I can tell you that perhaps the most important attribute of a non-fiction writer is organization. You need to be detail-oriented and organized. You will gather probably ten times more information than you’ll use in the book. You will want to know your subject before you begin interviews, but you will realize that isn’t always possible. Some may be phone interviews; some may be via email; others will be in person. If you record each interview, you may spend hours transcribing.
Some writers don’t transcribe. I always do. Once I have it printed, I can go through it and choose what to use as quotes in the book and what to use in the profile of that person. After the profile is written, I decide where it fits within the book. You might be surprised to find that a quote from someone isn’t always an exact word-for-word quote. When people talk, they often hem and haw or go off on unrelated tangents or backtrack or a myriad of other things. As the author, you sometimes have to rearrange what they said so it’s clear. But you have to be very careful not to alter the meaning or tone.
Once I have the profile written and the individual quotes written, I send them to the subject for their approval or changes. Some authors don’t do that. I always do. Most often they approve. Sometimes they want changes. If they do, I make those changes.
All of this takes time, as does flying here and there to do the interviews or setting up times to do phone interviews, especially if the subject is, for example, in another country, such as France or Mexico, as some of mine were.
In-between all of this, unless your book is nothing but interviews and profiles, you must continue to do the other research and gather information. No matter how you do your research, make sure you have contact and mailing information on each of your subjects. If your publisher is like mine, he will be happy to send a copy of the published book to each person profiled in the book. And if he won’t, I recommend, if possible, you send each a copy.
Writing nonfiction often requires good people skills, but it also requires organization. For each of the three books I’ve done for TSTC Publishing, from getting the assignment to turning in the manuscript was three months.
Leave you comments, questions or experiences. I’ll be checking the comments, as will other Blood Red Pencil editors.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~Helen Ginger is an author, blogger, freelance editor and writing coach. She teaches public speaking as well as writing and marketing workshops. In addition, her free ezine, Doing It Write, which goes out to subscribers around the globe, is now in its twelfth year of publication. You can follow Helen on Twitter or connect with her on Facebook and LinkedIn. In TSTC Publishing’s TechCareers series, Helen has written: