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Fiction vs. Nonfiction--Which is Better, and Can You Do Both?

Fiction vs. Nonfiction--Which is Better, and Can You Do Both?

Hello, Lifers!

Finally, we're answering one of the great questions of our time. No, not "Is Die Hard a Christmas movie?" or "Which came first, the McDonald's chicken sandwich or the Egg McMuffin?" No, this is a BIG one; one that's plagued authors since the dawn of time, when cavepeople sat down at their MS-DOS computers and asked themselves:

"Fiction or nonfiction? Which is better?
And can I, Og, Leader of the Cave People,
Killer of the Great T-Rex We Called Chet,
Guy Who First Realized It's Bad to Use Both Hands
to Wipe Our Cave-butts Right Before Eating,
and Self-published Author,
do both?"

The Great Divide: Fiction vs. Nonfiction

In the red corner, we have fiction, the realm of imagination, where dragons roam free, spaceships traverse galaxies, and ordinary people do extraordinary things. In the blue corner, we have nonfiction, the realm of reality, where facts reign supreme, and stories are drawn from the raw material of real life.

Now, as a successful indie author who has dabbled in both these realms, I can tell you that each has its own unique charm and challenges. But the question remains, which is better?

The Allure of Fiction

Fiction, my dear Lifers, is a crazy fun creature to ride. It can be tamed, but never domesticated. It's unpredictable and has the power to transport readers into worlds they've never imagined. It's where you, fellow Lifer, can let your creativity run wild, crafting characters, plots, and settings that can captivate readers and keep them turning the pages.

It also requires a deep understanding of narrative structure, character development, and the art of storytelling. It's a genre where you can't hide behind facts and figures. Your story must be compelling, your characters believable, and your prose polished to perfection.

The Charm of Nonfiction

On the other hand, nonfiction is a different creature altogether. It's grounded, driven by facts, and usually serves a practical purpose. Whether it's a self-help book, a historical account, or a guide to self-publishing (like anyone would write drivel about THAT!), nonfiction books aim to inform, educate, or inspire.

It also requires meticulous research, a clear and concise writing style, and the ability to present complex information in an engaging and accessible way.

Plus, you have to ensure that your facts are, well, factual.

This last bears repeating: in a world where more and more people treat facts as a general framework, or something to be hidden behind obfuscation, demeaning, pandering, or any of the myriad facets of "truth" today, it's more important than ever that folks who commit to teach us the truth about something actually DO it!

The Market Opportunities

When it comes to market opportunities, both fiction and nonfiction have their pros and cons. Fiction, especially in popular genres like romance, mystery, and fantasy, has a vast and voracious readership. However, it's also a highly competitive market, with thousands of new books being published every day.

Nonfiction, on the other hand, tends to have a more targeted audience. If you're writing a book on, say, how to grow succulents, your potential readership might be smaller, but they're also more likely to be interested in buying your book. In nonfiction, it's less about convincing a nonfiction reader to read your book, and more about finding the audience that's already interested in it, and convincing them you've got the bona fides to tell them something interesting/important/new.

So, which is better? As always, it depends on your goals as a writer.

If you're looking for a wide readership and the chance to create your own literary universe, fiction might be the way to go. If you're looking to establish yourself as an expert in a particular field and perhaps build a loyal readership, nonfiction could be your ticket.

Now, let's address the elephant in the room. Can you, as a writer, successfully write both fiction and nonfiction? The short answer is, absolutely! Maybe. Sorta.

It depends.

The Challenges of Switching Genres

Switching between fiction and nonfiction isn't as simple as changing your hat. Each genre requires a different set of skills and a different mindset. As I mentioned earlier, fiction is all about storytelling. It's about creating a world and characters that readers can get lost in. Nonfiction, on the other hand, is about conveying information in a clear and engaging way.

That's not to say that the skills required for one can't be used in the other. A good fiction writer knows how to engage readers, create tension, and craft compelling characters--skills that can be invaluable when writing nonfiction. Similarly, a good nonfiction writer knows how to research, structure their work, and present complex information--skills that can enhance a fiction writer's work.

The Benefits of Being Both

Being an author who traffics in both fiction and nonfiction can have several benefits. The most obvious, perhaps, is that it can open up new market opportunities. You're not just limited to the fiction or nonfiction market; you can tap into both.

And believe you me, it can make you a better writer overall. Writing nonfiction improves your research skills, your ability to structure your work, and your clarity of expression. Writing fiction enhances your storytelling skills, your character development, and your ability to create engaging narratives.

Finally, it can provide a welcome change of pace. If you're feeling burnt out from writing fiction, switching to nonfiction can provide a refreshing change. And vice versa. Or versa vice. See how easy and fun it is to switch it up?

Making the Switch

If you're a fiction writer thinking about venturing into nonfiction (or the other way around), here are a few tips:

  • ​Start small:
    Don't dive into a full-length book right away. Start with a short piece - an article, a blog post, a short story - to get a feel for what you're writing about. This also starts your name recognition as an expert in the field!
  • Do your research:
    Each genre has its own conventions and expectations. Nonfiction is no different. Read widely in the subject you want to switch to, and study how successful authors do it. This is also critical because you do NOT want to write your magnum opus on, say, the legal pitfalls of chicken breeding in medieval times, only to discover that the market is already oversaturated and the work you wanted to do has already been done!
  • Practice, practice, practice:
    Like any new skill, it takes time to get good at writing in a new arena. Don't be discouraged if your first few attempts aren't as good as you'd like. Keep writing, keep learning, and keep improving.

The Final Verdict: Which is Better?

So, after all that, which is better: fiction or nonfiction? Well, Lifers, now that we've clarified everything the answer is...

It still depends.

It depends on your skills as a writer, your interests, your goals, and your market. Both genres have their own unique challenges and rewards, and both can lead to success as a self-published author.

If you're passionate about storytelling, creating characters, and crafting narratives, then fiction might be your calling. If you're drawn to facts, enjoy research, and have a knack for explaining complex ideas in a clear and engaging way, then nonfiction could be your path.

But why limit yourself to one or the other? As we've discussed, being a hybrid author can offer the best of both worlds. It can open up new market opportunities, improve your writing skills, and provide a refreshing change of pace.

I'm not saying James Patterson should get out there and finally write that book on how to pretend you've been writing for years while siphoning off the work of others (which he would probably cowrite with some big name in the field), or that the person who writes the thrilling list of nutrients on the sides of cereal boxes should start writing the next Marvel movie (tentatively titled: Boring As Toast...Which Is Part Of This Complete Breakfast).

But I am saying that the skills learned in nonfiction can hone your fiction skills, and versa vice (or vice versa), and that as an author it's good to keep your options open. Dry spells in one area can be times of feast in another, so being able to wear a variety of hats is only going to help you in the long haul.

To Fiction Or Non To Fiction?

To wrap things up, here's a quick checklist for all you Lifers out there, to help you remember the skills you should be developing if you want to work in nonfiction:

  • ​Research Skills: Nonfiction writing often requires extensive research to ensure accuracy and credibility.
  • Clear and Concise Writing: Nonfiction readers appreciate clear and straightforward information. Work on making your writing easy to understand.
  • Structuring Information: Nonfiction often involves presenting a lot of information. Learn how to structure it in a way that's easy for readers to follow.
  • Fact-Checking: Ensure that all the information you present is accurate and up-to-date. Don't just find the "facts" you want, find the facts that mirror reality, and provide benefit.
  • Understanding Your Audience: Nonfiction readers often have specific needs or interests. Understand who your readers are and what they're looking for.
  • Ability to Explain Complex Ideas: Nonfiction often involves explaining complex ideas or processes in a way that's easy for readers to understand.
  • Engaging Writing: Even though it's factual, nonfiction doesn't have to be dry. Work on making your writing engaging and interesting.
  • Credibility: Establish yourself as a credible and reliable source of information.
  • Adaptability: Nonfiction covers a wide range of topics. Be ready to adapt your writing style to suit different subjects.
  • Patience and Persistence: Nonfiction writing can be a long and meticulous process. Develop patience and persistence to see your projects through to the end.

Welcome to the Bestseller Life Blog!

I'm Michaelbrent Collings, an international bestseller and produced screenwriter, as well as a multiple Bram Stoker Award and Dragon Award finalist, and maker of a fair-to-middling chocolate chip waffle.

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