Should a Non-Fiction Author Write Novels and Vice-Versa?

Gift Wrapped Package

Are Shiny Objects Calling You?

One of my coaching clients has to guard against his propensity to chase every shiny new object. I can identify with his temptations, as I struggle with similar ones in my writing. Can I author both fiction and non-fiction? Can you? Let’s explore the question, and see if we arrive at the same conclusions.

Recently, I had a conversation with my literary agent that went something like this: 

Me, “I’m grateful my non-fiction books are selling, and my platform is building in the genre, but I have these two great novel ideas. What do you think? Would it be okay for me to pursue them?”

Alice, in a gentle tone after taking a deep breath, (I’m sure praying for patience with this crazy, bling-chasing author she has to deal with), “We normally recommend trying to stick with one genre. Otherwise it confuses your audience.”

“Could I do it using a pen name? I have one picked out.”

“Possibly. But then you’re using twice the energy to build two platforms simultaneously.”

That sounded like a whole lot of work to me.

Alice, “Can you turn your novel ideas into non-fiction?”

“Fiction is more fun to write.”

“I’m sure. But why don’t we focus on finishing your current book, then revisit this when you’re done?”

She’s a wise woman. I’m sure she believed the luster of authoring fiction would fade with time. And to a degree, she was right.

I’ve since researched the subject further, and found there are some common concerns and benefits listed from those with vast experience and knowledge. Publishers, agents, and even high-profile authors said much of the same. Here are the highlights of what I learned about the subject.

Keep Your Promises

Reader Expectation Can Drive their Trust

Cons:

1. Most readers will try a favorite author’s book in a new genre once, but if they don’t like it, may not buy any books written by them again. Including those they loved before.

2. Loyal readers often feel betrayed by the switch, and never regain trust. Genre confusion can cause authors to lose whole segments of audiences who now view them as promise-breakers.

3. If you switch genres, and the new book tanks, it can take years to rebuild publisher confidence and marketing momentum.

Pros:

1. Writing too much of a similar thing can cause an author to sound scripted, formulaic, and stale in later books. A change in the creative landscape can infuse fresh dimension into their craft.

2. Opportunities to cultivate new audiences grow with change. For example, if you write murder mysteries, but switch to a practical how-to, you chance reaching people who won’t read the mystery.

3. Authors like C.S. Lewis successfully carried their voices into cross-over markets, reaching many more people. If you are careful to stay true to your writing self, you potentially could do the same.

Old TypewriterAfter talking it over with my agent, researching, praying, and much pondering, I think I’ve had a change of heart. Turning my novel ideas into non-fiction is feasible. And I know successful writers are teachable and flexible. If I want to thrive in the writing world, I need to mirror those traits, and listen to those with voices of wisdom.

Down the writing road, I may change my mind or the market may shift, but at this point, why mess with success? I’d hate to have a shiny new object deflect me from the blessings I already have.

Do you think it’s wise to write fiction and non-fiction? Why or why not?

 

Facing Trouble with Courage

Photo/TaraRoss“In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33 NIV).

Have you faced trouble in your journey as a writer? Have you been tempted to give up on your writing dreams or career because of failure, rejection, humiliation, shame, or judgment?

Fear of judgment, criticism, or shame? When I struggled with some critical comments and judgment years ago, I expressed my frustration to my husband, Dan. I winced at his abrupt and honest response, “Karen, not everyone is going to like you.”

Photo/TaraRossDan’s statement shocked me, as he reminded me that not everyone likes me or agrees with my opinions. And I’ve revisited that story many times, when I try to encourage other writers.

I still grieve over rejection or criticism, and I prefer to walk away from all confrontations. But I’ve learned a lot from my failures—in relationships and writing.

Photo/TaraRossFear of writing process? In his book On Writing, author Stephen King says, “The scariest moment is always just before you start.”

Even well-known writers must face rejections and criticism. The writing process demands prewriting, drafting, revising, and proofreading before any publication. You may become offended or embarrassed when someone offers constructive criticism. Some writers even give up rather than face more editing, critical remarks, or rejection letters.

Fear of rejection and failure? Do you see rejection as failure? Failure often points us toward changes in our direction and priorities. C. S. Lewis explained, “Failures are finger posts on the road to achievement.”

Author J. K. Rowling agrees with the advantages of failure.

Why do I talk about the benefits of failure? Simply because failure meant a stripping away of the inessential. I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was, and began to direct all my energy into finishing the only work that mattered to me.

Thomas A. Edison advised, “Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.”

Tempted to give up? I’ve been tempted to give up more times than I’d like to admit. Have you given up on something because of a failure?

Matthew 26 describes a time when the disciples faced failure. They fell asleep while Jesus prayed, after He asked them to stay on the lookout for danger or trouble in the Garden of Gethsemane. They must have grieved over their lost opportunity and broken promise. But Jesus responded, “Get up! Let’s get going!” (Matt. 26:46 MSG)

There will be experiences like this in each of our lives … times of despair caused by real events in our lives, and we will be unable to lift ourselves out of them. The disciples … had done a downright unthinkable thing … gone to sleep instead of watching with Jesus. But our Lord came to them taking the spiritual initiative against their despair and said, in effect, “Get up, and do the next thing.” If we are inspired by God, what is the next thing? It is to trust Him absolutely and to pray on the basis of His redemption.

Never let the sense of past failure defeat your next step. (Oswald Chambers)

Embracing vulnerability. Finding the courage to risk failure requires us to be vulnerable.

C.S. Lewis wrote, “To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken ….”

Dr. Brené Brown, a research professor at the University of Houston, “spent the past decade studying vulnerability, courage, worthiness, and shame.” She suggests, “Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. Truth and courage aren’t always comfortable, but they’re never weakness.” Brown concludes, “Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity and change.”

Choosing to become vulnerable could be one of the most courageous things we can do as a writer. Writing about our opinions, our faith, and our relationships takes courage.

What lessons have you learned about vulnerability?

Video/TED (Brené Brown: “The Power of Vulnerability”)
Photos/TaraRoss