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  • Writer's pictureSiân Smith

7 reasons why I love editing non-fiction

… and why you should write a non-fiction book!

Up until early adulthood, I associated non-fiction with fact and textbooks, reserved solely for STEM subjects: reading for pleasure always took the form of fiction. During these teen and early adult years, when I first imagined myself becoming a book editor, I assumed I’d edit adult or children’s fiction.

I first enjoyed reading non-fiction in my final year as an undergraduate student and then during my postgraduate master’s degree, when some extremely passionate lecturers introduced me to feminist essays and books. I had no idea non-fiction could feel so empowering and be written with such passion.

Since my my early twenties, I’ve turned to non-fiction when I need help with something I’m either struggling with or I simply want to learn more about (usually along the self-development line).

Then I read Wild and The Salt Path. Two non-fiction books documenting real-life events, using engaging and lyrical language to bring it all to life – non-fiction that reads like fiction. These are the sorts of books I now love to edit: true stories and experiences written with fictional elements such as dialogue, poetic language, themes, symbolism, and imagery.

Many of the following points relate to memoir and self-development books, but some relate to other forms of non-fiction. Whether or not you’ve ever considered writing a book, I’m hoping the following reasons why I love reading and editing non-fiction will encourage you to see the wonderful potential waiting for you if you write your own non-fiction book.

A pile of the following book titles are being held by a caucasian hand: Notes on a Nervous Planet, Help Me!, The Salt Path, Running for my Life, Simply Anxious
Non-fiction books are full of beautiful phrases, gorgeous imagery, and life-changing messages. Photo credit: Siân Smith

1. You can guide the reader throughout the book

My top tip for reading non-fiction is to always read the introduction or author’s note: this often where the author will lay out their intentions for the book. This can include tips on how they want you to read the book (ie how important it is for you to read it in order versus whether or not you can dip in and out in any order).

Although you still need to use storytelling in non-fiction, and create intrigue via show and not tell, you can use the introduction or author’s note to explain the inspiration behind the book or your intention for the reader. This can be anything from wanting to share your recovery journey as a source of hope for current and future readers to detailing practical tools to guide your reader to their own experience of enlightenment.

2. You can talk directly to your reader

While fiction can sometimes break the fourth wall and speak directly to the reader, this is more common in non-fiction. This can take the form of asking the reader to take a moment and think about whether or not they have encountered something similar that has just been described, being invited to grab some pen and paper to answer questions, or simply asking the reader to read the following section carefully.

3. You can help your reader with cross-referencing

If there’s a part in chapter 7 that won’t make much sense if the reader hasn’t grasped the point or concept from chapter 2, you can remind them to re-read the part that will boost their reading experience. Just make sure you do this sparingly: you don’t want your reader to end up doing so much flicking back and forth they miss out on enjoying the experience of reading your book.

This also generates a brilliant opportunity to create intrigue for future parts of your book. For instance, if chapter 3 includes a passage about what anxiety feels like, you may also want to remind your reader there is hope for recovery, which you discuss in chapter 8. Again, however, do this sparingly as you want your reader to enjoy the flow of your book and allow your story to develop organically.

4. The truth is far more compelling than fiction

What I love most about non-fiction memoir or narrative non-fiction is the fact that these events are TRUE. When we discussed Educated in book club last month, the common thread was how we couldn’t believe all the events in the book happened to one family. If such a chain of events were narrated in fiction, we’d deem it too unlikely and find it hard to engage with the characters and narrator. But the fact that these incidents did happen to one family made it a jaw-dropping page-turner.

A caucasian hand with pink nails is holding a copy of 'Educated' by Tara Westover. The book cover has a large picture of a pencil on it.
'Educated' is even more captivating because it's true. Photo credit, Siân Smith

5. You can have a huge impact on someone’s life

Because non-fiction centres on true events, these books are an essential tool for allowing your reader to connect your ordeal with their own circumstances – whether or not they were ever aware what you are writing about would ever relate to them. For example, I didn’t realise I was living with disordered eating until I read an article about it in a magazine. I saw how aspects from the writer’s experience aligned with my own. Seeing it written down also meant I could come back to it again and again.

6. Tell your side of the story, in your voice

Authorial voice is just as important in fiction, but non-fiction goes beyond using writing as a form of expressing part of yourself. It provides an opportunity for writers to find the voice and words that reflect who they really are. Memoir and self-development books also allow you to share your point of view or side of the story. Whether you’re sharing pieces from your own anxiety recovery or detailing memories from your past, it’s YOUR truth you are speaking.

7. Non-fiction books can combine other genres in one book

I love reading non-fiction books which scatter other genres within their book, such as poetry or prayer. This is often done to strengthen an argument or explain an author’s feelings. Some authors include journal excerpts from the past, which injects authenticity into their work.

Of course, I still love reading fiction books. I read both fiction and non-fiction every day. For me, fiction is there as a form of escapism to nurture and liberate my imagination. Whereas non-fiction usually validates, educates, or illuminates thoughts I’ve either never considered or have had difficulty putting into words.

A caucasian woman with blonde wavy hair and gold round glasses is holding a huge pile of books (fiction and non-fiction)
I read fiction and non-fiction every day. Photo credit: Siân Smith

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