Writing non-fiction is essentially reporting something, classified by its intended market, whether academic, travel, self-improvement, religious, history, personal memoirs, or music, art, or book reviews. Therefore traditional journalism standards apply:
(1) The writing must be objective with the sources of information clearly identified. The author’s opinions, feelings, and theories, are to be specified as such. In his memoir, if James Frye had simply written, “I felt like I had spent four years in prison while I was in jail waiting trial,” he could have avoided having had his publisher withhold his memoirs from distribution, and being delisted by Oprah’s book club. Instead, he had stated he had been in prison for four years which was untrue.
(2) The sources of information must be identified and verifiable. Some skeptical reader, if not the publisher, will certainly check out what the author has written, as Mr. Frye found out.
(3) The information, opinions, and theories presented must be new and original. Nobody wants to read yesterday’s news or a repeat of “what everybody already thinks or knows.”
Readers usually find objective writing, consisting of facts, figures, and theories, to be dry and boring. Journalists have suggested building the an article around an actual person, or a small group of people with feelings, opinions, or personal history. The article then can be written from that person’s or group’s point of view. The featured individual or group then serves as a basis for organizing the article chronologically.
For example, a travel article may be written from the point of view of a particular traveler taking a trip. The landscape, buildings, historic sites or parks can be described along with this traveler’s reactions to them, in the order he or she encounters them. A cookbook or a book on auto repair, or even an academic monograph, could be written in a similar way.
As a courtesy, the author shows the article written to the individual or group written about before the article or book is submitted for publication. Suggestions and corrections are solicited. If the article deals with medical, private personal matters or socially unacceptable behavior, the author must disguise the identity of the person written about.
Magazines usually do not publish unsolicited articles, except for academic journals. Travel, cooking, how-to or self-help articles usually require prior approval by the magazine editor before they are submitted. The author writes an inquiry letter to the editor about what the article will include, and why it is consistent with the subject matter of the magazine. Individual issues of some magazines are themed according to the publication’s schedule on its web-site. The inquiry letter should indicate the theme the proposed article would fit into and how.
If the magazine publishes photographs as part of its articles, the author needs to tell if photographs will accompany the article. The author also should indicate his qualifications for writing such a article. If the editor accepts or modifies the author’s proposal, the magazine will specify how much it will pay for the article, whether the author’s expenses in gathering the material will be paid separately, in what form the article is to be submitted (electronic or paper), and the deadline date for receiving it.
Academic journals in each academic subject accept only unsolicited articles which are reviewed by three distinguished academicians in the particular field (peer reviewed). If the majority of the reviewers accept the article for publication, the journal editor then deals with the author regarding proposed editorial changes in the article. It usually takes between 18 months and two years from the time an accepted article is submitted before it appears in print. Academic journals usually do not pay authors for articles.