Fiction or Nonfiction: What’s the Difference?

writer fiction or nonfictionSo you want to be a writer. But you’re not sure where to begin. Which should you write? Fiction or nonfiction? How do you know which one you’d be better at? What’s the difference between being a fiction or nonfiction writer?

First, let’s start with what you probably already know: the basic difference is their definition. A fiction book is a … well … book of fiction. In other words, it’s an untrue story. It’s made up. It’s created in your mind. A nonfiction book is a true story. It’s full of facts. If something in it is found to be untrue, the book is no longer considered respectable. (I won’t even begin to go into today’s political climate and the blurring between fact and fiction, because that’s a book in and of itself).

So now that you know what they are, how do you know which path to take going forward? Here are some ideas to get you started.

Fiction or Nonfiction: Which Would You Be Better at?

You might want to consider writing fiction books if you…

  • Have a knack for creative writing
  • Always tell stories (and are good at it)
  • Have vivid dreams that resemble real tales
  • Love choosing words to really create a picture (i.e. her auburn hair blew in the breeze)
  • Want the freedom to let a story go where it takes you
  • Are more interested in entertaining people than educating them
  • Associate yourself more as an artist than a journalist
  • Are outgoing and willing to network to get your book out there to the right audience

On the other hand, you might be a better nonfiction writer if you…

  • Are passionate about a specific, real-life topic
  • Want to change the world
  • Aim to share your knowledge with others
  • Are detail-oriented
  • Are never afraid to ask questions
  • Can take complicated topics and break them down clearly
  • Are willing to let the truth tell and shape the story
  • Bring an interesting perspective to a topic

Fiction or Nonfiction: What’s the Same?

In some ways, writing is writing, regardless of the genre. You need to have good writing skills to do either. Here are the tenets of writing any book — fiction vs. nonfiction.

  • Your story needs a beginning, middle and end.
  • Your book needs to have “characters” (be they real or imaginary) that are engaging and entertaining
  • You should have an outline of the book before you even get started.
  • You need to be prepared to deal with feedback on the book along the way, and be open to recommendations
  • You will need to do some legwork after you write the book to get it out there to your audience

Fiction or Nonfiction: How Do You Market the Book?

I’ve said it before many times, but marketing a fiction book is drastically different from marketing a nonfiction book. And it’s important for you to understand what type of marketing you would need to do with each category of book before you become an author in that genre. Here’s what you need to know.

In many ways, nonfiction books are easier to market than fiction. That’s because you are likely starting with a ready-made audience of people looking for books like yours. Here are a few examples.

  • If you write a self-help book about career change, you have people already searching on Google for information about changing careers. You also have people browsing job sites, LinkedIn, etc… looking for this information. You just have to get the book in front of them.
  • If you write a book about today’s political climate, you’re touching on a topic that many people already spend hours a day reading about online. And if, say, your book is leaning to the left or to the right, you know where the readers who have those leanings are. They’re on certain blogs, certain news sites. Again, you just have to get the book in front of them.

These are just two examples, but the rules pretty much hold true for most nonfiction authors. As a result, I frequently recommend strategies for these authors like:

  • Social networking on the appropriate channels for that audience
  • Search engine optimization and keyword research
  • Guest blogging on relevant sites

Marketing fiction books is a bit harder. That’s because no one goes to Google and searches for “new romance novel,” or “good mystery books.” But there are some strategies fiction authors can use. They might just take a little more legwork. They include:

  • Building strong presences on Amazon and GoodReads — where fiction readers often spend their time
  • Getting local press and using connections in their local areas for book signings, book club readings, etc…
  • Building relationships with other authors who write for the same audience

While all of this is in no way exhaustive of the difference between fiction or nonfiction, I hope it gives you some idea of which way you want to start leaning. Good luck, and good writing!