This is a question I tried to ask in Novelizing non-fiction, is it worth it? But was un-clear and maybe too generic.

Let’s say I am a scuba diving expert and I could write a non-fiction book about advanced diving techniques, some of them are unique and stem from my personal experience.

Is it better to write that as a non-fiction book or develop a novel on the subject?

A non-fiction book on the subject may not interest many readers. However, If it is a novel, i am afraid that the tech info which is shown rather than told would be lost on the reader. It would seem just like the writer did some basic research on the subject, and my own personal contributions to the field would be lost in a general novel rather than a specialized book.

Here are some thoughts:


  • Smaller but dedicated audience
  • Most bought manuals are 101 introductory types
  • Even an advanced book would usually need to include 101 background
  • Theorethical dry explanatory text


  • Potential broad audience, but low interest in the subject
  • Technical secondary to the story needs
  • Advanced notions may be lost in the background
  • Empirical rather than theoretical

Please don’t comment on successful diving books/movies like The Big Blue. Although I do hold proffessional diver qualifications, I mean this question to be broad and applicable to various lifestyle non-fiction subjects

Any opinion or fact showing the way to go?

  • 1
    Who would you rather reach: People interested in diving techniques or people just wanting to read (and forget again). Your story tends towards the first?
    – Bookeater
    Jun 28, 2015 at 5:25

5 Answers 5


Instead of "fiction" (made up) and "non-fiction" (facts) I'll use the terms "novel" and "textbook".

We expect a novel, both fiction and non-fiction, to be about experience and possibly ideas, and textbooks to be about detailed information.

But there are countless counter examples. For example the scholarly field of ethnology often employs first person narration to report observations and reflect and theorize. Many ethnological reports read like autobiographical novels or travel journals.

There are also examples of narrative works that attempt to teach methods and techniques, most notably in the area of spirituality.

The question to me would be how detailed you want to go, and how big your ideas are. If you basically have one or a handful of world shattering ideas, a narrative approach is better, because a novel can become a cult classic. But if you have a lot of detail and no interesting story to tell, a good handbook can become a standard in a field.

There are mixed forms, where a novel has a technical appendix, or a textbook is spiced up with short stretches of narrative. Wether you perceive these as neither fish nor fowl, or possibilities along a continuum of types, is a question of taste. The extremes are certainly most striking.


I would say write what you are capable of. If your talents are non-fiction, straight to the point works then definitely write it that way. But if you are very skilled at writing fiction stories detailing adventures or thought-provoking ideas, then do that. Personally, I would write a fiction novel detailing all the technical experience of advanced diving techniques through an engaging story. I believe that this is more likely to stick with a reader than it would if it were a dry "here's how to do this" type thing.

As a plus, anyone who is serious about diving is going to be able to connect with your story on a personal level, increasing the level of engagement and likely retention as well. But, again, stick with what you do best. If you write good stories, tell a good story.


Is it better to write that as a non-fiction book or develop a novel on the subject?

With one huge exception, my general answer would be that you should write a straightforward instructional book. Most novels I have read that simply wrapped a story round a lesson read like books for children. That annoys me. I'm a grown up. I don't need the pill sugared. Now I think about it, unless done very well, books of the "children's problem" genre even annoyed me when I was a child.

What's the huge exception, then? If you have a diving story you itch to tell then please write the novel! A compelling human story springing from and integrated with deep knowledge of a technical subject is a joy to read. And highly saleable. Think Tom Clancy.

Talking of sales, though, in general I believe you are mistaken to think that a non fiction book would have a "smaller but dedicated audience" compared to a novel. Depressingly, the audience for all types of book, fiction and non-fiction alike, is small. See this sobering article by B J Gallagher. However I know from personal experience as a published non-fiction author that if you can write a decent non-fiction book clearly explaining something that some group of people need to understand, then you can get published far more easily than can the aspiring novelist. Publishers know that people regularly seek out books by qualified authors to teach them about diving (or other technical subjects) or, better yet, to get them past a particular diving qualification. No one ever born rushed to a bookshop thinking, "I want a first novel by an unknown author, and I want it right now."

  • 1
    Ditto. I had a textbook for a computer science class in college once that had a bunch of little "Sally gets her first job as a software developer" stories. They were mind-bogglingly stupid. Full of "Oh, Sally said, as a software developer I get to meet so many interesting people!" sort of lines. At the time I thought to myself, What, is the author of this textbook a frustrated novelist? Maybe there are textbook writers out there who do something like this well, and the stories really add to the book. But I don't recall seeing one.
    – Jay
    Jun 29, 2015 at 14:14

You're talking about two very different kinds of book. In a way this is like asking, "I'm going to college. Should I major in chemistry or poetry?" That all depends on what you like, what you're good at, and what you expect to do with the degree. Someone could list the pros and cons of each, but without knowing your wants and needs and aptitudes, there's no way they could answer the question.

Do you want to teach people how to dive? Or do you want to tell an entertaining story? People who aren't interested in learning how to dive aren't going to buy a how-to book. People who want to learn how to dive aren't going to look for a novel on the subject. It's unlikely that a novel about diving is going to teach people how to dive. Not effectively, anyway. (And I don't know anything about diving, but if you apply for your scuba certification and the examiner asks what classes you've taken, I'll go out on a limb and guess that a response of, "Oh, I've never taken any classes, but I read a really great novel about a diver!" won't count for much.)

If you want to teach people how to dive, if you want to spell out detailed techniques, etc, then write a non-fiction "how to" book. If you've had interesting experiences while diving that you think people would like to read about, you could write a non-fiction "true adventures" book. If you have ideas for an entertaining story about diving, or if you want to tell people who aren't interested in diving how much fun it is, then write a novel.

Not sure what else someone could say.


There's no need to choose. Write both.

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