Nonfiction Writing 101


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  • 13
    Lessons
  • 25
    Exams &
    Assignments
  • 12
    Hours
    average time
  • 1.2
    CEUs
  • 1,004
    Students
    have taken this course
 
 
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Course Description

Nonfiction writing is the most common and broadly dispersed form of writing known to mankind. Nonfiction is based in truth, experience, events or in all of them. It is what the reporter reports; what the biographer writes; what the course writer explains. Everything that is not imagination and invented by the creative mind is nonfiction.

This course is designed to take you beyond the basics and to guide you through the writing process to the finish line. In the course, you will learn how to think like an editor, how to choose your subject matter and examine your competition. You will learn how to structure your writing and what to do when you inevitably hit the infamous "writer's block." If you have basic writing skills and if you follow the course content, you should be ready to submit your writing by the end of the course material. You will know what to do with your article or book when you are finished and how to polish it for presentation to a publisher. Remember, "Writers Write" – so get to writing!

 

To do anything well in life you must begin by knowing what the critics of your work will object to, what they will turn away from, and what they will buy. Nonfiction writing is no different. Before you begin writing and submitting your work to an editor, you must understand the viewpoint of most editors and what prompts them to take interest in your work. Young and inexperienced writers often fill their walls with rejection letters because they don't have an understanding of the editor's criteria.

Your Subject and Your Treatment of Your Subject 

The subject matter of your book or nonfiction article must be timely and relevant to its target market. In many ways, timing is everything. Timing matters in terms of the editor's view of your book's marketability and ultimate success. Are you on top of something that is a current concern or an upcoming trend? If you are covering a controversial subject, are you on the front end of a trend that will develop and blossom creating an ever increasing interest in your book?  
 
If you are too early on a subject, then your book will sit for a while before producing results. If you wait too long to address the topic, then the bulk of potential sales may be lost due to market saturation or loss of interest. Before you write, you will want to consider the timeliness of your subject. Of course, the best subjects are those which are timeless and always in demand. For instance, love, relationships, and faith are always needed by the human race and material which helps people in these areas is always marketable.
 
The treatment of your subject must be realistic in order for the work to qualify as nonfiction. In other words, fantasy romance novels are not nonfiction, they are fiction. Keep your treatment of the subject real. Editors often reject material that fails to treat the subject in a fair, balanced, and real manner.
 
If you are writing about a group of people, are you writing about them in a fair minded way? Inhumane writing is not a form of nonfiction, it is hate. Few editors want to promote hatred among groups of people or hateful ideas that create violence or distrust among readers.
 
Sometimes writing nonfiction may include revealing or emphasizing hateful experiences of one group of people at the subjection of another group of people, American slavery comes to mind. It is not an unfair treatment of the subject to reveal such factual experiences as long as those experiences are not written in a manner or with intent to provoke the subjecting group by unfairly portraying them or exaggerating their behavior beyond belief. When writing on such topics it is best to keep it factual rather than embellishing so that your reader does not wind up with the opposite conclusion of what you intend to show; and so your editor does not patently reject the work.
 
The point here is to remember that nonfiction writing is characterized by reality, believability, and fair treatment of the subject matter. It can be opinionated and often is, even in the best of books. But having a perspective and viewpoint is not incongruent with nonfiction. After all, we have all seen or experienced a car accident in which ten bystanders each gave a different account. The difference in their stories does not, by definition, make nine of them fiction writers; it accounts for their different, and valid, points of view. 

The Marketability of Your Subject    

As briefly mentioned above, certain subjects are always marketable. If you venture into nonfiction writing for a living or as a side gig, you will inevitably write on subjects that are always marketable. If you become a refined or talented nonfiction writer, then you will develop the ability to write on less popular, but in demand subjects. This will make you a busier writer.
 
Subjects that are not well covered in the marketplace are always the best ones to write on. This is the main reason that nonfiction writers who know how to write well in the technology fields are always in demand. Technology changes constantly and if you can write well in a way to help average people understand the newest technology, then people will seek you out for their projects.
 
In terms of picking a subject to write your first nonfiction book on, you will want to look for subjects that are not well covered in proportion to the public's interest in them. Self-publishing is a great example. As a publisher and editor I encounter this daily. Our company's website has a good deal of information on it that helps to educate our potential clients before they call or email us. Why do we have to post lengthy segments in our pages when it flies in the face of Internet marketing sense? Because self-publishing is a popular subject that is not well covered in the marketplace where people are looking, the Internet. There are an abundance of books on it, but not so many articles. 
 
Of course, the other reason we have to post so much material in our site is that self-publishing is and can be a very specialized subject. Rarely will you find any two publishing houses handling it in the same manner unless they are owned by the same company. What does this mean to you, the new nonfiction writer? It means that you may be able to directly market your nonfiction writing skills or articles on self-publishing to a publishing house that specializes in self-publishing. 

Remember, the editor you submit your book or article to will look at the marketability of the subject. How broadly will the book hit public interest? How specialized and in demand is the subject? How specialized and small is the market? Does the writer bring a fresh and unique treatment to their subject? Do they touch on a concern that has been overlooked or ignored? Make your treatment of the subject one that increases your book's marketability. 

Core Buyers 

Your editor will either need to be able to immediately discern who your core buyers are or she or he will need you to spell it out in an almost statistical manner in your submission letter. An editor wants to know, how large is this market? What is the target group? How well do they purchase books on this subject? Do they read books at all? What is the median income of the core buyers?
 
Remember, just because you think a target market or group is your core buyers, doesn't mean that group actually IS your core buying market. For example, if you write a nonfiction book on relationships that is targeted to young men and is based on your personal experience with young men, you may be rejected by your editor. Why? A relatively small proportion of your target market actually makes up your core buying group.
 
To successfully persuade an editor of such a book, you may need to rewrite it so that it speaks to women about relationships with young men. Women are the largest buyers of books on relationships and are of greater interest to an editor. Remember, your editor wants to handle your book because they know it will sell; not because they think you're a cool person (even though you may be).  

How Broad is Your Market? 

You must know before you begin to write exactly how broad your market is for the subject you are writing. The broader the market, the more specialized the subject must be in order to get an editor's attention. You must be able to catch the editor's attention with the uniqueness of your material. 

For example, if you are writing a nonfiction article on art history, you may want to broaden your market by writing on a specific or obscure local artist that impacted the regional art sensibilities in a permanent or a trendy way. By choosing your subject with such concerns you accomplish some important marketing needs of your editor. You are selecting a broad market, art history, and you are specializing at the same time. This is a powerful combination that editors appreciate because it helps eliminate their concerns for a broad appeal. In taking this approach, your editor knows that they can market broadly to local, regional, and national niches of art lovers. You have your editor's attention and interest. 

Buyer Value 

As a nonfiction writer, you must remember that the editor who buys your writing will want a very good return on his or her investment [ROI]. He or she will want to know that the audience to which she or he publishes and markets your work will walk away with a sense of gaining a good deal. The audience of your writing MUST feel they have spent both their time and their money well when reading your material.
 
One of your biggest jobs as a nonfiction writer is to convey things in a fresh and effective manner. Re-spinning someone else's work is not writing at all; it is lazy and it is plagiarism; and it is unappreciated by the reader and the original author alike. Editors have a nose for writing that smells of plagiarism; it will quickly land you on their "never talk to him again" list.
 
If you have not developed your own writing style, you will come across to the editor as either too stiff or too stuffy. You want to come across as fresh so spend time developing your own writing style. Style sells, stiff smells. Be a real person without being sloppy and you will eventually develop your own style. 

When you tackle your subject with freshness and authority, then you are adding value to the buyer. You are giving the editor a good ROI for the money he pays you and the reader feels that he or she has spent their time (and possibly money) well. If the editor or reader does not have a sense of added value when they read your article, then you will likely not receive a contract.  


  • Completely Online
  • Self-Paced
  • 6 Months to Complete
  • 24/7 Availability
  • Start Anytime
  • PC & Mac Compatible
  • Android & iOS Friendly
  • Accredited CEUs
Universal Class is an IACET Accredited Provider
 
 

Course Lessons

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Lesson 1: Before You Start, Think Like An Editor

To do anything well in life you must begin by knowing what the critics of your work will object to, what they will turn away from, and what they will buy. Nonfiction writing is no different. 11 Total Points
  • Complete Assignment: An Introduction
  • Complete: Lesson 1 Assignment
  • Complete Exam: Lesson 1: Before You Start, Think Like An Editor

Lesson 2: Article, Project, or Book?

Before you begin writing you must have a clear understanding of what type of writing you are setting out to accomplish. This is far more important in nonfiction writing than in fiction or creative writing. 10 Total Points
  • Take Poll: Types of Nonfiction
  • Complete: Lesson 2 Assignment
  • Complete Exam: Lesson 2: Article, Project or Book?

Lesson 3: Subject, Title, and Subtitles

In order for your work to make sense, you must limit or draw boundaries around a portion or niche of your subject matter. If you have no boundaries or niche, then your writing becomes ineffective and does not accomplish your intent or persuasively convey your thesis. 11 Total Points
  • Complete: Lesson 3 Assignment
  • Complete Exam: Lesson 3: Subject, Title and Subtitles

Lesson 4: Researching Your Subject

This lesson is about the references and material available to you to properly write about your subject. 9 Total Points
  • Take Poll: Research
  • Complete Exam: Lesson 4: Researching Your Subject

Lesson 5: Reviewing Your Competition

Before you bid on a nonfiction writing project and before you begin writing your material, you must review your competition. 35 Total Points
  • Review 2 Articles: Freelance Writing; Selling Your Nonfiction Book
  • Complete: Lesson 5 Assignment
  • Complete Exam: Lesson 5: Reviewing Your Competition

Lesson 6: Structure and Organization

It doesn't matter how bright or educated you are, if you cannot keep your manuscript together so that others can easily understand it when they read, then you are not producing salable nonfiction work. 7 Total Points
  • Review Article: Transitions
  • Complete Exam: Lesson 6: Structure and Organization

Lesson 7: Writers Write; Getting Comfy in Your Own Skin

When you are comfortable with yourself, and as a writer, your personal writing style will flow naturally. The best way to get there is to practice your art. 35 Total Points
  • Review Article: 101 Nonfiction Writing Prompts
  • Complete: Lesson 7 Assignment
  • Complete Exam: Lesson 7: Writers Write; Getting Comfy in Your Own Skin

Lesson 8: Get to the Finish Line; What to Do When You Hit a Block

As an editor, one of the questions I am most often asked is, "How do I get my work finished?" This question is common, especially among new or first time writers. 12 Total Points
  • Review Article: Overcoming Writer's Block
  • Take Poll: Writer's Block
  • Complete: Lesson 8 Assignment
  • Complete Exam: Lesson 8: Get To The Finish Line; What To Do When You Hit A Block

Lesson 9: Rewriting and Rhythm; Polishing for Your Audience

As an editor, one of the first things I tell writers is to consider your audience. Always consider your reading audience. 33 Total Points
  • Complete: Lesson 9 Assignment
  • Complete Exam: Lesson 9: Rewriting and Rhythm; Polishing for Your Audience

Lesson 10: Spelling, Grammar, and Proper Punctuation

Spelling, grammar, and punctuation are important finishing touches that will make the difference in whether your manuscript gets off of the editor's desk to the press or into the "never" basket. 35 Total Points
  • Complete: Lesson 10 Assignment
  • Complete Exam: Lesson 10: Spelling, Grammar and Proper Punctuation

Lesson 11: Edit and Edit Again

While the nonfiction writer must be prepared for the inevitable changes to his or her manuscript when submitting to an editor or client, it is of utmost importance to edit your work before submission. 8 Total Points
  • Complete Exam: Lesson 11: Edit and Edit Again

Lesson 12: Fact Checking and Proper Notation

If you do not get your facts correct, then you lose credibility as a nonfiction writer and you soon become someone that editors and publishers are not interested in publishing. 34 Total Points
  • Complete: Lesson 12 Assignment
  • Complete Exam: Lesson 12: Fact Checking and Proper Notation

Lesson 13: Layout, Proper Spacing, and Format - Your Finished Product

While it is easy to understand the intention, most editors and clients want the finished product delivered in a very plain form. The reasons have to do with publishing rather than your manuscript's content. 92 Total Points
  • Take Poll: Course Completion Poll: Your Thoughts
  • Take Survey: Program Evaluation Follow-up Survey (End of Course)
  • Complete: Lesson 13 Assignment
  • Complete Exam: Lesson 13: Layout, Proper Spacing and Format – Your Finished Product
  • Complete: The Final Exam
332
Total Course Points
 

Learning Outcomes

By successfully completing this course, students will be able to:
  • Know how to think like an editor.
  • Define article, project and book.
  • Identify subject, title and subtitles.
  • Research your subject.
  • Review your competition.
  • Identify structure and organization.
  • Write.
  • Know what to do when you hit a block.
  • Identify what needs to be polished for your audience.
  • Perform spelling and grammar check.
  • Edit and edit again.
  • Fact check and provide proper notation.
  • Demonstrate layout, proper spacing and format, and submit your finished product, and
  • Demonstrate mastery of lesson content at levels of 70% or higher.
 

Additional Course Information

Online CEU Certificate
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Document Your CEUs on Your Resume
 
Course Title: Nonfiction Writing 101
Course Number: 9770555
Languages: English - United States, Canada and other English speaking countries
Category:
Course Type: General Education (Self-Paced, Online Class)
CEU Value: 1.2 IACET CEUs (Continuing Education Units)
CE Accreditation: Universal Class, Inc. has been accredited as an Authorized Provider by the International Association for Continuing Education and Training (IACET).
Grading Policy: Earn a final grade of 70% or higher to receive an online/downloadable CEU Certification documenting CEUs earned.
Assessment Method: Lesson assignments and review exams
Instructor: Dana Kristan
Syllabus: View Syllabus
Duration: Continuous: Enroll anytime!
Course Fee: $65.00 (no CEU Certification) || with Online CEU Certification: $90.00

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Student Testimonials

  • "The lesson material and the related links were most helpful. I liked the condensed comprehensive lessons, they contained essential information without being overwhelming. The links contained excellent resources that I can use any time. The lessons were well thought out and flowed in a logical manner and was very useful. The instructor was prompt in marking." -- Dyanne C.
  • "I liked how the instructor didn't just grade the assignments, but gave comments about my work. She seemed very knowledgeable in the subject. I will be taking other classes from Universal." -- Laura V.
  • "The various lessons were very helpful in gaining knowledge about writing." -- Tenika J.
  • "This course was great." -- Janet M.
  • "Very helpful instructor." -- Tracy C.
  • "The course give me valuable information concerning how professional writing is done; how to please an editor, how to displease an editor, where to look for potential markets, developing a rhythm in writing ,using headings and subheadings to hold a reader's interest, etc. Most of the lessons, I realize, will be most valuable in use as reference materials. I wish to thank the instructor for an enjoyable class. I plan to take more from her. I would recommend her highly to friends planning to take courses in this area." -- Bill M.
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