Learning more about writing nonfiction 

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A slightly-nasty Saturday was worth braving on December 11 for Getting Serious about Your Nonfiction Book, a class sponsored by the Writers’ Center of Indiana. The workshop met at the Wayne Branch Library (198 S. Girls School Road), not hard to find despite incorrect directions on my iPhone, and was led by Skip Berry, a poet, essayist, and former visual arts writer for The Indianapolis Star. Berry, the author of several nonfiction books, brought along handouts and shared a LOT of great information about the publication process. Though there is a lot of work to get done when it comes to writing a book, from research to learning how to effectively market your product, the workshop made it feel as though that work is both possible and worth the reward of getting it done.

The workshop was well attended — I counted 14 people besides myself — and, to my amusement, looked like a casting call for a Benetton ad. Interests in book subjects varied wildly. I’m interested in putting together a book of poems and essays. The woman behind me wanted to write a book because “she likes to tell people what to do.” Another woman, a business owner, wanted to write a business book extolling the virtues of diversity in the workplace. Across the room, a gentleman was interested in public policy and economics. One lady was there simply because she felt like she was supposed to write a book.

Berry cautioned the group to protect ourselves as writers, that the journey of writing a book could take a couple years. I was reminded of various assignment sheets from my college days when we were instructed to ask, “Who is my audience?” When Berry asked what we would be willing to give up in order to write our books, my first thought was “television.” (A not-as-valiant move when I consider how I’ve taken to watching Netflix programming on my laptop.)

Though I can’t go into all that Berry discussed in this space, I can tell you that self-publication is growing in popularity via print-on-demand presses, that a book proposal shouldn’t be accompanied by any marketing tricks like an envelope filled with glitter (I don’t care if you ARE writing about especially-sparkly vampires), and that social networks are changing the way books are promoted. Berry also recommends Jeff Herman's Guide to Book Publishers, Editors, and Literary Agents, an annual guide available for around $30, as the quintessential reference book for any writer seeking business contacts.

Visit the Writers’ Center of Indiana’s website for more information about upcoming classes. Some cost money but some, like Berry’s workshop, are free. Makes it even more fun to soak up all that knowledge.

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