Recommended if… the events and experiences of the world are at the heart of your interests but you are looking to reach a wider audience than academia. Scholars generally converse with scholars; popular non-fiction enables you to reach any audience that is interested in your topic. Non-fiction writers may engage in any variety of formats – from brief articles, to in-depth features, to chapters in anthologies, to full-length books. Non-fiction writers can also work with any of the variety of media discussed in this section. Non-fiction writers also provide text for any variety of clients for their publications, websites, and speeches. There are many places a writer can find income on a full-time or freelance basis.
Requirements… Non-fiction writing can take many forms, but by and large, your ability to gain income from non-fiction writing depends on the quality of your portfolio of work. Building this portfolio is, as with most positions in media and the arts, crucial to demonstrating what you are capable of. Many non-fiction writers will do a variety of projects, ranging from articles for newspapers, magazines, and online media to writing full-length monographs. Popular articles and books can employ an analytical rigour similar to that found in academic scholarship, but are more likely to provide a narrative of events that is widely accessible to interested readers. Some non-fiction writers also teach courses, work in educational institutions, or pursue other careers alongside their writing.
You needn’t go any further than magazines, websites, monographs, and textbooks on your topics of interest to see the places where non-fiction writers contribute. As mentioned above, it takes time to gain the credibility and integrity to become one of those people paid to contribute to printed and online media. Funding is the greatest challenge for any non-fiction writer just as it is for independent scholars as many of them work from project to project on a freelance basis. Insights can be gained by reviewing the section on independent scholarship and journalism.
Like independent scholars, non-fiction writers can form interactive communities with other writers through online correspondence, writing groups, memberships in associations specific to the craft of non-fiction writing and topics of interest, and even conventions.
Maintaining momentum is key. Read other people’s work. Write, write, write. Find other people who write to help provide motivation. Seek out paid projects and grants that may provide long-term funding to do the projects that you find interesting.
Some starting points
There are many books and websites out there that address the art of non-fiction writing. Have a look at reviews of them to see which ones may work best for you. The American Society of Journalists and Authors (ASJA) and Canadian Authors’ Association (CAA), with its mandate of “writers helping writers,” are good places to investigate the community of non-fiction writers. They, along with other writers’ associations, provide listings of publishers and publications seeking writers, as well as providing information on other types of employment. These associations actively aim to connect their members with potential income sources. In addition, it can be helpful to read other non-fiction writers who write on topics you are interested in, and to contact them. As this suggests, freelance writing involves a great deal of networking.
Do you have further insights on careers involving non-fiction writing and history, or additional information that we can add here? If so, please contact us so we can refine this resource.