The Age of Non-Fiction & What it Means For You

Each decade sees books of a certain genre spring to the top. The 1980s were chock-full of pop psychology. The ’90s saw an obsession with fantastical novels a la Harry Potter. And millennial reading seems to have taken a turn towards non-fiction social psychology books with a focus on how our thoughts affect our work, our relationships, and absolutely everything in our lives.

Are our literary pursuits too focused on navel gazing? I don’t think so. Our interest in these non-fiction reads is less about helping ourselves and more about understanding others. And our celebrity culture has also played a role. We want to learn from the books we read, but we also want to learn about the people behind them. We want to know about Steve Jobs’ motivation and creative genius, and we also want to know about the man behind the Apple brand, which is why Walter Isaacson’s bestselling biography of Jobs holds appeal to so many readers.

Take a look at the non-fiction New York Times best seller list and our reading interests are but confirmed. Tina Fey’s Bossypants is at number 10. Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers comes in at number eight. And Cheryl Strayed’s Wild is in at number two. Gladwell’s unique blend of journalistic narrative and science has been successful five times, adding up to an enormous number of books sold. Fey’s book is autobiography, and Strayed is a memoir of a unique experience. So, what does this mean for you? Well, it’s never been a better time to pen that memoir. Or to take an issue that matters to you and find the true stories that bring it to life. It’s also never been a better time to explore and mine your own life for story ideas. Whereas fiction helps us escape, non-fiction helps us engage. And there is something about investing in a story that is real.

If you’re considering non-fiction for your next book, here are some things to consider that may bring about your next big idea:

  • Consider telling your own life story, or that of someone you know.
  • Think of unique experiences or expertise you have that readers could learn from.
  • Focus on a topic you’d like to learn more about yourself. Perhaps your own journey of discovery can be the heart of the book.
  • Look for patterns in newspapers and magazines to see which topics keep coming up over and over.
  • Are there any questions you’ve been struggling to find the answers to? You might be the one to find answers and help readers understand too.


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