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Authority in Non-Fiction Writing

writing authority

“I have as much authority as the Pope, I just don’t have as many people who believe it.” —George Carlin

If you read lots of articles about writing, you are bound to run into this elusive concept known as authority. Without it, the experts say you won’t be able to draw an audience, but if you have too much authority, you’re bound to make some enemies.

But So-and-So TOLD Me to Do It

How many times have you qualified an action by dropping a name? We are conditioned to believe that we have to “fall in line” with whoever happens to be the expert on a given topic, whether you are writing about parenthood or vintage cars. If someone famous said to do it, then by God it must be correct.

In order to establish authority in writing, you must become the expert. Give your readers a reason to believe you know what you are talking about. It might come down to your education or your work experience, or just plain-old life experience, but you have to justify the claims you make.

Non-fiction writing is all about appearances and authority. If you can convince your readers to have faith in what you say, the sky is very literally the limit in your writing career. If you come across as Joe Schmo from down the block, however, readers will put little stock in what you have to say.

The goal, then, is to become so-and-so. You don’t necessarily have to be a household name, but you should be well-recognized within the subject area of your non-fiction writing. It can be copywriting or digital photography or dog training; whatever the case, your end goal should be to become an authority figure in that area.

People Need a Leader

Believe it or not, your readers are looking for someone to lead them down the right path, but they won’t follow just anyone.

Let’s say, for example, that you are trying to train your dog to come when you call him. You’ve been working with him for the last six weeks, but he still runs in the opposite direction when you call his name. One day, the guy down the street is taking a walk by your front yard and throws out a few tips to help.

You think, “Yeah, maybe that would work, but what does he know?” Then, later in the evening, you are watching TV and Cesar Milan offers the same tip to a family of pet-owners on his show. Suddenly, you’re off your butt and outside with the dog, trying it out.

The guy down the street offered the same advice, but you didn’t trust his word nearly as much as you trusted Cesar Milan’s.

When you establish yourself as an authority in non-fiction writing, you create an atmosphere of believability. Readers will all of a sudden take notice and start listening to what you have to say, even if you’ve been saying it for ten years. Now, the difference is authority.

Authority Doesn’t Grow on Trees

Unfortunately, there is no magic formula for establishing authority in non-fiction writing. Sometimes it is a matter of getting noticed by the right audience, but more often it is the result of genuine effort.

  • Never steer them wrong. If you want to establish authority in non-fiction writing, start by double- and triple-checking your facts. Never give readers any reason or opportunity to doubt what you say, and don’t make statements unless you believe in them 100 percent.
  • Admit all mistakes. Try as you might to follow the last piece of advice, you will trip up now and again. When you make a factual error or give erroneous advice, step up to the plate and admit you made a mistake. Your readers will respect you for it.
  • Drive your points home. Don’t pussy-foot around the truth if you want to establish authority in non-fiction writing. Tell people like it is, and don’t be shy about making your position known. If you constantly pull punches, you’ll lose credibility.
  • Give credit where credit is due. Never take credit for an idea that isn’t yours. It’s bad publicity and it will eventually bite you in the ass. Instead, cite your sources with confidence and thrown your own thoughts into the mix.
  • Blaze the trail. Your opinions, ideas or techniques might not at first be popular, but history remembers the trailblazers. Come up with new approaches to old problems and give readers a reason to stand up and take notice.

It doesn’t take long to establish authority in non-fiction writing if you make authority your goal from the very beginning. Don’t ever doubt yourself because readers will hear your lack of confidence in the words. Instead, pretend you are already the foremost expert on the subject area of your choice.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. January 14, 2018 8:27 pm

    I write a lot of non-fiction (60 books so far plus 16 ghostwritten books) and you’ve hit many points spot on. To succeed you have to BE the authority.


  1. flinging « Sam Tamlyn

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