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Writer's Guide to Nonfiction

Writer's Guide to Nonfiction

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by Elizabeth Lyon

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A WRITER’S COMPASSDirection for your writing career

Don’t get lost on the publishing path. Just forge ahead with the Writer’s Compass. Drawing on decades of professional experience as an author, editor, writing instructor, mentor, and marketing consultant, Elizabeth Lyon helps you navigate the art and craft of writing—with clear,


A WRITER’S COMPASSDirection for your writing career

Don’t get lost on the publishing path. Just forge ahead with the Writer’s Compass. Drawing on decades of professional experience as an author, editor, writing instructor, mentor, and marketing consultant, Elizabeth Lyon helps you navigate the art and craft of writing—with clear, easy-to-follow directions:



Getting Your Bearings

Understand your purpose and your audience; learn to refine your ideas, select effective titles, and find the best method of organization for any piece




Use checklists and guidelines to spot weaknesses and problems in leads, organization, conclusions, and style—and find out how to correct them



Learning to Market

Map a successful cover letter, query letter, or proposal, and discover a four-step process to facilitate publication and sales



Refining Your Vision

Brainstorm to gain perspective on your writing—and how it fits with your values, goals, and dreams


Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
"You know something others don't know and need," insists Lyon (Nonfiction Book Proposals Anybody Can Write), and in her confident, optimistic writing primer, the first in the Writer's Compass series, she shows would-be authors how to find their area of expertise and turn it into an article, essay or even a book. Walking her readers through the writing process, from "What to I want to Say?" to "Writing About Ideas" and from "Troubleshooting and Problem Solving" to "Learning How to Market," Lyon crafts a detailed and practical course for the nonfiction novice. Those with a partially formed idea can turn to her section on different types of nonfiction pieces and the subjects to which they're suited, or her chapter on slants to determine the tone of a future piece. (A proponent of the look-before-you-leap school of creative endeavor, Lyon advocates a lot of planning before beginning a writing project.) Writers with a slightly clearer idea can ponder different leads, such as the one-line hook or the direct address, and methods of organization such as comparison and contrast. Almost all the chapters include multiple "maps," which might list "outstanding" memoirs and "choices for ending well," or guide readers through researching travel pieces and writing a query letter. Her troubleshooting section offers checklists for success, and, like all the other chapters, includes a sidebar on recommended reading. This detailed and practical guide may not guarantee writing hopefuls a book deal, but it distinguishes itself from other writing how-tos by its concrete and economical advice. (Mar.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Lyon, who wrote Nonfiction Book Proposals Anybody Can Write and The Sell Your Novel Tool Kit, has written a direct, fairly easy-to-follow guide to writing nonfiction. The first book in the Writer's Compass series, A Writer's Guide to Nonfiction is arranged in a manner that might seem a bit clichéd at first: North, South, East, and West. A closer look, however, shows that this method of arrangement makes sense. For example, the sub-heading for "North" is "Getting Your Bearings," which includes topics such as "What Do I want to Say?" and "How Do I Begin?" "South" is devoted to troubleshooting your writing; "East" is devoted to marketing your nonfiction piece; and "West" is devoted to "Exploring New Horizons." What separates this book from other books in the "How To Write" genre? The "maps," which are not really maps per se, but a list of guidelines to help writers get organized—even before they write a single word of a book or article. These maps help writers organize their ideas, determine who their audience is, and figure out how to do research for particular types of nonfiction pieces. Some other maps include books written by other authors as examples of suggested reading. Map 8-1, for example, is "A Reading List of Outstanding Memoirs," and it lists these memoirs in sub-categories, such as "On Bad Childhoods," "On Happy Childhoods," and "Going To Schools." I also appreciate that many different types of nonfiction are explored, such as travel writing, technical writing, self-help writing, and inspirational writing. This is a nice change from books that assume that all "nonfiction" writing is, say, newspaper article writing. I'm sometimes confused by how the categories are arranged; forexample, I don't understand how inspirational writing can be considered a "how-to" article. A Writer's Guide... is strong when it comes to describing how to structure, organize, and research your nonfiction piece, and how to tailor and market your piece to a target audience. The book's weakness is the lack of examples of other authors' work—I personally find it useful to look at a few paragraphs from pieces by other authors, to get the gist of how a writing technique can actually be put into action. This book would be extremely helpful for a writing teacher to help convey to his or her students the importance of organization in the process of writing. KLIATT Codes: A—Recommended for advanced students and adults. 2003, Penguin Putnam, 225p. index.,
— Janice Bees
Library Journal
Lyon (Nonfiction Book Proposals Anybody Can Write) here has an ambitious agenda, aiming to cover what nonfiction is and how to write it, the various types of nonfiction (from essays and memoirs to travel writing and family histories), audience analysis, motivation, and finding a rhetorical organizational strategy. There are also sections on how to market yourself and get your writing published. Unfortunately, the ambitiousness of the task, coupled with the vastness of the subject, makes for a sometimes superficial treatment. As a result, this little book might best be titled "Nonfiction for Dummies" because of its very elementary, sometimes even simplistic approach. Though readers interested in the practicalities of publishing and marketing their work will find the section "Learning How To Market" useful, those looking for guidance on the craft of writing may be disappointed.-Herbert E. Shapiro, Empire State Coll. of SUNY at Rochester Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.

Product Details

Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
Writer's Compass Series
Sold by:
Penguin Group
File size:
465 KB
Age Range:
18 Years

Meet the Author

Elizabeth Lyon, a regular speaker at writing conferences and retreats nationwide, has been a contributor to Writer’s Digest and is a mentor, editor, and teacher for many writers. The author of Nonfiction Book Proposals Anybody Can Write and The Sell Your Novel Toolkit, she lives in Eugene, Oregon.

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A Writer's Guide to Nonfiction (Writer's Compass Series) 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Elizabeth Lyon's books are must buys for any wanna be writers. I owe the sale of my first book to Elizabeth and her books - they helped me create a polished, professional looking proposal which sold quickly. Elizabeth is a very practical, down to earth writer, and her easy to understand instructions are much better than most other how to write books. With the help of her books I was able to write the perfect proposal, and I'll be using my copy of A Writer's Guide to Nonfiction when I write my next book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Besides providing a well-organized overview of all aspects of nonfiction writing, A Writer's Guide to Nonfiction covers specific techniques for particular types of writing--such as memoir, self-help, travel--then breaks these categories into subcategories, and suggests the most likely organizing scheme for each. In another section, the book discusses the most important aspects of marketing, such as writing query letters, and provides examples. There are practical tips on every page of this straighforward guide. Every struggling writer needs a copy. For a teacher of nonfiction writing, this is the perfect textbook.