Writing Nonfiction Books: An Interview with Linda Formichelli

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Linda Formichelli

Linda Formichelli

To continue our interview series on various writing styles freelancers may be interested in pursuing, today I'm talking with Linda Formichelli, co-author of The Renegade Writer: A Totally Unconventional Guide to Freelance Writing Success and The Renegade Writer's Query Letters That Rock, about writing nonfiction books.

Many freelancers already work in nonfiction, and some have even written longer e-books. Moving on to publishing a nonfiction book might seem like a natural progression to them. What was that transition from freelance writer to nonfiction author like for you, and what was the biggest challenge you faced when going from freelancing to that first book?

Really, it was a natural for me since I was writing nonfiction articles -- and my book was on nonfiction article writing! It is challenging to write something so long when you're used to writing 2,000-word articles, but my co-author and I broke the book into manageable chunks. I would write just a little bit at a time. I also had a great team: My husband and my mom both helped me edit the chapters as I wrote them.

You not only write nonfiction, but were actually a co-author of The Renegade Writer. What made you opt to co-author a book rather than writing one solo? What was the biggest benefit of having someone else to work with?

I thought it would be fun to write with a friend. The benefit is that it seems much more manageable when you have someone else doing half the writing, and when you have someone else to bounce ideas off of. It's also been a lot of fun to run the Renegade Writer business together -- the blog, the e-courses, etc.


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I also co-authored two Idiot's Guides, two Chicken Soup books, and a Dummies book. In these cases, unless you're an expert in the topic with a good platform, you're expected to write the books with an expert co-author. The benefit there is that you have an expert who can read over your writing and make sure it's technically correct, meaning that all the info in there is correct. The downside is that some of these co-authors think that *they're* the writer, and they take it upon themselves to edit your writing. I had this happen once, and it was a real PITA. I was very familiar with the Idiot's Guide style, and the expert co-author would edit my writing OUT of the style. Then I'd have to go and change it all back. When the book came out, she didn't even notice that I hadn't made any of her style changes.

You didn't have to prepare a proposal to have one of your books published--instead it came about through your writing contacts. How important are a writer's network and platform in landing a nonfiction book contract?

I think having a network of writers is very important. I belong to an online writer's forum, and one of the members posted that her agent was looking for someone to cu-author a business book. I threw my hat into the ring, and got the gig. It ended up being The Complete Idiot's Guide to Starting and Running a Coffee Bar. My Chicken Soup co-authoring gigs came from another writer on a different forum, who recommended me to her editor. So join online forums, join writers' groups, and contribute to the conversation. Be helpful and make yourself known as a good writer. And be sure to recommend other writers to your editors and agents when the opportunity comes up!

What does your book writing process look like (do you just sit down and write, do you outline extensively), and how did your freelance writing experience influence the way you approach working on a book (if it did at all)?

For the Idiot's Guides and Dummies books, you start with a very detailed table of contents, so that works as an outline. For The Renegade Writer, I didn't outline -- I had a general table of contents to follow, and I kind of outlined in my head as I wrote. I'm not an outlining kind of person! I just write, and then go back and edit.

I viewed each chapter like an article and approached it the same way I would if I were writing for a magazine. That helped the task seem less overwhelming.

If a writer wanted to transition from freelancing to writing their first nonfiction book, what advice would you give them? Is there a way of approaching the project that might help someone adapt from writing shorter freelance pieces to a book?

One difference between writing articles and writing books is that instead of writing an article query, you need to write a book proposal, which is a much more involved thing. When you write an article query, you're describing your idea, why it's right for the magazine, and why you're the right person to write it. When you write a book proposal, you're doing all that, but also including information on competitive books, research on your market, a detailed table of contents, and usually a sample chapter as well. There are several good books out there on how to write a book proposal, and e-courses you can take as well.

To write a nonfiction book, you'll be using all the skills you developed as a magazine writing -- researching, writing, persuading, marketing -- just more of it! So don't let the idea of pitching and writing a book scare you.

About Linda Formichelli

Linda Formichelli has written for more than 120 magazines and is the co-author of The Renegade Writer: A Totally Unconventional Guide to Freelance Writing Success and The Renegade Writer's Query Letters That Rock. Linda teaches an e-course on how to break into magazine writing at http://www.writeformagazines.com. She lives in Concord, NH, with her writer husband, new son, and three cats.

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Jennifer Mattern is a professional blogger, freelance business writer, and indie author. She began writing for clients in 1999 and started her first blog in 2004.

She owns 3 Beat Media - a publishing and client services company which operates All Indie Writers as well as several other websites and blogs including The Busy Author's Guide and BizAmmo. Jenn comes from a background in online PR and social media consulting, having owned a small PR firm for several years before choosing to pursue a full-time writing and publishing career.

Jenn also writes fiction under multiple pen names in the areas of children's fiction, mysteries, and horror fiction. Jenn is an active member of the Horror Writers Association (HWA) and currently serves as the organization's Assistant Coordinator of Promotions and Social Media.


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5 Comments

  1. Devon Ellington May 11, 2009 Reply

    This is a great article, full of useful information. I love Linda’s writing style anyway adn this piece has interesting questions and useful answers. Thanks so much for it!

  2. Thanks for this interview. I never thought about co-authoring a book. I’ll keep that in the back of my mind. I agree that networking with other writers is a good idea. It also helps to network with editors. Forums are a great place to meet other writers. You can also find groups on Meetup.com, Yahoo!, and Google Groups. I was in a writing group but had to drop it because I felt too much pressure. Plus, I didn’t have a clear direction for my project.

  3. Robert Witham May 13, 2009 Reply

    This was a neat article – thanks! (I’m a fairly new reader by the way – found your site through the comments thread over at FreelanceWritingGigs a few weeks ago.)

    This interview was also timely as this is exactly where I’m at now. Former news reporter, current freelance article writer with a few e-books under my belt, and just thinking about launching out into the deep with a non-fiction book project or two. I found this article helpful and informative.

  4. Jennifer Mattern May 13, 2009 Reply

    I’m glad you enjoyed it Robert. It sounds as though you and I are currently in similar boats project-wise on this topic. And it’s always nice to see a new face around here, so welcome. :)

  5. Garry Boyd May 15, 2009 Reply

    Very interesting interview, good insight into cranking it up a notch for me. Enjoyed the rest of your site too!

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