Here is another post in my WRITERLY WISDOM series I first ran back in 2013. Five years later, I’ve updated the material and made sure it still applies to today’s writers. This week I talk about researching nonfiction writing opportunities…


Non-Fiction: Researching Your Options
by Donna L Martin


I’ve been thinking for a long time about dipping my fingers into the non-fiction waters. You would think writing picture books, middle grade chapter books and young adult novels along with my essays and poetry would be enough to keep me busy. But I’ve always had a fascination with non-fiction, particularly when it involves the historic lives of unique individuals. There are many wonderful non-fiction authors out there and I imagine just as many talented wannabe non-fiction writers in this writing community.

But where to start?

Last week Tina M Cho showed us an excellent way to create a proposal letter to whet an editor’s appetite for our stories. But what if you are only starting out with an interest in writing non-fiction?

Where do you go from there?

Here is one plan on tackling your first non-fiction manuscript:


Choose A Topic


You can’t write a story without an idea. What interests you? Historical figures? Science? Nature? Travel? Pick a topic that fascinates you. Something you might know a little bit about or something of which you know nothing at all. Non-fiction writing requires a healthy amount of research and by the end of it, you will in some small way become an expert on your chosen topic.


Outline Your Chapters


While some fiction stories can be written at a drop of the hat, non-fiction stories require much more planning otherwise you will simply drone on and on about your topic while getting nowhere. A publisher will want to know what each chapter will be about and the more detailed you are about how you will cover your chosen topic makes the actual writing that much easier when the time comes.


Plan Out Your Research


Think of how you will learn everything you need to know about your chosen topic. Depending on your particular story idea, there will be a number of ways to go about researching the subject of your manuscript. At the end of this post I will list various resources to help you with your non-fiction research. Make sure you have index cards or a notebook for taking good notes or even a tape recorder for live interviews.


Stay Organized


There must be a method to your research. A way to categorize your notes and organize your research so that you can properly document your sources. Fiction dwells only in the imagination of the writer. Non-fiction, even fictionalized non-fiction, must be based on documented facts which any good editor will ask for when requesting to see your manuscript.


Write, Revise, & Submit


Once you have created your chapter outline, completed your research, organized your notes, and documented your sources, it is now time to write your first draft. After many revisions, critiques from writing partners, and editing for content and accuracy, your manuscript will be ready for submission to a publishing house. Time to celebrate a job well done and time to start researching your next non-fiction topic!
As promised, here are a list of potential resources to help you research different non-fiction story ideas:

1. Interview local experts
2. Local & out of town newspapers
3. Public libraries
a. Research rooms
b. Online databases
c. Microfilm
d. Microfiche
e. Archived magazines & newspapers
4. Universities
5. Museums
6. Books already published on your idea (how will YOUR story be unique?)
a. Public & university libraries
b. Amazon.com
c. BN.com (Barnes & Noble)
7. Local & national corporations
8. Government agencies
9. Local & national organizations
10. Library of Congress
11.Smithsonian Institution
12.The National Archives
13. National Geographic Society
14. National magazines
15. Associationas & socities
16. Research institutes
17. Internet
18. Foreign embassies
19. Local businesses
20 Specialized libraries (like presidential)

The resources are out there. It is our job as writers of non-fiction to search out and discover those little known facts about the topics which interest us and present them in a way to fascinate our readers.

No matter the topic, keep writing and have fun with it!




International best selling, award winning author, Donna L Martin, has been writing since she was eight years old. She is a 4th Degree Black Belt in TaeKwonDo by day and a ‘ninja’ writer of children’s picture books, chapter books, young adult novels and inspirational essays by night. Donna is a BOOK NOOK REVIEWS host providing the latest book reviews on all genres of children’s books, and the host of WRITERLY WISDOM, a resource series for writers. Donna is a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators and Children’s Book Insider. She is a lover of dark chocolate, going to the beach and adding to her growing book collection. Donna’s latest book, LUNADAR: Homeward Bound (a YA fantasy), ebook edition, is now available from Amazon.




Here is another post in my WRITERLY WISDOM series I first ran back in 2013. Five years later, I’ve updated the material and made sure it still applies to today’s writers. My next guest blogger, Tina M Cho, is a dear writerly friend and the author of many nonfiction books so who better to tell us how to write a strong nonfiction proposal?


How to Write a Nonfiction Proposal

By Tina M. Cho


Thank you, Donna, for having me on your fabulous blog! I just finished writing a nonfiction book in which I had written the proposal. In fact, the way I pursue and write a proposal might be slightly different from others.

I was taught by a wonderful mentor, Nancy I. Sanders, who showed me how to get a book contract BEFORE you write the book. And so before I even write a proposal, I send a simple query to the editor to see if they are even interested in my topic. Why bother researching for several months if editors aren’t interested? Furthermore, I select book ideas that will fit in with a publisher’s existing line of books. After I hear back from the editor that yes, they’d like to see a proposal on a certain topic, I reply by saying I’ll send them a proposal in a month or list a date. This way of querying before writing the proposal is a good way to get published. This book may or may not be near and dear to your heart, but it’s a way to get published and build your resume. I’ve written three books this way and have one more being seriously considered.

So once I get the green light to write the proposal, I do the research on my topic for the book. From there, I write the proposal package. I’m calling it a package because a proposal is more than one item. A proposal consists of the proposal itself, a table of contents (TOC) or book outline, and sample chapters (1-3). For all of my proposals, I only wrote one sample chapter but very detailed TOC’s. You’ll want to check the submission guidelines for the publisher you’re targeting. Sometimes they have very specific guidelines.

Now I’ll explain the seven components of the actual proposal document. Other web sites will have the same information but maybe in a slightly different order. This is what works for me.


  1. Overview

This is the introduction to your proposal, the overview, general summary and essence of your book. You want to hook the editor by showing why your topic is relevant and important. My overview sections have been 3-4 small paragraphs. Why did you choose this topic? Is it popular right now? Is it in the news? Here is where you can give a tiny bit of historical information if needed as well. The next little paragraph can show your passion and excitement for the topic. Why is it important to you? And lastly, what can your book offer or do for people?

For example, for my proposal The Girls Guide to Manners and All That Good Stuff, which is forthcoming from Legacy Press Kids, I first gave an overview of how the topic was popular and in the news as Prince William and Kate were getting married. I noticed many articles on etiquette. Even Barbie came out with a movie about etiquette. And universities have added etiquette/manners classes! So I used those as a background and hook. Then I told my passion of why I thought this topic was relevant. My own daughter could use a book about it, along with other girls her age. (This book idea fit into the publisher’s existing line of books.) And my last paragraph explained what this book would have to offer to the specific audience, who are 8-12 year-old-girls.

  1. About the Book

This is just a small paragraph explaining a little more about your book and target audience. What components will be in your book? Will each chapter have crafts, activities, recipes, or stories? This is where you can hint at your general plan and make-up of the book.

The Need

This is where you explain in 2-3 small paragraphs why your book is needed in today’s market. Does it correlate with Common Core Standards? Does it fill a need? Share the research and show or prove why your book needs to be published. You can also share statistics or demographics of your audience if need be.

For one of my proposals, I discovered that no other books existed on the topic for the target age level audience.

  1. Competition/Market

You need to list titles, authors, and publishing information about comparable books to yours. Use the search function in Amazon or Barnes and Noble and find comp books. Even though there might be many on your topic, an editor at another publishing house might say, “Hey, this is a popular topic for school, and we need one in our catalog, too.” However, after listing the comparable books, write a sentence explaining how your book is unique and different from the ones listed.

  1. Promotion

How can you help promote the book? What do you already do? Blog? Twitter? Facebook? Book Reviews? Speak? Share your platform of what you already do and maybe list statistics of how many followers. Perhaps you already are an expert on this topic and lecture or speak about it.

  1. About You

Here is where you list your bio, credentials, other published works, and why you should be the one to write this book. If the book is about science projects, and you’re a former science teacher, then show the connection!


This is just a 1-2 sentence summary of the proposal. For example, “I look forward to seeing the potential “Title of Book” out in the market someday so that it will [whatever need it will fill or offer to do for people.]

After you write the actual proposal, you’ll need to sketch out a book outline or table of contents. How many chapters do you envision? Give a sentence summary for each chapter and then list detailed points for the components of each chapter. In my experience, the more detailed, the better. If the chapter involves activities, crafts, recipes, or other things, then name them. Tell the editor exactly what the reader will be doing. This makes you as a writer more knowledgeable and organized. And, having a detailed TOC helps for when you later go back to write the actual book after the proposal has been approved. This could be a couple months to a year!

And lastly, write your sample chapters and make sure they follow your book outline. When you have your proposal package ready, follow the directions on your publisher’s web site and either snail mail or email it to the correct place. I hope this has been of some help to you all! Best wishes on your future proposals!



Tina is an author of 25 guided reading books from Lakeshore Learning and Compass Media.  A coloring book, God Is So Good, from Warner Press was published in 2013.  Three nonfiction books are forthcoming from Legacy Press Kids.  She is a former elementary teacher who currently homeschools her 5th grade daughter and 2nd grade son.  Though she grew up in Iowa, she is now living outside of Seoul, South Korea.

Website: http://www.tinamcho.com




Here is another post in my WRITERLY WISDOM series I first ran back in 2013. Five years later, I’ve updated the material and made sure it still applies to today’s writers. I really love this series because I get a chance to share the writerly words of some of my writerly friends like Deborah Amadei.


How to Start Your Non-Fiction Research

By Deborah Amadei


Are you a writer doing historical research for the first time? How should you start? Let’s say your topic is George Washington. You can get a general idea by reading an encyclopedia article but only as a jumping off point.


In this hypothetical case, I want to write something about George Washington’s contributions towards United States government.


               My first step would be to visit my local library and check out books on George Washington and the era in which he lived.


Here’s a couple of books I would check out: Washington: the Indispensable Man by James Thomas Flexner because I know he is well regarded as an historian. Another title I would choose is: George Washington, the Writer, a Treasury of Letters, Diaries and Public Documents, compiled by Carolyn Yoder.


 But I would need to use primary sources: documents written by him and his contemporaries. It could be newspaper articles and government documents. The writer needs to search primary sources for details that help the reader connect with the subject.


One source I recommend is the American Memory Collection from the Library of Congress http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/browse/


             This link will take you to a page where you can select Presidents only and then to the collection for George Washington’s papers. Diaries give the reader a window into their subject’s thoughts and George Washington was a dedicated diarist.



I chose to browse the collection and typed this phrase in the dialogue box: “exercised with Mrs. Washington in the post chaise.”


I selected this item and bookmarked it in Google chrome: http://memory.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/P?mgw:1:./temp/~ammem_qGzu::


What’s interesting about this? I learned how George Washington exercised.


He and Martha rode in a post chaise, which according to Bing dictionary is: “A horse-drawn carriage: a closed horse-drawn carriage with four wheels that was used in the 18th and 19th centuries as a fast means of transporting mail and passengers.”


               Other forms of exercise for him were horseback riding and walking around the Battery (At the time, his official residence was in New York City.


             And if I wanted to get a photocopy of a printed edition of a diary I could. The Diaries of George Washington (in six volumes) are available at some public libraries.







Deborah Amadei’s research experience comes from her 25 years as a librarian.  She writers picture books (both fiction and non fiction) and is currently working on a middle grade novel.  Visit her at www.deborahamadei.com




Here is another post in my WRITERLY WISDOM series I first ran back in 2013. Five years later, I’ve updated the material and made sure it still applies to today’s writers. I really love this series because I get a chance to share what I’ve learned over the years with others. Kristen Lamb seems like the girl next door but with the wisdom of the ages flowing from her fingertips in daily posts for her HUGE fan following (23,000 and counting). You can connect with Kristen via her blog, (http://www.warriorwriters.wordpress.com), or through her MyWANA group,(http://www.warriorswriters.wordpress.com/join-the-love-revolution-mywana).  


Non-Fiction: The Road To Becoming An Expert

by Kristen Lamb


The lion’s share of beginning writers definitely lean to wanting to write novels, but there are other kinds of writers out there, and they need some attention too.

Today we are going to talk a bit about the realm of non-fiction. What are the advantages of writing non-fiction? How do you become an expert?

If you want to have a career as a writer and make money writing, I gotta say that non-fiction is an easier path. Note I wrote “easier” not “easy.” Nothing about being a writer is easy, which is why you will never make it if you don’t LOVE writing with every fiber of your being.

After almost ten years in this business, I believe I have earned enough experience points to say that writing non-fiction has a number of advantages. For those of you who follow this blog regularly, but happen to be born-fiction people, read on. Non-fiction holds some advantages for all writers.

1. It’s easier to get an agent/published in non-fiction.

I can hear the groans and boos, but it is true. Non-fiction isn’t subjective like fiction is. It is easier to fill tangible needs, target an audience, gain a following and build a platform. Face it. If you have a blog about how eating nothing but Spam and mangos helped you lose 50 pounds in three months–the Spamango Diet–and you can add a list of testimonials and show how ten thousand people a week click on your Spamango Blog…it’s going to be a pretty easy sell (and generate contraversy to boot).

Tosca Reno was a 200 pound, depressed, unhealthy housewife who became a competitive fitness athlete after the age of 40. Tosca busted all the misconceptions of women and age. She took her experience and wrote a weekly column in Oxygen Magazine and then later wrote a book. Her Eat Clean Diet is a popular phenomenon.

Your Inner NF Author

Are you a whiz at balancing your checkbook and saving every penny? Possess superior organizational skills? Are you a Toddler Whisperer who can calm even the most hot-tempered three-year-old? Then you may have the makings of a non-fiction platform.

2. NF does well being self-published.

Say you have a knack for matchmaking. You are the go-to gal for those who want to be set up on a great date. All your single friends rely on you for the best love advice. In fact, a number of the friends you’ve set up on dates have even gotten married, all because of you.

You have a popular blog and do regular community TV interviews, radio interviews and talks at local Rotary clubs teaching others your unique insight into romance. You decide to write a book with all the best tools and tactics for successful dating. Do you have to land an agent or get a publishing deal? In my opinion, no. Not right away.

If you have built a platform, then you can likely move a decent amount of copies on your own. Sell your own books for six months or a year and then add it to your agent pitch. Now you are able to show that your self-published NF has a market.

Nontraditional publishing works really well for areas that are a tad gray. For instance, back in the day when I was pitching agents about a social media book, I consistently got the same answer. “Kristen, this is the book everyone wants and needs, but no one wants to be first.” Every agent knew that a social media book was needed, but none of them could wrap their minds around how to write one that would have any kind of longevity. Social media simply changed too quickly and traditional publishing is…slooooow.

They recommended that I self-publish the book first. I didn’t self-publish. I happened to go with a new non-traditional publisher Who Dares Wins Publishing, and that has been an excellent decision. My book has been tremendously successful and has a growing worldwide fan base.

What advantages did I gain?

Now it is far easier for me to show a larger publisher that I am worth their time and money for future books. Also, because I had already finished a book, it was very easy to get an agent. I had a product and a platform. Gina knew I had the stick-to-it to finish, and not only finish, but have an excellent product. Also, the first book has given me scores of testimonials from people who applied my methods. That gives statistical proof that my methods do work. I am no longer a theoretical success, I am a proven commodity.

3. NF naturally lends itself to other endeavors that generate income.

Being a NF author can open doors of additional revenue aside from the book. Can fiction authors do this? Sure, but NF lends itself better to paid workshops, speaking engagements, television, conferences, etc. NF authors are much more likely to be interviewed on big shows like EllenThe View, or The O’Reilly Factor. These appearances sell a lot of books. Yes, sometimes fiction authors will make appearances, but they are small in proportion to the NF experts.

Fiction can eventually pay money, but think of that as your long-term investment. It takes years to write the book, get the agent, get the book on the shelves, and then almost an additional year to receive a check. It’s gonna be a loooong time before you get paid.

What do you do in the meantime? How can you be viewed as a legitimate writer? Heck, how can you pay some bills? Non-fiction is a great option. Whether you are writing articles, paid blogs, reviews or even web content, that practical side of your brain can help you make ends meet.

Great, Kristen. But who would listen to me?

As you can see, there are a number of advantages to writing non-fiction. The pickle with non-fiction, however, is getting people to care about what we have to say. Hey, everyone has an opinion. Why should we pay attention to yours?

How do we become an expert?

Get a Piece of Paper

This is probably a “no duh,” but those individuals who grace the halls of academia long enough to get extra letters added to their names already have an advantage. If a pediatric neurologist decides to write a book about autism, it is likely readers will trust what she has to say.

Do we have to have to have an advanced degree for people to take us seriously? No.


Do you have something in your background that makes you uniquely qualified to talk on a certain subject? Above we talked about the neurologist who writes about autism, but what about the mother of an autistic child? Isn’t she also an expert? Yes! She is just an expert of a different sort.

This is mainly how I became a social media expert. First, it was because I spent far too much time on social media :D . I also happened to be one of the early people who saw what social media could do for authors. I find it funny that four years ago I was asking agents what they thought of social media for writers, and they looked at me like I had sprouted another head. Now many of these agents won’t take on a new author unless she can demonstrate a viable social media platform.

So how did I become an expert? I tried and tested every method the other “experts” of the time happened to be touting. What worked? What went BOOM!? I am infinitely grateful for the DFW Writers Conference and Bob Mayer for being my early guinea pigs. I didn’t get paid, but they gave me free reign to try different stuff, and that freedom was invaluable.

We Are Not Alone–The Writer’s Guide to Social Media was birthed out of those years of trying different things, failing, then trying again. I always joke that the title of the book should have been I Made All the Dumb Mistakes So You Don’t Have To. In short? I became an expert based on my experience.




About Kristen Lamb
Kristen Lamb is the author of the best-selling books We Are Not Alone—The Writer’s Guide to Social Media and Are You There, Blog? It’s Me, Writer and is represented by Russel Galen of Scovil Galen Ghosh Literary, Inc. in NYC.
Kristen worked in international sales before transitioning into a career as an author, freelance editor and speaker. She takes her years of experience in sales & promotion and merges it with almost a decade as a writer to create a program designed to help authors construct a platform in the new paradigm of publishing. Kristen has guided writers of all levels, from unpublished green peas to NY Times best-selling big fish, how to use social media to create a solid platform and brand. Most importantly, Kristen helps authors of all levels connect to their READERS and then maintain a relationship that grows into a long-term fan base.