I’ve gotten a couple questions over time about the different kinds of nonfiction books, so I thought I’d cover them here. I don’t have too much of an intro because I’d rather just get right into it, so here are the six major “types” of nonfiction that I’ll be dissecting and providing examples for:

1. Autobiography

What is it? A book about your life. You are writing about your life, generally, from beginning to present—childhood to adulthood (or “elderhood”).

Who benefits the most from writing these? It is very typical for notable figures to publish an autobiography at some point because they have a deep and/or wide audience that is interested in not just their accomplishments, but them as a person.

First-time authors will typically not benefit from this since no one knows who they are (and therefore, don’t care). Unless their life is completely unique or they simply want to document their life story for personal reasons, this is typically reserved for more notable figures from a business standpoint.

Examples: I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai (2013),A Promised Land by Barack Obama (2020), Finding Me by Viola Davis (2022), Spare by Prince Harry (2023)

2. Biography

What is it? Similar to an autobiography, this is a book that was written about someone else’s life story. This is still covered from childhood to adulthood (or “elderhood”).

Who benefits the most from writing these? Those who are willing to do a very deep dive into a specific person’s life. Biographers need to be particularly mindful of the book’s style, voice, pace, and direction if they decide to pursue someone’s else’s life story.

Examples: American Prometheus by Kai Bird & Martin J. Sherwin (2005), The Good Neighbor by Maxwell King (2018), Robin by David Itzkoff (2018), Elon Musk by Walter Isaacson (2023)

3. Memoir

What is it? Memoirs can easily be confused with one of the two types above (auto/biography), so what’s the difference? A memoir is a story someone writes about a very particular moment in their own life. It’s told from the source, but isn’t about their life from beginning to end; it’s a focus or highlight on a particular point in their life.

Who benefits the most from writing these? People who want to share a very unique experience they had. These are very plot-heavy, meaning the interest needs to be in the story itself, not the person who’s telling it, which is why I say it needs to be very unique (i.e. non-replicable).

Examples: The Finer Things Club by Lauren Erickson (2023), Becoming by Michelle Obama (2018), Know My Name by Chanel Miller (2019), The Woman in Me by Britney Spears (2023)

4. Expository

What is it? In short, these are “how-to” books. They explain or educate you on a particular topic, which requires a deep understanding of whatever it is they’re talking about. There are a few different sub-types, as well, including: descriptive, comparison, cause/effect, process, and problem/solution. Cookbooks fit into this category as well!

Who benefits the most from writing these? People who are considered experts in their field or niche and want to address a specific problem or question people have. If you’re topic is somewhat controversial, this will require a heightened degree of consideration and understanding, balanced with acknowledgement and recognition for the sensitivity of the subject matter.

Examples: The 4-Hour Workweek by Timothy Ferris (2007), How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi (2019), Book Wars by John Thompson (2021)

5. Prescriptive Nonfiction

What is it? Essentially, these are self-help books. These titles allow people to improve on a quality, habit, mindset, etcetera, they’re lacking. The most popular kinds of prescriptive books orbit around motivation, habit-building, and generally any kind of interpersonal skill.

Who benefits the most from writing these? Those who have a unique situation to a specific or commonly-shared deficiency (ex: motivation, habit-building, etc.). It helps to have credibility to speak on whatever it is you wish to talk about, otherwise everyone and their mother would be writing self-help books, and the quality ones would be drowned out. If it’s a personal experience, what was an uber unique approach you took that’s specific to those in your shoes? If it’s health-related, what allows you to speak on others’ well-being? If it’s leadership, what experience do you have being one?

Examples: The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondō (2014), The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck by Mark Manson (2016), Atomic Habits by James Clear (2018), Dare to Lead by Brené Brown (2019)

6. Narrative Nonfiction

What is it? Even though this category might look unfamiliar to you, it’s actually quite a broad one; it includes everything from long-form journalism to essays to interviews and more. All these stories are real, but there is a heavy emphasis on the story-telling and narrative style—in other words, “voice.” It is still different from memoir though, because it requires you to be educated in your particular niche/subject matter, not necessarily a personal story.

Who benefits the most from writing these? Because narrative nonfiction is pretty open-ended, this answer will be to. I would say that if you are knowledgeable in whatever it is you’re speaking on and know how to tell a story, then this category will suit you well.

Examples: Upstream by Mary Oliver (2016), Can’t Even by Anne Helen Petersen (2020)


⭐ Let’s keep the conversation going! Email me at lauren@laurenericksonofficial.com 

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