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Upskilling Tips for Non-Fiction Publishing

By Amelia Bashford, Misha Manani and Rowan Groat

Non-fiction publishing is a category within trade publishing that covers areas such as business, food & drink, health & lifestyle, history, memoir, science and sports. It is sustained by writers who aim to inspire, educate and entertain. In the final instalment of our sector series and in celebration of National Non-fiction November, we have asked someone who works in non-fiction publishing to share their experience and advice.

In Conversation with Fran Roberts (@CatwomanFran), Marketing Manager at Reaktion Books

What motivated you to pursue a career in non-fiction publishing?

Fran: “I started my career as a temporary marketing administrator at Palgrave Macmillan and fell in love with non-fiction, and publishing, from there. I always tended to read fiction, but there’s something quite different about working in non-fiction. No two days are the same. I’ve worked on everything from social work to Middle East history; politics to art. Throw in some food and drink, sport, music and popular science and you get an idea of what I’m working on daily! I’m now a Marketing Manager at Reaktion Books, working on over ninety titles a year. I also work with 3 of Cups Press, a micropublisher dedicated to amplifying unheard voices.”

What are the differences between non-fiction and fiction publishing?

“I think there’s more breadth in non-fiction. Fiction tends to follow trends, whereas non-fiction has a plethora of topics on which to draw. With non-fiction, you can afford to take bigger risks with what you publish.”

What skills are useful for working in non-fiction publishing?

“Have a real thirst for knowledge. Be interested in everything! Be prepared for the unexpected. When it comes to marketing and publicity, you have a smaller pool of influencers and press from which to draw, so a lot of out-of-the-box thinking is required. Get creative. And don’t forget your research – in-depth knowledge of a particular field will do wonders. Befriend the specialists, whether that be an academic or a niche magazine. They will be your biggest advocates.”

Top tips for CVs and cover letters:

“The key rule is one side of A4 for a cover letter, and two sides of A4 for a CV. You don’t want to be writing dissertations! Other top tips I have are:

  • Your cover letter is the appetiser, and your CV is the main course. Make sure they complement each other.

  • Make it relevant to the job description – use the same language and turns of phrase, reflect your experience directly onto the description.

  • Keep it simple (unless you’re going for a design role). A PDF of a Word document works best because not everyone can open Word documents and the layout can change.

  • Never be self-deprecating. Own your achievements and be proud!

  • Do your research, especially if you get an interview. Know the history of the company as well as their bestsellers. If applying for marketing roles, look at previous campaigns and think about why you like them.

  • Try to address it to a real person. This can be tough for bigger companies, but just ask the HR department and feel free to send an email if you’re unsure.”

Online Resources:


  • Publishing Scotland: As part of Book Week Scotland, they are running a showcase of authors and their non-fiction books via YouTube. Tickets are free, you just need to book your spot.

  • Penguin Live Non-fiction: To celebrate the works of non-fiction, there are book tour events and launches for self-care, cooking and female empowerment books. This might help broaden your understanding of the non-fiction market and get to know the inspiration behind these creations from the authors’ perspective.


  • Follow Non-Fiction Publishers: This will help to build your commercial awareness and strengthen your market research through competitors, the consumer audience and industry news. To get you started, try following: @BlinkPublishing, @MomentumPubCo, @EburyPublishing and @iconbooks.

  • Network and Build Your Relationships: Don’t forget to connect with those who work in non-fiction publishing. Say hello, introduce yourself and ask questions. People in publishing tend to be extremely friendly and are always willing to help. Here are a few who work in non-fiction that you can connect with online: @Joelle_O, @luciedemayo, @caroline_linnea and @GuilletCaroline.

Non-Fiction Book Charts:

  • Retailers: Look at what non-fiction books are selling well in retailers such as WHSmith, Waterstones and Amazon. Think about why this might be – consider the design, the content, how it has been publicised, and the role metadata has played to increase its discoverability.

  • The Bookseller: If you are able, why not subscribe to The Bookseller from £3 a week? The price varies depending on the package you choose, but here you can see the weekly sales charts of the hardback and paperback non-fiction bestsellers.

We hope you enjoyed reading Issue Thirty-Six, and the final instalment in our sector-focused mini-series! Join us again for Issue Thirty-Seven where we will be covering Upskilling Tips for Freelancing.


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