Three steps to making your first nonfiction book a success.
Fiction books fascinate and entertain, but nonfiction books inform, instruct and inspire, as well as entertain. This is why nonfiction books usually sell many more copies around the world than fiction books do, as people constantly want to upgrade their skills, expand their knowledge and learn more about the world around them.
In fiction writing, plot and style are key to an author’s success, but in nonfiction writing, there is no plot per se and style is a secondary element. Instead, the right factual information is what helps make a nonfiction book a success. To show you what I mean, today I’d like to share with you the three keys to writing a great nonfiction book.
A Clear Path
Every nonfiction book should have a coherent topic and serve a clear purpose, whether it’s a work of history, journalism, biography, science, etc.
You’ll need to create a clear path for your readers to achieve their goals, starting with the table of contents. Decide on what each chapter will cover, which can then serve as your outline to begin writing. When taken together, your chapters will form a complete narrative, satisfying your readers’ thirst for knowledge.
While you may know a lot about your topic and may be tempted to pack everything in there, you need to consider questions like:
- What do people who want to know more about this topic actually need to know, or want to know?
- How much knowledge about the topic will they have prior to reading this book?
- What purpose will your book serve for them?
- Will it actually help them do what they’re trying to do?
There’s no reason to confuse relative beginners to your topic with more advanced concepts that they won’t need yet, or bore more advanced readers by starting at ground level.
Your job is to lay out the dots for readers and then connect them. Don’t be afraid to aid readers by defining words or concepts, or by providing brief summaries of important events. Keep in mind that readers are there to learn new things from you. Keep it lean and mean but don’t disappoint.
One of the foundations of writing a nonfiction book is, inescapably, research, research, research! No matter who you are or how much you know about your topic, additional research will help you to flesh out your book, better put it into context and appropriately cite your sources. After all, an author’s attempts at veracity are what separates nonfiction from fiction.
You might decide to illuminate parts of your text with quotes from speeches and source interviews. You can easily access journals and other resources online today. Just don’t confine your research to Wikipedia!
Some people like to keep their research in folders and binders, highlighting particularly important sections and making additional notes in pencil or pen. Others like to keep everything in a Word document or using Evernote on their computer. No matter how you decide to keep yourself organized, make sure that you are methodical in your approach and can always find what you’re looking for at a moment’s notice. There’s nothing worse than finding the perfect quote to reinforce one of your points but being unable to figure out who said it or where it came from! Be sure to capture the proper citations for your research as you’re doing the research. It’s much easier than trying to document your sources at a later date.
Nonfiction writing needs to be as accurate and as authoritative as possible. To help do that, it’s important to beef up your credibility as an author and your authority as an expert. When a reader wonders, “Why should I trust this person’s information about this topic?” you’ll have a supportive answer at the ready.
Depending on your book’s topic and the credentials you already have, you may simply need to highlight them for your author biography and your book promotion materials and activities. This may include academic credentials, work experience, etc. Or this may mean actively taking steps to build your credibility as author, such as giving speeches and classes related to the topic of the book or a specific aspect of it. The most important thing is to bolster your position as an expert on this topic, starting as early as possible.
With these three ideas under your belt, you should now be off to a great start this year for writing your nonfiction book.
Dudley Court Press
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