Writing Non-Fiction – A Primer

by | June 28, 2015 | General | 3 comments

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
, 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.

Elizabeth Black

Elizabeth Black's erotic fiction has been published by Cleis Press, Xcite Books, Scarlet Magazine, Circlet Press, and others. She also writes dark fiction and horror as E. A. Black. She lives in Massachusetts next to the ocean with her husband, son, and three cats. The beach calls to her and she listens.


  1. Lisabet Sarai

    $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. Elizabeth Black

    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. Jean Roberta

    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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