Posted by: notdeaddinosaur | November 6, 2010

Nonfiction Workshop, MontCo Writing Conference

As this is being posted, I am giving a workshop at the Montgomery County Community College Writer’s Conference in Blue Bell, PA. Because there are only two ways to print handouts (too many, and too few), I’m trying to save the planet by posting the text from the slides I’m using for my talk here.

Writing and Publishing

Lucy E. Hornstein, MD

Montgomery County Community College
Writing Conference
Saturday, November 6, 2010

Take Home Points

1. Need to be an expert.
2. Very different from writing fiction, but…
3. It’s still writing.

What does it take to be an expert?

• Can NOT settle for “research”
• Don’t even think about using Wikipedia or Google
* You should be able to write, or at least edit, the Wikipedia article on your subject
* When your subject is Googled, YOU should be on the first page of results.

• Per Malcolm Gladwell in OUTLIERS: 10,000 hours
• Doing the math:
* 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, 50 weeks a year
* (ie, a full-time job)
* Comes out to five years
• Minimum!

Nonfiction Publishing Process

• Don’t have to write the book first
(but it helps, IMHO)
• The Proposal
* Just as much work as the actual book
*Entire books, websites, blogs devoted to writing nonfiction proposals
(Google: “about 7,040,000 results in 0.18 seconds”)
(93 books on Amazon for “nonfiction book proposals”)

The Proposal

Usually includes:
• What the book is about
• Why you’re writing it
• Who’s going to buy/read it (audience)
• What other similar books are out there
• Why your book is different/better
• Your marketing plan for the book
• Table of contents
• Chapter summaries
• Sample Chapters

Nonfiction Publishing Process

• Can query publishers directly with the proposal
• Or query agents (who sell nonfiction) looking to send the proposal, not the manuscript
• After that, the process is similar to fiction (haggling over the contract, revisions, title, etc.)
• Yes, you need an agent, even if you make the sale; Help with things you don’t know you don’t know; (Subsequent fiction?)
• Or at least a contract specialist (in PUBLISHING!)

But It’s Still Writing!

• All writing is storytelling
(all human communication, actually)
• Make it a good story
*beginnings, middles, endings, transitions, etc.
• Needs to say something (unlike fiction)
• Helps if it’s interesting
• Mechanics count
* grammar, spelling, punctuation
(make life easy for your copyeditor)

It’s Still Publishing

• Treat your agent (and everyone else) with respect
(You’re not the expert on everything)
• Be patient: Glaciers regularly win foot races with publishing
• Plan on doing the bulk of your publicity: Be proactive: find signings, set up events
• Don’t be shy




  1. Wow! If any of us were contemplating becoming the next Michael Crichton, you have soundly discouraged us. You have cleared the field of all physician competitors.

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