[Tipster] Research for Your Nonfiction Book Needs to Be More than Simply Your ExperienceJul 21, 2023
by Dave Goetz
Experience alone is not enough to write a successful nonfiction book.
And yet, your experience is what gives your book authenticity, authority, and the ring of truth.
These are two distinct yet important truths:
1. Your experience is invaluable; and
2. Without additional research, your book will come across as jejune (simplistic or unsubstantial).
Experience and research - the dynamic duo of nonfiction writing will make your book fresh, engaging, and worthy of word of mouth.
What Makes Your Book Unique
Several years ago, an article on Medium was titled: "With so Many Leadership Books, Why Are There so Many Bad Leaders."
The article said that each year, " ... approximately 4.8 billion leadership books are written."
That seems like a stupid, unverifiable number.
Let's say you're writing a book on leadership.
Even if only a million books a year on leadership are written, your book is competing with 9,999,999 others.
Melissa and I harp on this incessantly: Your idea for a book is not unique. It simply isn't. There is nothing new under the sun.
But what makes your book unique is that YOU are writing it.
It's your experience. Your perspective. Your stories. Your insights that have been refined through the fire of failure and success.
So, your experience is valuable. It's just not enough.
What Makes Your Book Fresh
Several years ago, Melissa worked on a book project with a leader in behavorial health.
Also a professor at a medical school, this person ran a nationally renown behavioral health clinic that served (mostly) young women with eating disorders. The book critiqued popular approaches to dieting and exercise, addressing obesity as well as our culture's "thin ideal."
Ultimately, the book set forth a new model for weight loss called the "Unweighted Model," which permits change of perspective and behavior over time.
Melissa conducted extensive interviews with the author, often up to two to three hours at a time. The leader's experience was rich. Her stories of young women who almost died from their eating disorders was heartbreaking. And her new model for weight loss was compelling.
This woman had also written on the topic in professional journals, so that was also a source of material for the book.
However, during her research for the book, Melissa uncovered an entire movement devoted to "health at every size." At first glance, the ideas of this organization and the thesis of the book that Melissa was working on seemed identical.
But as Melissa dug deeper into the assumptions of this other organization, it was clear that our author had more advanced ideas on the topic. Her book thesis was, indeed, unique. In fact, there were some clear points of difference in how people should think about food, their body, and weight loss.
Without knowing about this other organization and its ideas, however, the author may have published her book without engaging the ideas of this organization.
Melissa's research for the book allowed the author to grapple more deeply with her book thesis - and to see her idea in light of other ideas similar to hers.
As a result, the final manuscript more rich, deeper, and gave the book idea more credibility.
Research gave the book a freshness that experience only would have missed.
Slow Down for Research
In your anxiety to publish a book, don't skip the research phase. Don't shortchange your book by simply recounting your experience.
Slow down. Dig deeper. Read the most recent books on your topic. Drill into the bibliography or footnotes of the article you find. Read the original sources.
You can do it!