Friday, March 30, 2018

Writing Non-Fiction Books – Research and Reward by Linda L. Osmundson

An August post from this blog read “We Are Women, Hear Us Roar.” March, as Women’s History Month, honors many women who roared against impossible odds and found success in science, literature and art among other subjects. My research discovered women artists gained recognition as far back as the 15th Century even though they often faced a lack of acceptance and few choices in subject matter. Their soft voices persisted and soon turned to roars.

For my third book in the How the West Was Drawn series I chose women who painted or sculpted the West. Writing non-fiction required thorough research and meticulous bibliographies. One workshop I attended suggested each fact in your manuscript should have three sources in agreement – not always possible. If done well, research reaps apt rewards.

How do you find information? Where do you start? I started with books.


Non-fiction proposals require bibliographies that conform to the publisher’s particular style even if the publisher doesn’t print them. As I read each book, I followed Chicago Style Manual for the bibliography. I added notes and saved it all in a Word document.

Children’s books provide a good beginning. Their information is simple language and interesting facts. Unfortunately, I found few children’s books on western women artists. One adult book, The Encyclopedia of Women Artist of the American West by Phil and Marion Kovinick sounded like the perfect resource. Its 392 pages, with snippets of information about hundreds of women artists, promised to make research easy. Wrong. Many private collectors refrained from listing their own names and women artists sometimes signed an alias. Over time sources changed, collectors died, collections disappeared and pieces were sold or lost.

Artist Malvina Hoffman wrote Heads and Tales. The book recorded her travels while working on a commission for the Chicago Field Museum. She sculpted 101 heads, busts and life-sized figures representing all the world’s ethnic groups.

The backmatter bibliographies of my print resources provided more book sources. Some I found at the library; others I purchased.


Although Wikipedia is unreliable and unacceptable as a source by publishers, the website includes a sort of bibliography. Bingo! Some sites proved helpful, others a waste of time. Reliable websites such as art museums provided facts, a directory of experts, art images for consideration and collectors’ names.

Once I completed my research and formed a list of more artists and images than needed, I tackled the next step – permissions.


The University of Chicago Press (and most publisher contracts) states, “As Author, you have responsibility to secure permissions that may be needed to reproduce material created by other people, including images and text quotations.” That means the author pays out-of-pocket. I cataloged any permission requirements and fees. I based my final image decisions on artist, image and cost of permissions.

Museums, estates and collectors charge from $100 to $500 an image, seldom less and often more, for it to appear inside the book. An image on the cover requires an additional charge. A museum or private collector occasionally sanctions image use for free. Luck followed me when I visited the Fort Worth office of Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway.

BNSF’s Fort Worth curator toured me through their huge western art collection which included many women. She supplied a catalog of all their possessions, some of which hung in other office locations. She obtained authorization from superiors to allow use of whatever images I wanted at no cost. She loaned me artists’ files and provided jpegs. Of the fourteen images in Women’s Art, seven came from BNSF.

A gallery owner allowed publication of Marjorie Reed’s painting if I purchase his book about her. The price of $60 provided interesting reading and plenty of usable tidbits.

After choosing the images I preferred, I queried publishers with my manuscript and/or idea. Once accepted by Pelican Publishing, I received an advance which helped finance my permissions.


My publisher requested the text for each image be approved and fact checked by museums or contributors before printing.

Although some people say non-fiction is easier to sell to publishers than fiction, much time, research and even money go into the making. The reward – an award winning book.

Linda Osmundson is the author of hundreds of non-fiction articles for children and adults. She authored three books in the How the West Was Drawn series (award winning Cowboy Charlie’s Art, Frederic Remington’s Art and award winning Women’s Art) for ages 7-107. Learn more about Linda Osmundson on her website: or her How the West Was Drawn Facebook page. She lives in beautiful Fort Collins, Colorado, with a view of the Rocky Mountains and Long’s Peak from her deck.


  1. Thanks for being our guest today, Linda. The women artists you featured in How the West Was Drawn were amazing.

  2. Thanks, Pat, for your advice and help in finding this blog.

  3. Thanks for writing this excellent guide, Linda. It sounds like the hard work and expenses have already started to pan out for you, and I hope it continues to reap rewards.

  4. This is a great article on the amount of checking, rechecking, and verifying that goes into creating a credible non-fiction book.

    1. Interestingly, fiction novels also need to be accurate. The story may be a figment of the writer's imagination; but plots need to be plausible, locations need to ring true, and action needs to be realistic. So in many ways, the same research rules apply to fiction.

  5. Thanks for sharing this helpful information here, Linda. It is all so beneficial. I love to do research and know that side of it, but did not always know how to get permissions to use material. This will be helpful for the history books I am doing.

  6. Thanks for the interesting article, Linda, and thanks for being a BRP guest.


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