You've got a great idea. Should you write an article about it or write a book?
It’s a question you face at different junctures in your writing journey: when you’re first starting out and working towards publication … when you’re building your stable of writing clips … when you’re thinking of breaking into a new niche …
My answer to the question? It depends. But most of the time, write an article. Here’s why.
A typical article ranges from 500 words to 3,000 words in length.
Meanwhile, a typical nonfiction book clocks in at 50,000 – 75,000 words.
That’s a big difference. A shorter project is much easier to write and finish than a longer project. If you write an article and complete it, then you have a sense of accomplishment.
This is particularly true for a writer who is just starting out. You can spend less time “learning the ropes” when you write an article.
Once you write an article – or even in the concepting process – you can submit it (or a query letter) for consideration to a magazine or as a guest post on a blog. Or you can publish it on Medium or your own website. Either way, once the article is printed, you’re a published writer in your article’s niche.
This is helpful whether you’re a new writer or you’ve been published hundreds of times. Naturally, if you’re a new writer, you’re on a mission to accumulate a collection of clips. If you’re an experienced writer, your article allows you to break into a new niche and gain a whole new audience. You can include your article in your list of samples to share with potential editors and brands who want to hire writers in that particular niche.
Is your writing idea saleable? In other words, will the finished product pull in readers? When you write an article, you can “test” the publishing waters to find out the depth of the subject matter’s appeal and the size of its audience - without investing a good hunk of your life in writing a book that won't resonate with readers. Plus, a successful article helps you build a following which you can leverage into book sales later on.
Further, if you commit to writing a book, you may find out that the topic has limits and there’s not enough information to fill all the pages needed to make it topic of substance. But an article is another matter. As you plan and prepare the article, you find out how much information is available about your topic. You pull out your main idea and choose a slant … and then gather your extra research, quotes, and stories in a file to use in another article
Let’s say you write an article about canoeing with children. You do the research about safety precautions. You find out the best equipment – from paddles to life jackets. You interview parents who canoe with preschoolers, preteens, and teenagers. You include information about the best size of lake or stream that’s suitable for canoeing with kids when they’re just starting out. You work and rework your article until it glistens. Then, the article is published in Canoeing Today magazine.
There’s a good chance that readers will contact you to ask specific questions. You’ll get emails. Fans will post comments in the online version of your article and they’ll ask for more information. All of a sudden, you’re a bit of an expert in canoeing with kids … whether or not you’ve ever lifted a paddle. It’s because you studied the topic, wrote about it, and now you know a little bit more than the average reader. Writing an article establishes you as an authority.
An article plus an article plus a few more articles make a book. Plan your articles around a topic and overarching thesis, and you’ll have ten or twelve that you can string together to make a book.
Writing tip: don’t sell all rights to magazines or blogs. Be sure to retain publishing rights to your articles if you sell them and they are printed by a publisher other than yourself. This way, you can use the guts of your articles as a chapter in your book.
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