Book writing courses for nonfiction: are they worth it?

I read a lot of books and scrutinise a lot of courses about how to write books. (Well, it’s my job.) You would be amazed at how complicated some of these make the process.

Some focus on formulæ more complex than a Google algorithm (and that’s going some) which they laughingly refer to as a system-based approach guaranteed to make your nonfiction book follow exactly the same cookie-cutter model as that of everyone else.Very few of these approaches champion originality and flexibility, because such formula-driven bullsh*t doesn’t have room for it. Some assume you are a neurotic disaster and need at least three or four chapters amping up your self-esteem and sheer sanity before you’re ready to tackle This Huge Book Project.

Some tie you down so tightly to their “proven” formula eventually you wonder whether to use Mickey Mouse as your nom de plume, as given how your personality has been stripped out of it you might as well be MM.

And these characters don’t let go of your jugular vein when your book is finished.

Invariably you will find yourself being inveigled into buying their lengthy, grossly over-priced “advanced” or “further” coaching and publishing opportunities and sales promotions and who knows what other upsold goodies.

Emoji used by Suzan St MaurSome assume the writing of a nonfiction book is a road race and the faster you do it (with their help of course) the better it is for, well, er, who? Not you, who will be exhausted and drained afterwards. Not your readers who inevitably will realise, or at least be affected by, the fact that you were trying to beat the 1,000 words per minute supersonic record.

Only, perhaps, the unscrupulous sausage manufacturer who was posing as a purveyor of good book writing advice who can use your story as advertising for the next victim, having relieved you of plenty of money in the meantime.

Writing nonfiction is not rocket science.

Pretty well any literate person should be able to plan, rationalise and assemble a reasonable draft of a business book, how-to book, etc. With the help of a professional coach/editor, that draft can be knocked into excellent shape and emerge as a nonfiction book that’s not only interesting, but also a “good read.”

What you have to remember is that although courses and tutorials can teach you how to write better, they can’t teach you how to share your own expertise or passion. And the whole point of your nonfiction book is to share either/both of those elements; not amuse readers with pretty literary prose.

Nowadays it isn’t all that important to ensure that your grammar and punctuation are perfectly polished, although you do need to observe the basics so people can understand what you’re talking about. Proper editing can sort out problems that arise from your writing, and there is a lot to be said for editing that may help you polish your writing anyway: see Chapter Eleven.

But don’t let editors scare you…

Emoji used by Suzan St Maur…although if you go the route of traditional publishing you may just have to let that happen. I believe that your writing style is an extension of you, and if I buy your book I want to get a feel for you through your words – not get the impression the text has been written by a committee of copy editors.

Fortunately there are options available now – e.g. self or hybrid publishing – that provide you with the chance to be edited so your work is good, but not crushed by editors who want to change your style to that of their mainstream publishing format or “house style” that knocks most of the personality out of individual authors’ books.

So however much you may feel you need to brush up on your writing skills, by all means do so – but don’t let it consume everything else. That’s where good writing coaches and editors can be extremely helpful, because very quickly they can judge how much polishing your writing skills really need without destroying your uniqueness.

Even with the best will in the world courses can only cater for common denominators. Coaches and editors, on the other hand, tailor their activities to your individual needs which to me seems much more sensible and indeed, cost-effective.

Adapted from Suzan’s forthcoming title, “How To Write A Brilliant Nonfiction Book,” to be published later in 2020 by BetterBooksMedia.