I’m working on a series of nonfiction books that I hope will help people with issues they may struggle with. I’m not a professional in my field; I’ve just learned a lot through life experience. Can I write from my own experience? Or do I need a degree or certification to help people?
School of Hard Knocks in Sussex
Dear sweet, humble Hard Knocks,
What do you think I’m going to tell you?
Many could challenge me on what qualifications I have to provide the carefully crafted, loving advice I give in this column every month. And if they even had the cajones to question this to my face, what would my answer be?
I am Indie Annie, the guru of indie writing. I bring enlightenment. I bring wisdom. Who grants me the authority to make such claims?
I look back over my life in indie publishing and pronounce (eloquently, of course) that I have knowledge and experience that can help you in your career.
Do I know everything? No, I don’t.
Do I have a PhD in indie publishing? No, because no one does. There’s no such thing.
I might have a degree in creative writing, graphic design, or rocket science. Equally, I might not have a certificate in anything other than the one-hundred-yard breaststroke I got when I was seven.
But I have lived my life and learned many valuable things along the way. And now, I choose to spend some of my valuable time crafting answers to my readers’ wonderful questions. Is that wrong?
I think not.
Did the great sages of the past have college certificates? What qualified Aristotle to write about philosophy or even writing, for that matter, except that he was a revered expert in one and a student of the other? I mean, arguably, Aristotle spent twenty years as a pupil and colleague at the Academy of Plato (c. 428–c.348 BCE), but did he have framed copies of his qualifications nailed to the wall of his office in the Lyceum?
Though I can’t prove it, I am pretty sure the answer to this is no.
My point is, who defines what you have to say as being of value? Your audience.
Do you think there is an audience for your nonfiction books? Do you think you have sufficient insight into a subject that, once published, would benefit another? If the answer is yes to both questions, then you have a duty to write what you have learned and share your wisdom with the world.
My darling Hard Knocks, you do not state what field you would write in, but let’s ponder a few options. Have you learned how to manage an addiction? You may not be a qualified counselor, but your story would most definitely help others traveling the path you once trod. Perhaps you are a business owner who can guide budding entrepreneurs through the stages required to build a successful enterprise, though you never set a foot in Harvard Business School. Maybe you are a self-taught musician who has developed a unique system for learning new instruments, and you are planning to write a series of beginner’s guides to the flute, lute, and harpsichord.
Only you know if you can help someone else with your books. Are you able to solve a problem they face? If the answer is yes, then write away, my dear friend.
I suspect your fear lies less in the writing of your series and more in its promotion. How will you market a series when you appear to have no credentials? Why would anyone buy from you? Are you some quack selling snake oil?
Well, like the snake-oil sellers of old, it’s all about the pitch. People don’t buy credentials; people buy hope. They buy answers, so if you are solving a problem, you are more than halfway there. And they buy into the person who is selling. Make sure your blurb sells you and announces clearly that you are what they have been looking for.
Do you have a guaranteed way to lose weight, make a killing in Vegas, or sell a thousand books? Can you organize the cluttered? Motivate the listless? Or teach a starving college student how to boil an egg?
I leave you with the works of one Mrs. Isabella Mary Beeton (1836–1865). Her legendary guide to Victorian housekeeping is one of the best-selling books of all time. And what were her qualifications? She was a young Victorian housewife, nothing more. But it was more than enough.