Although my first published book was a romantic historical novel (ACROSS THE SWEET GRASS HILLS, which won a WILLA Literary Award from Women Writing the West, and has just been re-released by PRP), the next three books I sold were nonfiction. My second novel, a YA on Black Bart: The Poet Bandit, came out on the heels of those three books.
I was thrilled to work in nonfiction, and in looking back, recognize how important that was in helping my career, especially since I love history. As a former history and English teacher, I found research an easy task….which also made writing nonfiction a great option for me.
In all, I’ve coauthored five regional history books, four with Arcadia Publishing and one with Old American Publishing. The books became a great venue for me and launched my “platform” as a writer of regional and/or local history. As a result, I have been asked to speak on the history of the “State of Jefferson” movement a number of times and was even asked to participate in an episode of History Channel’s “How the States Got Their Shapes.” I also assisted in the development of a PBS Special on the State of Jefferson and appeared in an episode of NPR’s “West Coast Live.”
I’ve also become a contributor to our regional NPR/JeffersonPublic Radio’s historical "As It Was" series and pen a monthly column on historical locations in and around the “State of Jefferson” for a regional publication, Jefferson Backroads. For any author, looking for linked options is a good way to expand your expertise and exposure and puts you in line for expanding your network of contacts, too. I’ve met some wonderful historians over the last 10 years because of the research involved in dove-tailing history and writing.
I credit my writing “success” to the deliberate decision to pursue writing nonfiction (still a very small fish in a LARGE sea!). I also credit the opportunity to do discover writing nonfiction to the organization WomenWriting the West. Although I have attended a number of other national and regional writing conferences, I cannot speak too highly of Women Writing the West’s annual conferences and their impact on my writing career. Intimate enough to make networking very easy, I’ve also made lifelong friends.
It was at a Women Writing the West conference that I first met my Arcadia editor; I also networked with other WWW authors who had signed on with Arcadia. Though I haven’t made oodles of money, what started out as one book with Arcadia worked into four, and the last volume, POSTCARDS FROM THESTATE OF JEFFERSON, released in 2013, was one that Arcadia pitched to us. They told us that two of our books, IMAGES OF THE STATE OF JEFFERSON and THE STATE OF JEFFERSON: THEN & NOW, have been two of their most popular titles in California and Oregon, and they’ve been featured at 4 Costco book signings!
THE STATE OF JEFFERSON: THEN & NOW was a 2008 finalist in the Next Generation Awards for Best Regional Nonfiction.
Obviously, POSTCARDS FROM THE STATE OF JEFFERSON was fun to compile but also became a landmark volume since my coauthor on three of the five nonfiction titles (Bernita Tickner) passed away two months before our 2013 release date (thankfully I was able to add a special dedication to her before its final publication).
I also met Mark Stepp, from Old American Publishing, at another Women Writing the West conference, and he was an enthusiastic supporter of pursuing another regional history/cookbook/travelogue entitled HISTORIC INNS & EATERIES IN THE STATE OF JEFFERSON: A Tasty, Traveling History. This book features 30 historic locations in northern California and southern Oregon as well as a chapter of recipes from those locations. It’s been a book for travelers, locals, and history buffs.
My latest nonfiction title scheduled for release in 2014 is an anthology of memoir/personal stories from 40+ “rural/ranching and farming” women, from Two Dot/Globe Pequot Publishing. This collection of stories, ANKLE HIGH AND KNEE DEEP, is one I have envisioned for many years and features both known writers and unknown writers. But, without the list of nonfiction volumes to my credit, I don’t know if I could have pitched the idea of a collection of stories successfully.
Knowing one’s audience, of course, is integral to the process of pitching a nonfiction project. My State of Jefferson books had a broader appeal than just a more local region (and Arcadia is known for its local history program)…but it also had the intriguing, off-beat uniqueness that made it appealing to editors. The topic has become one in the news a lot lately, which has added to the popularity of the titles. So having a clear concept of WHAT to research and what to pitch to an editor is critically important.
Although I am back to writing historical fiction, including a novel and several short stories, I have several “files” already started on other future nonfiction writing projects. I have no doubt that I will always pursue some aspect of nonfiction. First of all, I love history; secondly, I love doing research on ideas and subject matter. Finally, it’s wonderful to know that nonfiction titles remain “on the shelves” for much longer periods of time and are not pushed aside easily or quickly. I have always donated copies to our local libraries and they are popular titles with patrons.
NOTE: As a thank you to PRP and my readers today, I’d like to offer two FREE copies of ACROSS THE SWEET GRASS HILLS as downloads to two people who comment on my blog! Perhaps to share whatever experience you have had with writing history or writing nonfiction……and I will draw the names of TWO WINNERS…. tomorrow – Tuesday, Feb. 4!