Every once in a while, a book proposal crosses my desk and catches my attention with its creativity and approach. It is engaging and makes me think. Whether I agreed to work with the author or not, I needed to give them kudos for their great work.
Rarely, if ever, does something catch my attention (in a good way) which is simply assembled from or built entirely on the thinking of someone else.
I like authors who create rather than curate.
Textbooks are almost always curated information so students can grasp the salient points from multiple sources in a convenient collection. But commercial non-fiction of any kind, needs to be original thinking and not exclusively reacting to or responding to something else.
Sure, there is little or nothing new under the sun. It really can’t be said something is entirely new or unique, but a book proposal constructed completely by re-stating and organizing the thoughts of others is generally not something a publisher would like to see, unless it is a very specific project requiring it.
Make your own points. Create your own approach. Pave your own way.
Of course, authors of Christian-based non-fiction start and end with the foundation of scriptural principles, which are not new. In a sense, every Christian book is a curated list of Biblical truth, but successful non-fiction authors need to shed light on the truth in their own creative way.
Textbook writers are more curators than creators of content. Poets are at the other end of the creative spectrum. The continuum between them encompasses all authors, and everyone falls somewhere on it. Knowing where you fall is an important piece of self-awareness.
Often a writer is paid to work as a journalist, but maintains their creative equilibrium by writing poetry. Still, they never forget what pays the bills. Journalists can be creative, but for someone with creative “flair,” journalism can be limiting.
Thankfully, there are many, many plots on the line between textbook editor and poet, curator and creator.
For Christian authors, this discussion is the metaphorical “body of many parts,” found in scripture. Everyone is not an ear or an elbow. If everyone were an ear, how would they walk or talk?
There is a role for any good writer appearing anywhere on the line between curator and poet, but the proposals which catch the attention of an agent or publisher, are generally the ones more on the creative side of the line.
Any subject is best written with style. Certainly, there are times when we “just need the facts” without the creativity, but successful commercial non-fiction is almost always creative and engaging.
Far too many writers of non-fiction skip the creative aspect of the process and focus on information, attribution of quotes and explanations. It is as if they are saying, “If I can lecture you long enough, I will prove my point.”
Sounds like fun. I am more than happy to pay twenty dollars to be lectured at for three hundred pages.
While novelists are admonished to “show, don’t tell,” when writing their stories, I believe a similar goal is present for writers of non-fiction. But in their case, it is “show and tell.”
Most non-fiction readers know when they come across a good book. Their enjoyment is almost always related to the presence of appropriate and engaging stories, examples, parables and related experiences. A book which is a pure transfer of information has a purpose, but usually isn’t to entice someone to spend money on it, unless you really need a book on replacing the oil and air-filters in your 2009 Hyundai.
So, where do you fall on the line between a textbook author and poet? Every point has intrinsic value, but some might have more “commercial” value.
Successful writers of non-fiction generally strike a good balance of curation and creativity.