Undertaking any big project, but especially a book is a daunting proposition. The way to make it less scary is to have a map for the journey, and ideally, some experienced fellow travelers to ride shotgun—friends who know the road well and can help you make it to your destination. That’s what we are aiming to provide.
We’re two editors with over twenty years of experience between us, writing and editing many types of nonfiction. In the pages that follow, we distill some of the lessons we’ve learned in the trenches applying Shawn Coyne’s Story Grid methodology to the work of our clients, all of whom are leveling up their skills as nonfiction writers.
We’ve chosen to use several masterworks—with the most considerable emphasis on The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin and In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan—as the maps to guide us throughout What’s the Big Idea?
Although Baldwin and Pollan write on different topics and in different styles over half a century apart, both men had an enormous cultural impact. They extended that influence to a broad popular audience with these works. We could have chosen many other titles, and we’ll include examples from some others where it’s helpful.
After reading this short, macro-principles primer, you may want to take a microscopic dive into Big Idea nonfiction by looking at The Story Grid Masterwork Guide to Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point, which provides a scene-by-scene analysis of another exemplary title. We hope you’ll be inspired to find your own favorite masterworks to learn from and apply Story Grid Methodology yourself. We’ll provide some tips on how to do that too.
With Baldwin and Pollan as our touchstones, we’ve organized this book around a series of questions and answers that will explain how and why Big Idea books work.
About the Author
SHELLEY SPERRY is a Story Grid Certified Editor, writer, and researcher based in Alexandria, Virginia. She used to work at National Geographic, so she thinks every book is better if it has a cool map, a dramatic landscape, or a lot of penguins. As a writer and researcher, Shelley works with nonprofit and business clients on environmental, labor, and education topics. As an editor, she specializes in nonfiction, helping authors tell true stories about the world. She agrees with Barbara Kingsolver, that "revision is where fine art begins." You can find her online at SperryEditorial.com.
SHAWN COYNE created, developed, and expanded the story analysis and problem-solving methodology The Story Grid throughout his quarter-century-plus book publishing career. A seasoned story editor, book publisher and ghostwriter, Coyne has also co-authored The Ones Who Hit the Hardest: The Steelers, The Cowboys, the '70s and the Fight For America's Soul with Chad Millman and Cognitive Dominance: A Brain Surgeon's Quest to Out-Think Fear with Mark McLaughlin, M.D. With his friend and editorial client Steven Pressfield, Coyne runs Black Irish Entertainment LLC, publisher of the cult classic book The War of Art. With his friend and editorial client Tim Grahl, Coyne oversees the Story Grid Universe, LLC, which includes Story Grid University and Story Grid Publishing.