Nonfiction credentials

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Eddyz Aquila

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As my understanding goes, nonfiction is different than fiction in the sense that you propose to the agent/editor the idea of the book and then you write it. (correct me if I'm wrong)

Now, my question is this - I can propose / pitch but what about those credentials?

I want to write a book on a legal/history topic, something that I did in my university and Masters but I have no credentials to back it up. Completely new to this.

Help please!
 

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You will generally need about 3 chapters written, and a Masters on the subject is a pretty good platform.
 
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Siri Kirpal

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That's sort of correct. You do have to write the first chapter, and many people want three chapters in the proposal. If it's narrative, then the first three; if it's not, then usually the first, something in the middle, and the last. And all of that is because, the publisher is still going to want you to write well.

You need a proposal which gives your pitch (why it's needed), your bio (why you have what it takes to write it), a marketing plan (who would want to read it), a promotion plan (ideas for how to sell it), comparative titles (and this needs to be more than just the titles, it needs to say how they're similar and what makes yours different), a table of contents, a chapter outline (a line or two about what's in each chapter), and those sample chapters. Some folks want the housekeeping details (probable wordcount, when you think it will be done, and whether or not it will have illustrations) in the pitch; some want it in a separate book details section.

Whether you need extensive credentials or not will depend on a bunch of things: how hot is the topic? do you have privileged info (someone's original diary, a bunch of private interviews, etc)? is this narrative or for use in a classroom? If it's for a textbook, you'll need more credentials than you would if you have primary materials about a mover and shaker and it's a narrative about that person.

Hope that helps.

Blessings,

Siri Kirpal
 

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Yes, nonfiction books are usually sold on the basis of a proposal. You'd want to consult a book or other resource about writing a proposal. There are several parts to it.

I don't quite understand part of your post. If you have a master's degree in a field that includes your topic, the degree would be a credential.

Other than that, it just depends on several factors (including how advanced your topic is). I'm sure a PhD and twenty years as a top expert in the field would always be preferred but that doesn't automatically mean you could not be in the running for consideration.

If you want to write it regardless, you could self-publish it if an agent or decent press didn't want it.

We might have better help for you if you listed more specifics. Good luck.
 

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Tailor the proposal to the publisher, don't just write one. Increasingly non-fiction trade publishers want agents to submit, rather than writers.
 
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Old Hack

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It's true that having a masters degree in your subject is a good platform. It shows you have a proper knowledge of the subject.

There are a few good books out there which explain what to put in your proposal, and agent websites will often give you the bare bones, too.
 

Eddyz Aquila

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Thank you so much guys! (and gals of course!)

My thinking was that you had to have some published articles or books before to have proper credentials - I had no clue the degrees counted as credentials, I thought they were an obligatory part of having a "base" to start with. Indeed, on the same subject as my Masters and University degree.

The subject is British Constitutionalism it's pretty modern, quite a hot topic and it encompasses a wide range of subjects.
 
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achortleaday

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Having prior published work would certainly be useful info in your bio for a proposal, but a degree is good too :)

If you have a wealth of ideas, you could always try pitching shorter articles to newspapers/online publications, especially as you say your topic is hot! If you can pitch something timely with the news, and write up your article quickly, the turnaround can be pretty fast. Not only would having published clips help in a book proposal, but doing some edited writing on the topic might help you work out the proposal itself.

The main advice I've gotten on this topic is to research the correct length and topic for the publication, and to be prepared for a fast turnaround if a pitch is accepted.
 

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For more info., you might want to search Amazon for books similar to the one you plan to write, to get some idea of the qualifications of their authors and who they were published by.
 

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What type of publisher are you planning on pitching the book to? If you're going for an academic market. If you're pitching to academic presses (like a University Press), you'll need the completed manuscript. At least that's been the case in my experience. Then, if the editor decides to move forward with it; it will likely have to make it through two peer reviews.
 

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As my understanding goes, nonfiction is different than fiction in the sense that you propose to the agent/editor the idea of the book and then you write it. (correct me if I'm wrong)

Now, my question is this - I can propose / pitch but what about those credentials?

I want to write a book on a legal/history topic, something that I did in my university and Masters but I have no credentials to back it up. Completely new to this.

Help please!

========

You need to submit a proposal.

The prop also needs to show there is a market for that book and how it is different from the competing books on the topic.

Your credentials are a factor but how you can help sell the book, and your following on social media, count as much as your street cred.
 

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========

You need to submit a proposal.

The prop also needs to show there is a market for that book and how it is different from the competing books on the topic.

Your credentials are a factor but how you can help sell the book, and your following on social media, count as much as your street cred.

As a non-fiction editor, I don't care how much street cred or social media standing most authors have. What I want is expertise, reputation, understanding. A good masters degree in the subject, preferably a PhD, or years of working in the field. Name recognition. A good history of publications, if possible. Something meaty we can use to show that this is the book people should buy, out of all the others out there which are similar.
 

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Your credentials are a factor but how you can help sell the book, and your following on social media, count as much as your street cred.

They really don't. Even technical publishers are more interested in your credentials than your media engagement.

Scholarly, academic publishers don't really care about your media engagement; they do care about scholarly credentials and reputation in your fields of practice (that means credential peer-reviews publications, and papers presented at reputable conferences).
 

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My thinking was that you had to have some published articles or books before to have proper credentials - I had no clue the degrees counted as credentials, I thought they were an obligatory part of having a "base" to start with. Indeed, on the same subject as my Masters and University degree.

You had to write a thesis, right? Besides, how would you get credentials by publishing of you needed those credentials to publish. :)

Keep in mind that "expertise" is sometimes over rated and over thought. You could be a single mom with no college degree and nothing published and you're still likely an expert on buying cheap laundry detergent that works for toddlers.

Jeff
 

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In my experience, the chief difference with non-fiction is that you don't need a finished manuscript. However, pitching the idea isn't usually enough - three chapters seems like a common amount, but it really does differ from publisher to publisher, so check their submission guidelines.

Regarding submission, it's true that some of the bigger publishers now require agent representation, but (depending on your subject) many still do not. Again, check the publisher's submission guidelines. I've tried it both ways, but I think the key is getting known for a particular expertise. If publishers think of you as the 'subject x' person, then you may even get approached (in fact, most of my work has happened that way).

Lastly, you mention your university degree and masters as if they were nothing. On the contrary, this is the sort of thing that a publisher will see as an indication that you (a) have a good brain, and (b) are a serious student of 'subject x'. If you also have a website, blogs, articles, relevant social media presence, etc, that back this up, then these can look good on a submission, too. However, the key thing to interesting a publisher I think is just having the right idea at the right time - or being the 'go to' person for that subject.
 
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Hijacking this with a related question. I have a PhD but didn't follow it through to an academic career because academia is a horrible place to work - I work in science policy now instead.

I'm in the process of writing a non-fiction that's kind of grown out of my PhD but you'd have to look at it sideways for a decade to really see the links i.e. there's a lot of Foucault in my thesis and the underlying philosophical framework of my non-fiction is vaguely Foucault but the book itself is much, much weirder than that trying to link Foucault's ideas on the nature of power with psychology research on theory of mind and biological research on the gut microbiome's impact on individual behaviour and build from that basis to a modern socialist critique of capitalism and a critique of current activist practices... With the occasional digression in to AI, the future of work and automation, diversity, and colonialism. It sounds a bit crazy but I promise it does all make sense (to me) and test readers have found early draft chapters to be not entirely incomprehensible.

Basically the question is - as my credentials are pretty much limited to 'I've spent two decades thinking about how science and philosophy and politics all come together' and the book is 'here's 65,000 words on how it all makes sense to me...' how the hell would I go about pitching that and what on earth kind of credentials would actually make sense to support it?
 

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I segued from academia to science policy myself. I think if you have a PhD and make a compelling case for the thesis of the book, they aren't going through your CV with a microscope. That said going from a PhD to policy is itself a strong credential narrative for a book that takes science fact to a more conceptual "what it all really means" compelling level IMHO.
 

Errant_Fragments

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I segued from academia to science policy myself. I think if you have a PhD and make a compelling case for the thesis of the book, they aren't going through your CV with a microscope. That said going from a PhD to policy is itself a strong credential narrative for a book that takes science fact to a more conceptual "what it all really means" compelling level IMHO.

Thanks for that, I hadn't really considered putting it in quite that way - anyway, gotta write the book first :)
 

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This is a great thread. I'm new to AW (and to message boards in general) and this is exactly what I'm looking for (as an aspiring non-fiction writer). I've toyed with the idea of trying to knock out my best 'middle chapter' and final chapter so I can get on with working up proposals, as seems to be the norm with non-fiction. However, the voice inside my head says to finish writing the whole book first, then start approaching agents. A simple cost/benefit analysis would say to get the proposals started now but I really want to finish the book first. Any thoughts on this dilemma?
 

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This is a great thread. I'm new to AW (and to message boards in general) and this is exactly what I'm looking for (as an aspiring non-fiction writer). I've toyed with the idea of trying to knock out my best 'middle chapter' and final chapter so I can get on with working up proposals, as seems to be the norm with non-fiction. However, the voice inside my head says to finish writing the whole book first, then start approaching agents. A simple cost/benefit analysis would say to get the proposals started now but I really want to finish the book first. Any thoughts on this dilemma?

Presuming you've got the credentials and etc., that would make your book a traditional pitch to sell (you're not writing something so odd, or from some perspective, that it'd be outside the normal expectations by a bunch), there's no need to finish the book before you send out proposals. That's why they're proposals -- they're proposing the thing, not showing off the finished thing.
 

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If you feel strongly motivated to finish the book, then I'd do that. I think you'll be in a much stronger position as regards the pitch - you'll know your subject better, you'll be pitching it from a position of accomplishment ("I have written about..." is much more authoritative than "I'm planning to write about..."), and for these reasons you'll put yourself higher up the queue. There is also less risk for agent/publisher, as they know what they'll be getting. If they like your idea but would like to suggest changes, then they will. The main downside with this approach is really buying the time to complete the book - but it sounds like that might not be an issue for you.
 

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The reason why you don't need the book finished is because non-fiction editors will often suggest chapter subjects and where to put them in sequence. IOW, you could save yourself a basket of writing by staying on target with the publishers suggestions/requests. Having been new to the business 30 years ago, I wrote two non-fic books in a row from stem to stern, then subbed them out one at a time. Both sold and did exceptionally well for what they were, but the edits were very heavy. My auto repair book went from 500 pages to 230, Entire chapters were removed and some added. My platform for the auto book consisted of a gaggle of licenses and certificates, showing that I was a master mechanic. I had years and years of working at such a job. They instantly recognized those types of creds for sufficient platform. The Garage Sale book required zero platform because there was nothing ever published like it before.

So it kind of depends upon your non-fic subject matter. Heck of a platform requirement difference between a book on medical diseases and a book on how to make paper airplanes.

Related work or OJT experiences can help fortify a proposal, as well as previously published newspaper and magazine articles. I do think expert referrals and letters/testimony from higher educational sources can help. And yes, your degrees are very recognized.

Non-fiction books are nearly always fact-checked, so do your research diligently.
 
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Taylor Harbin

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This is a great thread, and I'd like some thoughts on my situation.

I have a Master's in Historic Preservation, and as of January, four years experience researching topics and interacting with the public in state parks. I recently became aware of a murder case that was highly publicized. It involved an eccentric rich old man who practiced mysticism, a bizarre will, a fight over his fortune, three governors, packed court rooms, and even the Pinkerton Detective Agency. It relates directly to my work, since it happened in the same county where I now live, but nobody has written about it in over 100 years! I'm working on a collaboration with a colleague to see if we can get an article in a peer journal, but the more research I do, the more I'm beginning to think I could write a book on it. I live close to a major university that has it's own press, and I think it would be of local/regional interest, especially since the murder remains unsolved and some of the buildings have survived. Yet, being over 100 years old, I sincerely doubt there are any living people who can remember it, which means my research is limited to newspapers, books, and whatever archival papers are left. Part of me wants to wait and see how this article pans out, to test the waters, you know?

I think I have a strong case for writing it, but I'd like some experienced advice on whether it's worth the time, and how best to go about it. I have no publication credits.
 

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Thanks for the reply and congratulations on your success. This gives me a lot to think about.

My book is the story of a specific demographic of Americans, their collective experiences over the past few decades and looking forward to what the next couple of decades may have in store for them.

I think (hope) I’ve got the creds with a masters in history, another in public administration, and 20 years OTJ in technology policy and planning.

What Woodpig said above captured my eye - I do feel strongly motivated to finish the book because I am enjoying the journey and I am not 100% certain where it is going to take me.

But this, this feedback loop with folks like you and other responders, is so encouraging! I am so glad I found this forum.
 
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