Getting Published: Narrative Non-Fiction

Are You Ready to Submit?

Narrative non-fiction is writing that is stylistically similar to fiction but deals with factual subject matter. It often includes memoir but can also be used to describe other forms of non-fiction. In general, narrative non-fiction will not include text books, academic history, journalism and heritage-style books.

Examples of narrative non-fiction writing include Wild Swans by Jung Chang, Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt and The Anatomy of a Moment by Javier Cercas. These books deal with family history, personal memoir and political history respectively but are written in a style and structure that follows the kind of narrative path that is typically found in a novel. Travel writing in the style of Bruce Chatwin’s In Patagonia would also fall into this category, while a standard guide to Argentina would not.

If you are writing memoir, make sure you understand how this differs from biography and autobiography 

If you are writing memoir, make sure you understand how this differs from biography and autobiography. Memoir should be written in a distinctive narrative voice and usually in the first person, though the second person is occasionally used. Biography and autobiography rest firmly upon objective fact, while memoir has greater scope for subjectivity and narrative freedom.

Submitting Your Work

If you are writing a narrative non-fiction book you will nearly always need an agent and finding one is strongly advised. Unlike fiction, if you’re writing narrative non-fiction it’s acceptable to contact an agent or publisher before you have completed your manuscript. You can instead submit a proposal outlining your project, a very detailed synopsis that shows what each section will cover and some sample chapters.

Non-fiction is a competitive market. Make sure that you research what is out there before putting together your submission. Go to bookshops and see what’s on the shelves, seek out newspaper reviews and read The Bookseller magazine to find out what the latest trends are. If then you’re confident that you have a completely new take on an established subject or a genuinely new story to tell, it’s time to move ahead.

Developing your work

Build a Portfolio

You should build a portfolio, for example by submitting shorter pieces of writing to newspapers and magazines.

Approach a Subject You’re Passionate About

Always ensure that you approach a subject you are passionate about. You may spend months or even years working on this book, with a long phase of research and information gathering required before you even begin to write and potentially a longer time finding an agent and then a publisher.

You may spend months or even years working on this book, with a long phase of research and information gathering required before you even begin to write

Blog About Your Subject

Blogging can be a great way for Non-Fiction writers to explore their topic in a more informal setting. If the blog is popular, this can also be a fantastic addition to your submission. A loyal, active blog readership is one way of proving that there is an existing, ready-made audience for your work. As well as finding authors in this way, some publishers have also produced books adapted from pre-existing blogs.