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Editing for authors: because every writer needs a good editor.

CeeMe29

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So I've been out of the writing field for awhile, but have decided to get back into it again.
It's been years and I feel dumb asking these questions, but here goes.

I have an idea for a non-fiction book that is based on a true historical incident.
It's all factual, will not change over time and has a specific audience, mostly high school
and college students.
I'm taking my research from print and online sources.
My dumb question is---I can use other people's research, without asking them, as long
as I credit them in a bibliography, right?
I have several projects, fiction and non-fiction in mind, so I'm wondering if I should try to
get an agent, but being selfish, I am thinking of self-publishing. People tell me I probably
won't make much money. Has anyone had significant monetary/commercial success with
self-publishing?
 

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You can cite them in your bibligraphy/works cited without having permission, but if you quote from them you may need permission.

This will depend in part on your publisher and theirs.

Be punctilious about tracking and citing your sources; don't be like various recent non-fiction writers who plagiarized, whether or not it was done knowingly.
 
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CeeMe29

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You can cite them in your bibligraphy/works cited without having permission, but if you quote from them you may need permission.

This will depend in part on your publisher and theirs.

Be punctilious about tracking and citing your sources; don't be like various recent non-fiction writers who plagiarized, whether or not it was done knowingly.
Thanks for replying. I won't have quotes from the author. The book will be self-published. I almost feel that since this is a particular event that is factual, as I said, that the end product will be my words and work, so I'm wondering if I even need a bibliography, but I guess I do, if only to give the work credibility. I certainly don't want to plagiarize. Thanks, again. Anyone else out there have any thoughts on what I asked?
 

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I have several projects, fiction and non-fiction in mind, so I'm wondering if I should try to
get an agent, but being selfish, I am thinking of self-publishing. People tell me I probably
won't make much money. Has anyone had significant monetary/commercial success with
self-publishing?

I don't have experience with non-fiction, but with fiction, you're almost always likely to make more money with an agent than without. (There are some exceptions to this, but they tend to be genre-specific and involve a fairly fast production pace.) A trade publisher has access to sales and marketing channels that self-publishers don't. Additionally, it's far less likely a self-published book will be stocked in physical bookstores (yes, even if you make it returnable).

Non-fiction is a very different market, though, so I'm not sure my knowledge is transferrable here.
 

Chris P

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I don't think it matters if it's self-published or not for your questions about citations and sources.

I would include a bibliography, for sure. Even if the materials are old enough to be in the public domain (when did this take place? The news articles might be in the public domain now) anyone who wants to look into more details will appreciate the primary sources.

Generally you can paraphrase or explain in your own words material from the original sources, but as AW Admin says, direct quotes might need permission from whoever owns the copyright.

Regarding agents. There are several threads here about how non-fiction publishing works, but in general for non-fic you write a proposal first and maybe a couple sample chapters, get someone to bite, then write the rest of the book. For fiction, you need a finished, polished book to land an agent (short of one-off "I knew a guy who..." stories).

As for making money from a self-published non-fic, it seems (I have no numbers and only anecdotal evidence) that unless you have access to a specialized audience who will be interested in the book it is very difficult to find your buyers. That is why in non-fic proposals, the publishers want to know if you teach a course, are a YouTuber or blogger on the subject, are known in the field, present at seminars, etc.--it tells them the size of the potential market and your ability to reach it. This might be different for creative non-fiction (Tara Westover's memoir Educated and Daniel James Brown's history The Boys in the Boat did very well, but neither was self-published that I'm aware of).
 
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Direct quotations even from a primary source (say an edition of a book with eye witness interviews, or contemporary newspaper articles not in the public domain) will possibly need permission.

Regarding agents for non-fiction; it depends on your intended audience and publisher. If you're publishing with a scholarly press, often authors do not have or need agents because they're not paid (for reals!). But if you're writing for a general audience with a topic that has potential to appeal to a niche or to general audiences, or if you want print sales (libraries) then you absolutely want an agent.
 

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For nonfiction, it is a good idea to have a bibliography. If your audience is not only school age, but educational, you might think about an academic publisher. Schools and colleges are much more likely to order from even a minor academic press.
 

CeeMe29

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I don't think it matters if it's self-published or not for your questions about citations and sources.

I would include a bibliography, for sure. Even if the materials are old enough to be in the public domain (when did this take place? The news articles might be in the public domain now) anyone who wants to look into more details will appreciate the primary sources.

Generally you can paraphrase or explain in your own words material from the original sources, but as AW Admin says, direct quotes might need permission from whoever owns the copyright.

Regarding agents. There are several threads here about how non-fiction publishing works, but in general for non-fic you write a proposal first and maybe a couple sample chapters, get someone to bite, then write the rest of the book. For fiction, you need a finished, polished book to land an agent (short of one-off "I knew a guy who..." stories).

As for making money from a self-published non-fic, it seems (I have no numbers and only anecdotal evidence) that unless you have access to a specialized audience who will be interested in the book it is very difficult to find your buyers. That is why in non-fic proposals, the publishers want to know if you teach a course, are a YouTuber or blogger on the subject, are known in the field, present at seminars, etc.--it tells them the size of the potential market and your ability to reach it. This might be different for creative non-fiction (Tara Westover's memoir Educated and Daniel James Brown's history The Boys in the Boat did very well, but neither was self-published that I'm aware of).
Thank you, Chris. Great insight. for me.
 

CeeMe29

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Thank you to everyone who responded with advice. I appreciate it.
 

CeeMe29

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Direct quotations even from a primary source (say an edition of a book with eye witness interviews, or contemporary newspaper articles not in the public domain) will possibly need permission.

Regarding agents for non-fiction; it depends on your intended audience and publisher. If you're publishing with a scholarly press, often authors do not have or need agents because they're not paid (for reals!). But if you're writing for a general audience with a topic that has potential to appeal to a niche or to general audiences, or if you want print sales (libraries) then you absolutely want an agent.
There won't be any direct quotations and the incident/time period is in the public domain. I wrote a children's picture book and sent it off to several publishers, but no one picked it up. Publishers are limited as it is and then Covid hit. It's hard to self-publish, since it can run into money and the companies out there are all too eager to take your money, even though some of them are good. Illustrators are expensive. I still have a handful of traditional options to send it to, but I basically put the picture book off for now and thought about the non-fiction. It would be simple enough to publish online and I guess I was hoping to make some money from online sales, without the hassles of an agent or publisher. I know someone who self-published a novel. She claims she made $23,000 in about eight months. The book had many proofreading mistakes in it, but it had an interesting plot and a likable protagonist, so I believe she made the money she said she did.
 

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There won't be any direct quotations and the incident/time period is in the public domain.
You do not understand what public domain means. A text or image or film or audio recording can be in the public domain. An incident is not. A document published in 1950 about something that happened in 3000 B.C. is still under copyright.
 

CeeMe29

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You do not understand what public domain means. A text or image or film or audio recording can be in the public domain. An incident is not. A document published in 1950 about something that happened in 3000 B.C. is still under copyright.
OK, maybe I didn't phrase that right. I understand what you're saying. I think I was just responding to someone who asked how old the incident was. I know some things about copyright. Thanks for your help.
 

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As someone who has worked exclusively in children's nonfiction publishing, be aware that a good number of agents won't or don't deal with children's nonfiction, and many publishers and book packagers of such works prefer to work directly with authors. But if you're going it alone, be sure you can deal with everything an agent can offer, such as contracts, negotiating royalties and licenses, and networking with publishers. If you're self-publishing, be prepared to put in the time and money needed to publicize and promote, and be sure you have lots of outlets to market and sell your work.
 

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