Fuse #8 and her husband recommended a great book for me to read. It's called Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud. This book gives you a lot to chew on. I'm going to talk about it tomorrow... and also how comics influence what I do.
Today, however, I want to talk about nonfiction. First, let me share with you the cover of my latest nonfiction book, which will be published next year.
Now I want to share with you all a story. A week or two ago I did a little talk to a group of illustrators and writers. Of course I talked about my nonfiction work and let everyone look at all of my books in print. Afterward a man came up to me holding Strong Man.
He said something like "I didn't want to mention this to the group…but…this isn't published yet, is it?"
I said that it was. I then braced myself for what was coming.
"Well, I hope your publisher knows what it's doing."
"You don't know what I do for a living, do you?"
I shook my head.
He then explained that he worked in the fitness industry and knows the guys who knew Atlas, or something to that effect. He then went on to say that yes, Atlas is a good guy, but that his image was all about marketing and that my book is basically Atlas's marking campaign summed up in picture book form. He said that Atlas DID use weights even though he claimed not to... that he came up with Dynamic Tension because the other guys already successfully marketed weight lifting routines...and some other stuff.
Here's the deal.
1) My book is about inspiration, about overcoming odds, about determination... and so on. It is NOT supposed to be an exposé on man who died 40 years ago. I was not out to get the insider scoop... the dirt on the man... or anything else. How would that make a book for children better? Why would children care?
2) A nonfiction author CANNOT base a book on gossip, he-said-she-said, or anything else that isn't DOCUMMENTED. My rule of thumb is 3 sources. If I can't find the same fact in at least three sources then I won't generally use it... UNLESS it absolutely came from a credible source such as first hand information such as an autobiography.
3) A nonfiction author must be VERY careful. Doing a book on a person whose relatives are still alive is tricky. If Atlas for his entire life publicly insisted that he didn't use weights, for example, then that's what I have to say. Unless there's a photo of the man lifting weights then I can't say that he did. Furthermore, who cares if he did? That's not the point of my book. God forbid I got something wrong and Atlas's son came out of the woodwork to reprimand me.
Nonfiction is not like writing fiction. It takes SO much more work, time, sweat, and tears. I'm good at writing PBs. I can write a fiction one pretty quickly. But not nonfiction. To come up with a few sentences I might have had to read 3 books to do so. Publishers do fact check but not as thoroughly as one might think. It’s the author's responsibility to make sure the facts are correct. There are a lot of know-it-all's out there. They will jump at the chance to make you aware of something done wrong. So, as an author, you have to make sure that doesn't happen. If someone says something is wrong, I am always ready with my file of research on the subject. I can defend myself and back up my facts. That's IMPORTANT.
Here is the LARGEST problem with nonfiction, especially historical projects: Nonfiction IS in many ways fiction. Of course it's based on facts, but facts are compiled and recorded by PEOPLE and people make mistakes…and each person will perceive the same thing differently. Ask 10 people to watch a show or event and then have them describe it. Guaranteed you'll get 10 different responses. What a good nonfiction author will do is take those 10 responses and find the most balanced, middle ground and base his or her book on that. Of course every nonfiction author is also a person with a perspective/opinion. If an author doesn't have one then a guarantee his or her book won't be that exciting. Therefore there WILL be another perspective added to the mix. I will readily admit that I have a strong opinion on the subject matter for every book I do. My opinion/take on the subject may not be readily apparent ...but it's there... hidden... waiting for someone to unbury it.
So that's my take on nonfiction. Questions? Comments? Bring 'em on!