your panties in a twist.

  9. #9
    crazy mean SuperModerator Old Hack's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by mirrorkisses View Post
    I know the difference, and people assuming I don't is insulting, but this is a casual conversation on the internet. Not a business deal. So using the words interchangeably is not a big deal in casual conversation unless you've got your panties in a twist.
    Mirrorkisses, all I see in this thread is people giving freely of their time in order to try to help you. This might be a casual conversation on the internet but for writers, choosing the right words is important no matter where we're writing; and an understanding of the correct way to use terms is essential if we want to be professional.

    You might want to realise that people here are trying to help you, and consider thanking them for that, instead of suggesting they've "got [their] panties in a twist".

  10. #10
    Rebuilding My Brain Sheila Muirenn's Avatar
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    How about google 'feminist female musicians,' and write down whatever names you find. Then start researching individuals.

    Personally, a beginning, middle, and end, sounds like a good read to me with this subject.

    Start here? Scroll for a list of female musicians.

    Good luck. Sounds fascinating. The first thing they say is that there is little info. Great, great topic. Consider doing some interviews, too.
    Last edited by Sheila Muirenn; 03-09-2012 at 07:09 AM.
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  11. #11
    I think I am, therefore.... Royal Mercury's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by mirrorkisses View Post
    I have an idea for a non-fiction novel that I want to write about women who have broken the boundaries of traditional art in music and created a path for the female musicians of today. But I realized that to write this book, it will take a great deal of research. I love to do that, but I'm afraid mine may not be up to par, or I may not do it well. I don't know where to even begin with this. Any suggestions?
    Let the topic lead you. I think you have an incredibly strong idea.

    I'm guessing that a "Profiles in Courage" or Playboy Interviews approach might work. If you can get these women to talk, prepare some great questions that will give them a good starting point and give you some common themes to run through the book.

    Go for the friendly ones, and then use drafts of the interviews of them to entice the harder to get ones. You might not get Taylor Swift, but if she saw that Joni Mitchell had given you a great interview, she'd be interested. And Joni's major, but not as in demand these days, so she'd be more likely to give you an interview if the questions are good and give her a basis to say what she'd want to say. You, of course, having researched into her story, have a good idea of what she issues she has dealt with and what trials she has overcome. (But dont' make assumptions. Ask open ended questions).

    And who knows, just doing the interview might be enough of a media event to get both of you a little publicity which would add to your cred. Breaking up the topic, and doing a series of interviews that you get into the media will get you more of a platform. You may even have interviews that you don't want for the book, but might be good on their own. Have a website that focuses on women musicians. That can also get the income stream going before publication of the book.

    You may want to have two parts, one for living women and one for historical women. Jenny Lind had a lot of influence in her day, she had to have broken a lot of barriers. Ma Rainey too. Look at places where female musicians have collaborated, Holly Near and Ronnie Gilbert come to mind. Who has influenced whom? That's a good thread to track. If you trace it back you may find someone who is owed a debt by all women musicians.

    I think trying to novelize this subject will only water down a great topic.
    Last edited by Royal Mercury; 03-16-2012 at 11:04 PM.

  12. #12
    volitare nequeo AW Moderator veinglory's Avatar
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    My approach to research is pretty straightforward. Decide the main topics, I get material for each topic--to begin with pretty much whatever I can find. I go through them in chronological order. Once I have the basics I go from there to a clearer written structure.

  13. #13
    A very general Google search should give you at least some names. Those names might lead to others. I would start by making a list of the people you want to include in the book, so you have some sort of guide. You can then start researching each name and see how things connect.
    ...

  14. #14
    practical experience, FTW MelodySRV's Avatar
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    I would start with organizing a thesis for your book. Why do you want to write this book? What types of women do you want to include? Do you want to have an overarching theme that links each of these women together?

    You may have these already in your head, but you may be surprised at the ideas that pop up from just getting these things on paper.
    Then, after you have written down a more solid footing, you can go about researching those specifics. I find it's easier to start narrow with research, then widen my focus, and that sounds like something that could help you.
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  15. #15
    Baby plot bunneh sniffs out a clue Snowstorm's Avatar
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    Have you considered narrowing the scope of music to, say, jazz or rock? Are you going for all types of music? Even by limiting the scope, you'd have a lot of research to do, and a huge amount of information.


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  16. #16
    New Fish; Learning About Thick Skin
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    Primary resources are the best in terms of validity and also for gleaning inspiration from.

  17. #17
    practical experience, FTW
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    One thing I did was to read the negative and lukewarm reviews of my good competitors (making sure to tell to my best ability the review was actually genuine) and seeing where there was room for improvement and seeing what to avoid according to readers. I also bought several competitors books (ones that sell well with good reviews) and read through them while jotting down in a note pad how I think they could have been better and things I think they could have included.

    Of course your subject area is different so if used the above should only be one method among others as part of your research.
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  18. #18
    practical experience, FTW areteus's Avatar
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    I would start with a plan - lay out chapter by chapter what you are writing about, lay down a skeleton of the information you need to fill these chapters. This may not be your final layout (it is likely to change a lot as you delve into the material) but it is a start and it gives you a structure to work from. How you structure it is up to you - decade by decade is one way, person by person is another. Look at similar works to see how they do it.

    Then you go through your sources. I tend to read them with a notepad on hand and jot down information I think it relevant to my work along with a reference (source name, page number, date etc). Primary sources are better than secondary but a good research project uses both - analysing and evaluating them as you use them. As well as looking at university libraries, check out specialist search engines for databases of references for your topic area. There are a few such as specific newspaper archives.

    You may find it beneficial to have a university library card to get access to some of the more obscure and hard to access resources...

    And don't forget the importance of oral sources. If you can interview someone who remembers what you are researching it is a great source of information about a period...

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