Trying to decide on writing fiction or non-fiction?

by Eithne Griffin
(Kerry, Ireland)

Hi, I am an acupuncturist, homeopath etc. They are the treatments I do but mainly I counsel the patients on making the connection between their physical ailments and what is going on in their minds in the present or past.

I have often been asked to write my own book about my own experiences of trauma as a child, my health crisis, giving up work, my recovery and re-training in different therapies and most importantly my spiritual growth that helped me see the connections I speak of above.

I am now ready to get working on writing but can't decide on writing it as a biography in non-fiction and in 3 parts: 1. my youth, 2. my crisis, 3 My recovery and the benefits of the therapies I do and educating people to take ownership and control of their own lives. Or to write it as a novel: a story written in the 3rd party.

Which do you think would be most appealing to the public and of the greatest good to inspire for people of all ailments.


Response The first question I think you should ask yourself is, "Am I famous?" And by famous, I mean "Would many thousands of people buy my autobiography at the drop of a hat because they already know my name and are interested in my life?"

Some follow-up questions might be...
"Am I in regular contact with these people?
"Do they read my blog or do I have another method of reaching these people?"
"Would the press immediately line up to cover the launch of my biography?"

What these questions are designed to address is the size of your platform, which is something publishers want to see before they give you a book contract, especially for an autobiography.

To take an obvious example, when Shirley Maclaine started writing about her experiences in personal growth, she already had millions of fans who were ready to buy a book with her name on the cover. So getting a publishing contract was very easy.

If you don't have a big platform, you may need to develop one before you start sending out proposals for an autobiography. I see you have written articles before. Perhaps you could start a blog or write some of your life experiences as short stories and submit them to magazines that publish such material. (Just make sure you retain all but the first publication rights. That way, you can later re-publish them as a book.)

Your chances of success will also depend somewhat on how uncommon and newsworthy your story is.

If your platform is under 1,000 people, you may have more luck self-publishing. (Just be sure to read up on the many pitfalls before taking this route.)

Let's say you take the fiction route...

You will need stronger writing skills to write a novel than a work of nonfiction. Structuring a compelling drama involves more than just stringing one event after another. One person's life may contain many stories, and you will have to be selective. You have to shape the story into a complex dramatic arc.

The other reason novels have to be better written than nonfiction is that (again, if you're not famous) it's the quality of the writing and the story that sell the book. You're not selling yourself or homeopathy, or any other topic a person might google. So the marketing is harder.

Also, if you write a novel, you have to remember that you are not writing an autobiography. You are creating fiction in a story world you have expertise in. Although the characters and situations may have some similarities to real life, they will be very different.

You may want to investigate publishers that put out New Age or Inspirational lines, to see what sort of titles they are bringing out.

Please don't think I'm trying to discourage you. Nor can I tell you what to do. These are just some issues you need to think about before you commit.

Remember too that luck sometimes plays a big part. One can never predict why certain books become sensations (e.g. The Celestine Prophesy). But it is certain that for every success there are thousands of failures.

Best of luck with your project.

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