This fall quarter the Writers’ Program is proud to welcome new Wp’ instructor Yona McDonough, a successful freelance writer (and fiction writer too)! Students—if you’re looking to break into the nonfiction market you will love Yona’s new course where you can expect to learn the ins and outs of selling your work (yes—for money!) from a seasoned pro with an impressive list of publications.
Writers’ Program: We’re very excited about your new online course this fall, Writing to the Market: How to Create Nonfiction That Sells. What can our students look forward to learning in your course?
Yona McDonough: They will learn about the most desirable, salable kinds of non-fiction writing out there today, and how to create polished, professional pieces that are publication-ready to fit that need.
Wp’: If you could give one piece of advice on selling your work as a writer, what would it be?
YM: Do your homework! Don’t think you can just waltz in and snag the assignment or write the piece. Study the form, the genre and the publications you plan to pitch like you are a general going into battle and these are your maps and battle plans.
Wp’: Why do you think readers and publishers are so hungry for nonfiction work?
YM: You know, I ask myself this daily, because I am a fiction writer as well. I think it might have to do with the fact that there are so many different and enticing ways for people to get their “stories” out there these days–film, television, internet—so that the appetite for fiction, at least in the written form, may be met by these other forms. Non-fiction, on the other hand, is about information, and information needs constant updating. Hence the need for new non-fiction content all the time.
Wp’: We’d love to know about your process! What does it look like when you sit down to write?
YM: For many years, I worked in the basement of my house, which was quiet and private but was also, let’s face it, a basement. When my son went off to college in 2009, we did some shuffling and now I have a small room on the second floor to call my own. It’s also quiet—faces the yard—but it’s very light and bright. I painted it pale blue, so it seems to me like it’s an extension of the sky. Above my desk is a poster of a beautiful ballet dancer named Paloma Herrera—Paloma and Yona both mean dove—and I consider her an alter-age and an inspiration. I don’t have a set time to work but I do work almost every day and since I work on a variety of projects (non-fiction, novels, kids’ books). I am usually spending a little time on each. I have three small, yappy dogs and usually one or two of them are here with me for company.
Wp’: If someone is new to this genre of writing, what should they read first, and why?
YM: Since non-fiction encompasses such a wide expanse, I’d suggest narrowing the focus a bit, and reading deeply in one particular area. For example, if you want to write personal essays, read as many as you can: they appear in literary magazines, national magazines, some newspapers, and anthologies. Immerse yourself in the best the form has to offer; keep a running list of topics that inspired or impressed you. When it comes time to embark on your own work, you will be educated and prepared.
Yona is teaching Writing to the Market: How to Create Nonfiction That Sells (Online) in September. Enroll online or by calling (310) 825-9971.
Alicia Wheeler is the Program Assistant for Creative Writing (Online).