Erotica Readers & Writers Association Blog

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Writing Non-Fiction - A Primer

Elizabeth Black writes in a wide variety of genres including erotica, erotic romance, and dark fiction. She lives on the Massachusetts coast with her husband, son, and three cats. Visit her web site, her Facebook page, and her Amazon Author Page.


This post is another article about my time at The Muse And The Marketplace writers conference held in Boston in the spring of 2015. The last time, I talked about writing query letters. This time, I'd like to talk about pitching non-fiction work to magazines and web sites.

Although it's been a few years, I have written for non-fiction publications, including magazines and web sites such as On The Issues, SexIs, Good Vibrations Magazine, and Alternet. I've written about feminist, sexuality, and relationship issues. I've always found that non-fiction magazine and article writing paid better than fiction writing. Most of my earnings came from my non-fiction writing, including blog posts and other work I had written for the British sex toys company Bondara. I actually started out writing non-fiction articles for magazines long before I wrote my first fictional story. I'd like to get back into this someday, and the tips I heard from the speaker at The Muse And The Marketplace who spoke about writing for magazines will be a great help.

There are many different types of articles. There are personal essays, investigative pieces, op-eds. Choose what you want to write. I'm focusing on personal essays and investigative pieces since I had written both.

One key to writing for magazines is to make your article personal. Keep in mind that editors receive pitches for the same topics, especially if they are newsworthy and current, and you need to make your pitch unique. An example is to tie in an anecdote to the non-fiction topic you are writing about. Base it on your personal experience with the topic at hand. This will personalize your article and give it warmth so that it doesn't come across as cold, detached, or rote. When I wrote about the blow job and Altoids mints myth for nuts4chic magazine, which was a British pop culture ezine, I based part of my article on personal experience. I had done the Altoids bit with my husband with comical results.

So you've chosen your topic and how you can personalize it. What do you do next? Do your research. That's what Google is for. Interview people who are experts in the field or find articles they've written. I had visited Snopes, the urban legend site, to learn more about the Altoids blow job myth. Snopes didn't have much and I didn't agree with quite a bit of what the site said, per my own experience. Still, the information was useful.

Now, to pitch your story. First, research magazines to determine which ones would be a good fit. The Muse speaker recommended Slate for never-before-published writers. I was already a staff writer for nuts4chic so my article had a home, but I've written pieces that required a cold pitch. I visited Alternet, Slate, and Salon. Alternet was the best fit for my article about why men fake orgasms. When you pitch, don't be vague by stating, for example, "I want to write an article about why men fake orgasms".  What's interesting to you about the topic? For me, it was unusual that it happened at all. Most people think of women faking orgasms for a multitude of reasons. I found sexuality forums where men freely discussed with me their reasons for faking the Big O. Those interviews personalized the topic and made it much more specific. Also, specify research and such that supports your points. I referred to The ABC News Primetime Live Poll: The American Sex Survey.

It helps if you've written pieces similar to the one you are pitching. You may want to include up to two examples of your writing on the topic in your pitch, whether published or unpublished. Or do what I do and give links to previously published articles so that the editor may read at his or her leisure. Proving links prevents your pitch letter from being too busy and long.

Be prepared for rejections. The Muse speaker submitted ten times to New York Magazine before one of his pitches was accepted. I submitted often to Alternet and saw plenty of my pitches rejected, but some were also accepted.

Find ideas. Read a lot on your given topic. Hot current topics in the news always make for great articles ideas, but remember to make yours unique. You may have a hard time seeing your pitch accepted since everyone and her sister is writing about the same topic. Take it from a fresh angle – one that hasn't been tried before. Write an unpopular opinion on a given topic. The Muse speaker loved to write about people he disagreed with.

Don't sell yourself short. Look that websites and magazines that pay, preferably those that pay well. I often received upwards of $200 and more for a 1,000 word article.  The problem with "for the love" sites is that you get what you pay for. Granted, some writers may be excellent but you'll also run into substandard, poorly researched crap. You have a better chance of being in good company with a reputable magazine or website that pays well. There is a vetting process in paying markets that you may not find in non-paying markets. There's always exceptions to the rule, but remember those are exceptions.

It's fun to branch out from fiction into non-fiction. You can gain an entirely new audience who will not only follow your non-fiction pieces but they may also buy your books.  Jump into the deep end of writing non-fiction. The water feels great.


  1. $200 for a 1000 word non-fiction article? Obviously I'm writing the wrong stuff!

    How long would that take you to write and sell, Elizabeth--including the marketing/pitching and the research? (Just curious.)

  2. It usually took me a month or two to write and sell an article, most of the time being pitching and editing. I enjoyed the research and writing very much, and after awhile I developed a knack for it. I found non-fiction to be harder to write than fiction (more pressure), but it definitely has its rewards!

  3. Thanks for this post, Elizabeth. After I retire from teaching, I seriously intend to approach the non-fiction world more systematically than I have before. In 2002, an incredibly tense meeting prompted me to consider researching & writing an article about the political implications of smoking in lesbian-defined social space. To Smoke or Not To Smoke (whether to vote in a non-smoking policy or not) seemed to be tearing all non-mainstream organizations and communities apart. I pitched my idea to Heather Findley, then editor of Girlfriends mag (now gone, alas), she accepted, I circulated an on-line questionnaire, and my article appeared in the October 2003 issue. The responses to my questionnaire were so fascinating that I kept them, even though I couldnt use them all. I was paid $300 U.S. for about 3500 words. By now, of course, smoking is outlawed in most public space, but the Great Smoking Debate was heated at the time. There are worthy topics under our noses all the time.


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