Book Review – Damn! Why Didn’t I Write That? and The Benefits of Writing Nonfiction

[easyazon-block align=”right” asin=”1884956173″ locale=”us”]As a member of several writing groups, I’m often asked about my favorite/most useful book on writing.

Hands down, Marc McCutcheon’s Damn! Why Didn’t I Write That? is always at the top of my list.  (Please forgive the title.  I didn’t write it, but despite the title, it’s a darned helpful book, especially for nonfiction writers.)

It’s a little “dated” since the latest publication date is 2006, which precludes the ebook publishing revolution.  That’s okay.  Authors still need to decide if self-publishing or traditional publishing is the best route for their purposes.

McCutcheon’s book explains a lot about how the traditional publishing world works with a lot of fun, forehead slapping revelations.  The central forehead slapper, of course, is Duh!  Why didn’t I write that?  The traditional sales and market examples are just as applicable for indie authors as they are for traditionally published authors.

Why Pursue Nonfiction?

McCutcheon’s book inspired me most because I read it at just the right time.  Friends and family had advised me for years to write a novel, but I was frustrated with the prospect.  I’m a technical writer by trade.  I write nonfiction.  I like writing nonfiction, but it seemed like the only way to become a published author was to write fiction.  Wrong.

Just the fact that McCutcheon was able to make a living writing nonfiction in the traditional publishing world opened my eyes to the possibilities.  It also prepared me to dive into the ebook publishing world with nonfiction.  Armed with the stats from the traditional nonfiction world, I had a guide map for self-publishing nonfiction, too.  The same stats apply.

From the book:

Of the 50,000-plus books published every year, only about 3,500 are novels (including genre titles), and poorly paying, short-lived paperback romances account for a whopping one-third of the total.  Not counting genre titles, only about 120 fiction releases each year are first novels, according to Publishers Weekly.  Of these, three out of four will not earn out their meager advances of under $10,000.

In the traditional publishing world, nonfiction has 15x greater odds of publication, and in both the traditional and indie publishing worlds, nonfiction has a greater possibility of staying in print and earning royalties longer.  People NEED nonfiction.

Know Your Market and Research the Competition

McCutcheon gives us real-world examples and details his own experiences with initial sales, payments for updates, and royalties over the years.  His primary advice is to know the market and try writing something new, unique, or needed.

Titles and sales figures from Publisher’s Weekly, publishers’ catalogs, etc. are especially motivating and inviting.  McCutcheon also explains some of the publishing industry buzz words (niche, backlist, etc.) and how they relate to evergreen topics.

Notable Statistic – 70-85% of book buyers are female.  Even if your book’s reading audience is primarily male, your sales and marketing material should include female buyers.

Hot Topics and Categories

The lists of hot topics and nonfiction categories are just as useful for indie authors as they are for traditional books.

Hot Topics – highest odds of sales – might hit the best seller lists

  • Dieting/weight loss
  • Relationships
  • Parenting
  • Career and Leadership
  • Health
  • Computer and Internet
  • Spiritual
  • Low-fat cooking
  • Sex
  • Money/finances
  • Cats

Basic Nonfiction Categories

  • How to
  • Self help
  • Biography
  • Cookbook
  • History
  • Business
  • True Adventure/True      Narrative/True Crime
  • Occult/paranormal
  • Religious/spiritual
  • Personal memoirs
  • Science
  • Humor
  • Reference
  • Travel guide
  • Children’s nonfiction
  • Medicine
  • Sports

Miscellaneous Tidbits

Damn! Why Didn’t I Write That? includes other tidbits of incredibly useful information, but they’re primarily presented with the traditional publishing route in mind (agents, book proposals, book contracts, etc.)

Indie authors may not need to know all this information in the beginning, but I find it very useful to know if you’re trying to decide between indie and traditional publishing.

Too, even if you prefer indie publishing, an incredible offer from a large publishing house may be hard to pass up.  It’s best to know the traditional publishing world, too, so authors can make informed decisions.Damn! Why Didn't I Write That?

  • Will it sell?
    • Checklist of items and considerations
    • Prep your book proposal
    • Check Books in Print for similar/competitive titles
  • Authority/Credibility/Qualifications
    • Establishing
    • Resources – info and experts
  • Agents
    • Not necessarily – less of a problem for nonfiction
    • Pros and cons
    • Q&A to prospective agents
    • Sample agency agreement
  • Rejections/Query Letters/Proposals
  • Book Contracts
    • Presents the typical expected figures
    • Rights
    • Sample contract/agreement – author explains each section
  • Promotion/Tips and Advice/The Author’s Bundle of Rights

Damn! Why Didn’t I Write That?

You can purchase Damn! Why Didn’t I Write That? from Amazon in print or Kindle formats.  It is still one of the most useful books on writing I’ve read, and it’s definitely a fun, motivating read.


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