Non-fiction – long, short and very very short

Writers aiming to pitch a book to a publisher are advised to prepare a 25 word description to attract attention.*

If asked for more, they should be ready with a 125 word expansion. Then, having raised the interest during a query phone call, be ready to expand further with ideas on the intended audience, marketing and planned format.

I also find this task invaluable to be ready for when people ask what I am writing at the moment. The questions they ask often give me ideas and directions, or highlight an issue I hadn’t even considered. They want a 25 word description, and then maybe 125. They don’t want me to wax lyrical for half an hour, even though that is my natural inclination.

Today I discovered a new reason for developing this skill.  I volunteer at the Castlemaine Art Gallery and Museum as part of the curatorial research team. We have been asked by the new Director, Jennifer Kalionis, to work on a variety of approaches to improve the information available to gallery and museum visitors. The image below will lead you to the Gallery’s website.

art-gallery

I have started with a bark painting from Oenpelli in Western Arnhem Land, Northern Territory. It would be easy to write a book on this incredible art which demonstrates a continuous tradition for at least 20,000 years. But visitors to the Gallery do not want a book on each art work. Jennifer has asked for:

1. An expanded label which includes a paragraph, at most two, of background to the bark. Just one paragraph, when I want to write a book.

2. A children’s label presenting the information in a way which will encourage children to take an interest and feel engaged. Maybe two paragraphs. (I know adults read the children’s labels – I always do.)

3. One page of background for visitors who want to know more. Only one page? Oh dear.

4. A more detailed background, provenance, sources and so on for the Gallery’s records. Maybe, she suggested, aware how much I was writing, a few pages?

Our team is also talking about the possibility of electronic information displayed on a visitor’s mobile phone when a QR code is scanned. That is a different format again – it has to look good and be easy to read on a small device. No long sentences!

This is one of the great aspects of writing non-fiction. One set of research can lead to all sorts of outcomes. I can guarantee the Oenpelli art on bark and in rock shelters will feature in a future book. And I think an article for a magazine is forming in my mind.

I love research. I love the way I can then turn that research into so many writing projects.

* An excellent book on writing proposals is “A Decent Proposal” by Rhonda Whitton and Sheila Hollingworth (Keesing Press).