Career Crossroads: How-To and Fiction Author Discusses Keys to Book Writing Success

Career Crossroads  Header

Join us each month for Career Crossroads, a look at how journalists, bloggers, and freelancers are adapting to changes in their media careers. Catch up on previous installments at bit.ly/careercrossroads and access job opportunities and other free media tools on PR Newswire for Journalists.

When it comes to writing, author and journalist Paula McCoy-Pinderhughes (@awomansgame) keeps her advice simple: Don’t stop.

“Keep writing, no matter the genre, the industry, the venue you find yourself in,” McCoy-Pinderhughes says.

Minority journalists especially may become frustrated when deciding the type of book to write.

Consider some recent figures reported by Cooperative Children’s Book Center. In its Multicultural Literature 2014 report, the center found 69 books out of 179 books about Africans/African Americans were written and/or illustrated by Black book creators last year. For Asian Pacifics/Asian Pacific Americans, that figure came to 48 books out of 112 books; Latinos wrote 36 books out of 66 books; and American Indians wrote 15 books out of 36 books.

McCoy-Pinderhughes recommends the how-to genre as a great learning experience for journalists interested in reporting on various media platforms. But, she warns it won’t come easy.

“During my time writing for the magazine, I was in essence, telling someone else’s story,” McCoy-Pinderhughes said, referring to her two-year stint as small business editor with Black Enterprise. “For the how-to book, I was giving advice to entrepreneurs, so that one day, their story might be told.”

But fiction writing is her first love. McCoy-Pinderhughes says she can lose herself in the storyline and in the characters she creates and develops within a manuscript. Her latest book, A Woman’s Game, tells the story of an affluent African-American family destroyed by a Thanksgiving holiday toast.

The nuts and bolts of how-to and fiction

McCoy-Pinderhughes’s writing experience is pretty diverse.

Early in her career, she self-published a poetry book entitled Quite Simply How I Feel. 

She says if she were to venture into another genre, it may  be historical fiction: “I love history, and I’ve had a few ideas in mind for a number of years.”

For writers and journalists looking to test the how-to book waters, McCoy-Pinderhughes offers these tips:

  • Give constructive advice.  McCoy-Pinderhughes explains that writing a how-to book takes extensive research to make certain the advice you’re giving is accurate and helpful.
  • Make it easy to follow. You want your how-to book to be useful. McCoy-Pinderhughes compiled her information into an easy-to read, friendly guide that included a multi-question checklist after each chapter.
  • Know your audience. Her nonfiction, self-help guide How to Be an Entrepreneur and Keep Your Sanity was inspired from conversations with established small business owners for those who wanted to start a business and maybe didn’t quite know where to begin.

Now, if you’re looking to write fiction, McCoy-Pinderhughes offers this advice:

  • Take time to develop your characters. “Character development is an exciting process,” McCoy-Pinderhughes says. “If you do it right, the characters tend to write their own story. It’s a strange and wonderful relationship while you’re writing because of the time and investment you have in trying to bring your story to life.”
  • Pull your audience in. Make them love or hate your characters. “When I’m invited to book club meetings and listen to members discussing my book, the satisfaction is nearly indescribable,” she says. “Their emotional attachment to the characters is proof that I’ve done my job right.”
  • Leave room for a sequel. McCoy-Pinderhughes currently is in the process of writing a sequel to A Woman’s Game. She’s enjoying each chapter: ““It’s exciting, even for me as I write, to find out and explore what happens next in the lives of the Alexander family.”

Jessica Alas is Multicultural Audience Director with PR Newswire. Follow her at @alasjessica.