I am interested in getting acquainted with how to write a good non-fiction book, and thus am asking for credible, high-quality books on what you might call "writing successful non-fiction as a first-time author."

Fiction writers can read books such as Writing the Breakout Novel, which is certainly credible and probably high-quality (I haven't really read the whole thing), but I am wondering if there is any comparable book for non-fiction writers.

  • 2
    This is pretty broad. I suspect that the answer depends on whether your non-fiction is a biography, a history, a technical manual, a chemistry textbook, an analysis of Plato's philosophy, etc. Could you narrow this? Dec 3 '14 at 3:14
  • 2
    Also, this is likely to be closed as a list question. Instead of asking "where do I find books about X?" it's better to ask "X?". That is, what questions do you hope to answer by reading these books? Try asking those questions, and if there are key books you should be reading, an answer can bring that up. Dec 3 '14 at 3:15
  • I was thinking of a popular science book, but I doubt that there is a single book that covers only that. I think "You Can't Make This Stuff Up" and a few of the others were closest to what I was looking for. I thought to ask "X?" instead of "books about X?," but I really just wanted to find a good book. Dec 4 '14 at 1:26

There are definitely some great resources out there. If you're into creative nonfiction, I would check out:

Telling True Stories: A Nonfiction Writer's Guide from the Neiman Foundation at Harvard University by Mark Kramer. It's essentially a collection of essays from various nonfiction contributors that contains a lot of great advice that can help you achieve the right mindset as you gather the threads of your narrative.

In Fact: the Best of Nonfiction by Lee Gutkind, and an introduction from Annie Dillard (one of the most well-known creative nonfiction writers out there). It's essentially an anthology that you can use as a reference to inspire your own work. You can also check out Lee Gutkind's other book You Can't Make This Stuff Up for further reading on craft.

Finally, if you want a more broad overview of the nonfiction genre, I would also check out On Writing Well by William Zissner. This one touches on the fundamentals, but I recommend checking this out of your local library since opinions on this work tend to be divided (even if it's been considered a classic for almost forty years now).

If you're hankering for more inspiration in the form of a nonfiction novel, I would definitely check out In Cold Blood by Truman Capote (considered one of the pioneers in creative nonfiction), The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks (a nonfiction book that gave heart and spirit to a deeply disturbing scientific oversight) and finally The Liar's Club by Mary Karr (which is a memoir that has one of the strongest narrative voices out there).

Happy writing!


William Zinsser’s “On Writing Well” is the one I would suggest. (I am not an English native.) It provides sections on how to write about people, places, sports, business, the arts, and yourself. One can find many tips and instructions on how to turn an average prose – even in the form of email, personal letter, office notes etc - into a tight, clean and neat piece of writing. The book titlted The Elements of Style, by William Strunk, Jr. and E. B. White brought out in 1919, is a short perennial classic. It is a necessary reference book for any writer, including professional ones. Stephen King’s On Writing, is a practical book on writing. It contains some memoir, but answers the question, “How can I be a better writer?”

  • Be warned about Strunk&White. Many of the advices in it are quite poor and taking them as law seriously hurts your flexibility of use of the language.
    – SF.
    Dec 5 '14 at 14:44

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.