Written by A Guest Author January 21st, 2021

Writing a Non-Fiction Book in an Established Series

By Ellen Levitt

The publishing world has many interesting non-fiction book series that have multiple titles, and they often look to expand their catalogues. If you would enjoy writing a title about travel and touring, a how-to manual, a book of music instruction, a cookbook or many other topics, there are a wide variety of opportunities for you to get published, and as part of a series that has a solid reputation.

One of my non-fiction books is Walking Manhattan, part of a series of walking tour books focusing on American cities. The publisher, Wilderness Press, has other travel series as well: Afoot and Afield, Backpacking, Pacific Crest Trails, and more. Other publishers in this genre include Lonely Planet, Fodor’s, and Blue Guides. Each has its particular features and stylistic specialties, so if you are interested in writing a title for them, browse their catalogue and read some existing titles, and then send a query.

Be flexible if an editor responds to you. I had sent a query about writing a book on Brooklyn, and a few months later an acquisitions editor asked me instead if I’d be capable of writing a book featuring Manhattan. I was, so I agreed to this different topic.

If you do write for one of these publishers, typically you have to adhere to a particular format of organizing and writing the book. For some writers this is not desirable, but for many of us it’s fine, and an interesting fit. When I designed the Walking Manhattan tours, I had to give specific directions (turn left, walk right, etc.). I used a tone of writing similar to other titles in the series. Yet I was still able to emphasize my special expertise, and I learned a lot while researching and writing the book. Many of my photographs were also used throughout the text. I enjoyed dividing up Manhattan into tour regions, and had leeway in that process.

My friend Ela wrote a book about home renovations for an established book series, and she explained that among the advantages are that “you have a road map, so to speak. You follow the format the publisher or editor gives you.” It does help the author to get organized and figure out how to arrange the materials. “And you know the book is going to be published” (unless there are glaring problems).

“Among the disadvantages: you have to follow the publisher’s rules. This (often) means your book needs to sound like all the other books in the series.” For some writers this is a turn off.

Ela mentioned that she had to write the “first chapter on spec…” The editor did like Ela’s first chapter but “said I sounded too much like a journalist. She asked me to rewrite parts… my next attempt, I nailed it.” I concur that with a non-fiction series book, you do have to work quite a bit along with an editor, who will help you shape the text and the tone. In my case, my editor Adrienne had me rewrite certain sections that needed to adhere more closely to the Walking series style. But she was helpful and offered me advice and encouragement.

Before writing her Home Renovations series book, Ela said that she “read one of the books (in the series) first and sort of absorbed what I needed to do.” I did the same, reading through two of the earlier Walking city books to understand the flow and style of the series, and the goals of such books.

If you are interested in writing for one of the multi-interest publishers such as The Complete Idiot’s Guide or the Dummies group, look carefully at their catalogue to get an idea of what they have already covered, and what niche you might be qualified to write about. If you are a music teacher you might look through the Hal Leonard or Alfred Music catalogue. Do you create or tweak recipes? There are many publishers out there for food and beverage related titles. In general, looking carefully through search engines, bookstore websites and even brick-and-mortar bookstores and libraries are good ways to figure out what to write, who might publish it, and where to send your queries.

This type of writing opportunity is especially good for people who have expertise in a certain field (car repair, language instruction, baking, gardening, etc.). When you send a query, emphasize this. For instance, when I queried for the Walking series, I explained that I had already written books and articles about New York City history and had given walking and bus tours. However, you must also prove that you are a capable writer. For some budding authors, it might pay off first to publish short articles or blog essays that could be turned into a fuller manuscript. Many of these publishers will also want quality photographs or illustrations for the books, and might expect you to produce charts or graphs. Be prepared for this.

Read, research, brainstorm and perhaps you will find your chance to write a nonfiction title for a series. It can be quite rewarding. Some of these books even get revised later on, and are offered as ebooks, which can be financially rewarding for the authors as well.

Bio: Ellen Levitt is a writer and teacher, and a lifelong resident of Brooklyn, New York. She is the author of The Lost Synagogues of Brooklyn, The Lost Synagogues of the Bronx and Queens, and The Lost Synagogues of Manhattan (www.avotaynu.com) and Walking Manhattan (www.wildernesspress.com) . She has also written many freelance articles and essays for online and in-print publications.


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