Saturday, June 6, 2009

Fiction vs. Non-fiction

Last week I posted on the difficulty of making a living from writing. This is especially true of fiction writing. What I'm wondering this week is how many fiction writers try their hand at serious non-fiction writing.

It makes sense, after all. If a short story sells to a professional market for $.05 a word, then a 4000-word story will earn $200. That's considered good! Now a non-fiction article of the same length might sell for $1 a word. Quite a difference, isn't it?

I've heard that a typical advance on a novel might be $5000. And correct me if I'm wrong here, novelists, but I've heard that unless the book sells very well, there are no guarantees of any money beyond this initial advance. Now that's pretty lousy for a year's work.

I realize that most people who write fiction do so because they love it. Yes, obviously, they would have to love it. So, let's hear from fiction writers - do you supplement your income by writing non-fiction? Have you? Are you trying to? Is it easy? Difficult? A necessity? And do you enjoy it?


  1. I like doing interviews and writing creative nonfiction. I've kept that kind of stuff to a minimum, because there is only so much time in the day, and I've been more focused on the novel than anything else.

    I do have an interview that has been accepted by The Writer, but it has not been scheduled as of yet. It will be interesting to see what comes of that.

    I think that if you want to do the freeelance thing for the money you have to spend a fair amount of time networking and building up momentum. At this point, I'm more interested in doing a special project here and there and just keeping it fun.

  2. I actually have four versions of a computer language book published, and one version of a chip verification book. While they are non-fiction works, they are in such a specialized market that I don't think they really count.

    It's true that the price of the book is MUCH higher than a typical fiction book, but it's also true that the number of nonfiction books sold is smaller than most fiction books.

    There was one year when a chip company shipped my book with their product and I made almost 30 grand in royalties (*big smile*), but that was an aberration.

    I think if you can write a good how-to book in an area that isn't covered well, or there aren't many books, and the market is large, you can do well. Of course that's pretty hard to find.

    For instance if you can write the first book on secret functions of the iPhone, or how to get the most out of your Blackberry, you could do well. But the opportunities to do that are few and far between. There are just too many other writers going after that market.

    If you have a particular skill, such as a unique photographic technique, or a new method for dog training, and you can write a good book, you can do very well. The biggest problem with nonfiction is that you need a platform to sell your book. You need to be well known in your industry.


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