When it comes to nonfiction, there are many different types of writer, depending on the niche. Nonfiction is a very specialized genre, and even though the common thread is telling the truth and focusing on facts, the delivery of content can be very diverse.
You may have some writers who choose to focus on problem-solving, others who prefer to focus on teaching, then others who like to entertain, or inspire, and so on.
The type of nonfiction writer you want to become will depend on what drives you inside, what you’re passionate about and what your skill-set and specialized training look like.
In this article I’ll share the characteristics of the different types of nonfiction writers that exist out there, their strengths, and the type of writing category that they best fit, along with examples of bestselling books in every listed category.
The 8 Types of Nonfiction Writers
Although nonfiction is a very broad genre (Amazon lists more than 3,000 nonfiction categories and sub-categories), there are primarily eight different types of nonfiction writers that you can aspire to become. No one type is better or worse than the other or has more or less chances of success in the market.
Naturally, some types of writers choose to work in very large niches, which command much larger audiences, but they’re also subject to a lot more competition.
Some cater to narrower niches and as a result they’re subject to lower competitive forces. In the end, the writer that you want to become (incidentally, you don’t have to be limited to a single type) will depend on your personal interests.
Here are the eight different types of writers in the world of nonfiction:
1) The Scientific Writer
The scientific writer is someone who typically has a professional accreditation and has trained for many years on a specific profession: e.g. lawyers, academics, physicians, engineers, scientists, economists, etc.
The type of books that they write need to be thoroughly researched, since often times they’ll be based on studies and research that needs to be portrayed with 100% accuracy. These books tend to be more complex and therefore require multiple editing and proofreading passes before they’re published.
Scientific writers tend to be highly educated and have a thorough grasp of the facts in their field of study. They also tend to be perfectionists and pay attention to every detail, which often results in longer publishing cycles.
They usually need to enlist the help of and work in partnership with scientific book editors who understand their area of expertise.
Often times, these types of technical writers come from fields where it’s common practice to publish articles in peer-reviewed publications as part of day-to-day work, so they tend to be very well equipped to make the transition into a nonfiction author.
Nonfiction categories that are ideal for scientific or technical writers, with some bestselling book examples, are shown below:
- Health (e.g. Eight Weeks to Optimum Health by Andrew Weill)
- Medicine/Therapy (e.g. The Body by Bill Bryson)
- Science (e.g. Astrophysics for People in a Hurry by Neil deGrasse Tyson)
- Academic/Textbooks (e.g. Basic Nursing by Caroline Bunker Rosedahl & Mary T. Kowalksi)
- Technology (e.g. Web Analytics by Avinash Kaushik)
- Economics (e.g. Freakonomics by Steven Levitt & Stephen Dubner)
2) The Business Writer
The business writer is someone who typically has many years of experience working in a large business, often times in a leadership position, as business owners, or even as academics who teach in business schools.
These writers tend to be less rigid and yet still fact-based, although often times their facts are more experiential than scientific. Since they deal in many cases with human behavior, these books tend to be based on observations and experience rather than hard facts and they can also be more inspirational in nature.
Business writers typically use their books to help and support their public-speaking careers, which in many cases can command substantial fees, especially if their books have achieved bestseller status. Also, business books are often purchased in large numbers by corporations to be used for personnel training purposes.
Many times, business writers, especially those with busy schedules, will compile notes for their book, create the main outline and then give the writing task to a ghostwriter. Those who are avid bloggers will often compile their books by threading together multiple blog posts.
Nonfiction categories that are ideal for business writers, with some bestselling book examples, are shown below:
- Business Management (e.g. Double Double by Cameron Herold)
- Leadership (e.g. The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership by John C. Maxwell)
- Finance/Investment (e.g. Financial Statement Analysis by Byron Lund)
- Corporate Culture (e.g. It’s Your Ship by Captain D. Michael Abrashoff)
- HR (e.g. The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni)
- Business Training (e.g. New Conceptual Selling by Stephen Heiman & Diane Sanchez)
3) The Spiritual Writer
The spiritual writer is someone who has studied and practiced in a spiritual field for many years and has developed their own interpretations or techniques that they feel are well-suited to their target audience.
Often times, the spiritual writer is someone who has studied a philosophy from outside their own culture for many years and writes a book to introduce it to their own culture in a way that’s easy to understand.
Other times, they take on a difficult philosophy or practice and choose to also write a book in order to break it down in a way that the lay-person can easily digest without requiring years of prerequisite study.
Since many spiritual books are based on philosophical concepts, they aren’t as hard-fact based as the prior examples, but this type of writing still needs to abide accurately by every tenet of its spiritual discpline. Keep in mind that spiritual authors write books only after several years of concentration in their spiritual practice.
Nonfiction categories that are ideal for spiritual writers, with some bestselling book examples, are shown below:
- Religion (e.g. The Case for Faith by Lee Strobel)
- Spirituality (e.g. The Power of Now by Ekhart Tolle)
- Meditation (e.g. The Mindfulness Code by Donald Altman)
- New age (e.g. A Course in Miracles by Marianne Williamson0
- Mysticism (e.g. The Essential Kabbalah by Daniel C. Matt)
4) The Problem-Solving Writer
Problem-solving writers are the most widely published types of nonfiction writers. The vast majority of nonfiction books are written by problem-solving authors because they cater to a broad range of needs of the reading population.
Problem-solving writers focus their energies on helping their target audience resolve a long-standing, typically painful problem that has afflicted them for a long time and for which they haven’t found a solution yet.
These types of writers typically have a private practice where they see clients on a personal basis, and choose to write books that are based on their client experiences in order to expand their reach. In this way, they’re able to help people who aren’t in the same geographical area and thus are unable to attend a live session.
Like business writers, problem-solving writers tend to become highly sought out public speakers and many become favorite guests of TV and radio producers.
The problem-solving nonfiction field is very broad and it encompasses a very large number of subjects, from self-help to psychology, to parenting, to fitness, to how-to, and so on, catering to the many needs of the population at large, addressing personal needs as well as consumer needs, business needs, organizational needs, and many others.
Nonfiction categories that are ideal for problem-solving writers, with some bestselling book examples, are shown below:
- Self-Help (e.g. Awaken the Giant Within by Tony Robbins)
- Weight Loss (e.g. Dash Diet by Marla Heller)
- Fitness (e.g. Yoga Fitness for Men by Dean Pohlman)
- Relationships (e.g. Getting the Love you Want by Harville Hendrix)
- Parenting (e.g. Becoming the Parent You Want to Be by Laura Davis & Janis Keyser)
- Psychology (e.g. Reinventing Your Life by Jeffrey Young & Janet Klosko)
- Personal finances/Money management (e.g. The Wealthy Barber by David Chilton)
- How-to (e.g. How to Make it In the Music Business by Ari Herstand)
5) Journalistic Writer
The journalistic writer tends to be someone who developed their literary chops working as a journalist for a mainstream publication, or sometimes has been elected to public office. They tend to focus on subjects that are controversial or highly charged, whether in politics or in the court of public opinion.
Journalistic writing requires a significant amount of fact-checking, especially when they’re basing their books on evidence from others that needs to be corroborated. This can be a painstaking process, especially when their evidence-based facts are not easy to check.
Although there are exceptions (e.g. Ronan Farrow), most journalistic writers tend to be older since it typically demands a long career in their fields in order to build the relationships and connections that are necessary to develop trusted sources that can provide valuable information when reliable facts are hard to come by.
Nonfiction categories that are ideal for journalistic writers, with some bestselling book examples, are shown below:
- Politics (e.g. Let Me Finish by Chris Christie)
- Opinion (e.g. Fear by Bob Woodward)
- Expository books (e.g. Catch and Kill by Ronan Farrow)
6) Biographical Writer
The biographical writer includes people who focus their writing on memoirs, biographies and autobiographies.
A memoir is a historical account of a particular personal experience, therefore it’s usually written in the first person. Examples of popular memoirs are Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert and Becoming by Michelle Obama.
A biography is an account of someone’s life, as told by someone else. When the subject of the biography commissions the work and actively participates in the production of source materials, it’s considered an authorized biography. An unauthorized biography is created without the involvement of the subject, and often times against their wishes.
An autobiography is the account of a person’s life written by the subject (or ghostwritten on behalf of the subject). The difference between a ghostwritten autobiography and an authorized biography is that the former carries the name of the subject as the author (e.g. The Art of the Deal by Donald Trump, which was actually written by Tony Schwartz) and the latter carries the name of the writer, not the subject (e.g. Bill Gates: A Biography, by Michael B. Becraft).
Nonfiction categories that are ideal for biographical writers, with some bestselling book examples, are shown below:
- Memoirs (e.g. Shoe Dog by Phil Knight)
- Biographies (e.g. Good Neighbor by Maxwell King)
- Autobiographies (e.g. The Audacity of Hope by Barack Obama)
7) Narrative Writer
The narrative writer is a cross between a nonfiction and a fiction writer. while the focus is on facts and truths, it’s told using the power of narrative and storytelling. The most popular styles of narrative nonfiction writing are creative nonfiction, historical nonfiction and true crimes, although there are others as well.
Creative nonfiction writers focus on true events that are told in a way that reads like fiction, with compelling imagery and sensory detail. The goal of creative nonfiction is to make factual stories as interesting and rich in the eyes of readers as fiction can be.
Like creative nonfiction writers, historical nonfiction writers focus on actual events re-told in the style of fiction, except that those events are from the past, sometimes recent and sometimes distant. Since historical nonfiction is rooted in fact, it can be much harder to write than historical fiction, where the writer has much more creative freedom.
True crime is a style of writing that borrows from the narrative of fiction to examine an actual crime that has taken place in the near or distant past.
The aim of these types of writers is to capitalize on the public’s thirst for the motivations of the criminal mind. True crime is not only highly popular in written form but also on television and film.
Nonfiction categories that are ideal for narrative writers, with some bestselling book examples, are shown below:
- Creative nonfiction (e.g. The Girls are Gone by Michael Brodkorb, Allison Mann et al.)
- Historical nonfiction (e.g. The Spy and the Traitor by Ben Macintyre)
- True crime (e.g. The Pale-Faced Lie by David Crow)
8) Lifestyle/Entertainment Writer
The lifestyle and entertainment writer type is also very popular in the book industry. This category includes writing about food, hobbies, travel, fashion, home, and so on. This is another broad category of writers that covers a large variety of interests.
Lifestyle/entertainment writers don’t require years-long careers specializing in one area in order to succeed. Instead, they need to be engaging, humorous, candid, and offer real value to their readers.
In fact, many writers of this type are quite young in relation to the first seven types of writers, and in many cases are also avid bloggers with a significant presence online as well as a large following on social media.
This is also a great area in the world of nonfiction where one can turn a long-standing hobby into a business by teaching other people who practice the same hobby the tricks of the trade that you’ve learned over time to make their lives easier and more enjoyable.
For instance, if you’ve been developing recipes for a specific type of diet for many years, you can turn them into a cookbook that’ll be of interest to those people who follow the same diet but who don’t have the time to experiment.
Of perhaps you’ve developed gardening techniques to create the perfect rose garden or the perfect vegetable garden and you can now turn this knowledge into a book that will help fellow hobby gardeners by saving them precious time and aggravation.
Nonfiction categories that are ideal for lifestyle/entertainment writers, with some bestselling book examples, are shown below:
- Wine & Drink (e.g. Wine Simple by Aldo Sohm & Christine Muhlke)
- Cookbooks/Food (e.g. Half-Baked Harvest Cookbook by Tieghan Gerard)
- Home Decor (e.g. Inspire Your Home by Farah Merhi)
- Gardening (e.g. Peonies by Jane Eastoe)
- Home improvement (e.g. Household Hacks by Ace McCloud, Joshua Mackey, et al.)
The world of nonfiction writing is extremely diverse and can be very creative as well. There’s a sub-genre for almost every possible area of endeavor. As stated before, Amazon has over 3,000 categories and sub-categories of nonfiction books in their online store, and every area affords nonfiction writers with countless opportunities to express themselves.
Nonfiction is also one of the most profitable types of writing, not necessarily due to high book sales – at least, not immediately – but because of the many other streams of revenue that a nonfiction book can generate for its author.
From opening doors to great opportunities, to launching highly-paid public speaking careers, to acting as a great funnel for new leads for a service business, to becoming a calling card to land new clients, to establishing your bona fides as an expert in your field, and so on, nonfiction writing can be a huge career boost.
Becoming a nonfiction writer is also very rewarding because you’ll be helping other people improve on an aspect of their lives, you’ll open their minds to new and exciting knowledge, and help them solve deep-seated problems that seemed intractable before they got their hands on your book.
This article has shown you the main types of writers that are prevalent in the nonfiction genre to give you an idea of the different styles of nonfiction that are popular in the market, but don’t feel that you have to limit yourself to just a single type. In fact, many authors will move between types depending of their book ideas.
For example, a business writer may write one book about effective management techniques in the corporate setting, and later on may write a self-help book to inspire people to better manage their time and get more enjoyment out of life.
All you have to do is to focus on an area you’re passionate about and learn about the type of writing that best fits your publishing goals, keeping in mind that your ultimate aim is to be of service to others. You’ll be able to do so by informing them, teaching them a skill, entertaining them or using creative nonfiction to tell them a powerful story.
But above all else, whatever types of nonfiction writer you wish to become, make sure that you have fun in the process!
If you enjoyed this post and would like to learn more about how to excel in the writing craft be sure to check out my free nonfiction writing guide, drawn from years of experience editing books for bestselling authors (including a New York Times bestseller) and ghostwriting for CEOs and politicians. Simply click here to get instant access.
Leave me a comment below if you have any questions or a specific need that I can help you address – I operate an author services firm that specializes in helping entrepreneurs, professionals and business owners who want to publish books as a calling card for prospects, to establish their expert status as well as to generate additional leads for their businesses.
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Bennett R. Coles is an award-winning author of six books published through Harper Collins (New York) and Titan Publishing Group (London). He is also the publisher at Promontory Press, editor for multiple bestselling authors (including a NY Times bestseller), ghostwriter for CEOs and politicians and the founder of Cascadia Author Services, a boutique full-service firm that specializes in premium author services specifically designed for busy professionals. Our end-to-end services include writer coaching, ghostwriting, editing, proofing, cover design, book layout, eBook production, marketing, printing and distribution.