by Doug Lewars
I don’t write non-fiction but I know something about it if, for no other reason, than I’ve found it necessary over the years to read a goodly amount of it. Subjects can be highly arcane to mundane; but, the one thing that is critical is research. It is essential that an author be able to convey his or her material in a coherent fashion. Anyone can write a book on just about any topic but, in order to be successful and not fall to ridicule, an extensive knowledge of that subject is required.
Even books that are pure chicanery – and I include a goodly number of the so-called self-help variety in this category – need a sufficiently detailed knowledge of the subject, or at least what the purchasing public is likely to believe, to present a coherent presentation of the topic at hand. Accuracy is nice and always welcome; nevertheless, if knowledge of the subject is sketchy, knowledge of the intended audience is vital. However this post is not for authors who believe that books are nothing more than transcripts of expanded Ted Talks. The subject today is organizing and presenting factual information in such a manner that it might someday be useful to someone who has a need or desire to master the subject.
For me, the methodology that works best is to start with the general topic and then break it down into its component parts. So, for example, I spent the last 22 years working for IBM Canada and before that for what was then Canada Packers. (The name has been changed to Maple Leaf Foods.) In both organizations I held a senior technical position and my area of specialization was Performance Analysis and Capacity Planning. If I were to undertake writing a book on that subject, I’d need to break it down considerably and, the first, and largest di vision would be into business and technical aspects.
Therefore, I would recommend any author of non-fiction try to find the largest subdivisions within the main topic and then continue refining until elemental components are identified. When you’re finished, I would expect to see something like a tree structure although there may be a few relationships that really can’t be identified that way. After all, this is a writing exercise, not a study in pure math.
A spreadsheet is a useful tool. I recommend one sheet for each chapter with the various elements being discussed cross referenced with one another so that you can more easily tease out the relationships. In addition, by having the chapter summarized in this manner there’s a better chance that you won’t overlook something important.
Always remember the five ‘w’s are your friends, as is ‘how’. Of course that applies to both fiction and non-fiction and not all these questions will be appropriate for your work. Just remember that they exist because you might need one unexpectedly. For example, I wouldn’t expect ‘who’ to be of much interest in a technical subject such as Mainframe Capacity Planning; however, you might want to reference some of the individuals who have contributed to it over the years just to soften the tone a bit from the highly technical material. It’s not strictly necessary but it might be a nice touch.
It’s likely that editing will be more difficult for the writer of non-fiction than for the fiction writer. Including images and graphs is almost certainly necessary but may limit your choices for publishing. E-books for example are not always friendly towards these items. In addition, non-standard fonts need to be considered. When dealing with the mathematics behind certain ideas you will require a symbol set that can cause some e-publishers (particular self-publishing platforms) to reduce your work to gibberish.
If you spend copious amounts of time and energy on writing a book the last thing you need is to discover its online component has become meaningless. Most online publishers do make provision for images so one possibility is to take the mathematical parts, save them as an image and then include that. The downside is that this will increase the size of your book and may create problems that way.
Guest post contributed by Doug Lewars. Doug is not necessarily over the hill but he’s certainly approaching the summit. He enjoys writing, reading, fishing and sweets of all sorts. He has published ten books on Smashwords.com.