Keep the chaos at bay! Help readers to get the most from your book with these quick organizational tips.
Nonfiction books allow authors like you to convey your expertise about the world as it is, as it was or as it will be. While nonfiction books should aim to stay as close to the facts as possible, that doesn’t mean writing a nonfiction book is a process devoid of creativity. In fact, as a nonfiction author, it’s crucial that you organize the information in your book in the most useful and most engaging way possible for all your readers. Here are a few tips to get you started.
Open your book with a big concept, a spellbinding story, a provocative quote or anything else that will make your reading audience sit up a little straighter in their chairs. And then keep your momentum going.
Most nonfiction books begin with an Introduction section (even if it isn’t literally titled “Introduction”), which I’d recommend for your book as well. The mistake many nonfiction book authors make, however, is to use this section as a meandering warmup. Instead, your Introduction should wow readers and hook them in—giving them a reason to keep reading and turning those pages all the way to the end.
Choose Your Meat Carefully
The main content, or “meat,” of a nonfiction book is typically divided into multiple chapters and then sometimes further into subchapters. How exactly these chapters are structured, however, can determine how appetizing—and how filling—your book will be for your audience.
In fact, a well-chosen structure will help your audience better engage with your text and process the information more easily, while a poorly-chosen structure will put your readers off and can even confuse them.
Carefully consider which of the following cuts of “meat” will best satisfy your readers’ hunger for what you have to say.
First -> Second -> Third
Nonfiction books structured in chronological order begin with what happened most distantly in time, continue the narrative as the years advance and end with the most recent events. While history books and biographies are traditionally written using chronological order, they aren’t the only types of books that can make good use of this structure, nor are they themselves limited to this structure. In fact, a growing number of history books are actively choosing to eschew chronological order.
Preparation -> Execution
A process structure is similar to chronological order in that it starts at what is most commonly viewed as the beginning and advances towards the end. However, a process structure more accurately represents a recommended order rather than an absolute accounting of what actually happened. Hands-on instructional books lend themselves particularly well to a process structure.
A -> B -> C
Book structure based on alphabetic order is rigid, but rather democratic. Just look at any encyclopedia—the author is largely unable to interfere with the order in which entries will make their appearance. At the same time, this structure calls for a word of caution. The relatively random order can be off-putting to readers if your book isn’t naturally broad in scope.
Most Powerful -> Least Powerful
A hierarchical structure helps authors to easily demonstrate the dynamics of power, rank or other types of comparative measurement. Using this structure, for example, a book about corporate officers could first talk about the role of the Chief Executive Officer (CEO), then the role of the Chief Operating Officer (COO), then the role of the Chief Financial Officer (CFO) and finally the role of the Secretary.
Group 1 -> Group 2 -> Group 3
A nonfiction book organized around categories groups together similar elements. However, authors often use this structure for the convenience of the reader when the overarching topic doesn’t easily lend itself to other structures. For example, an advanced furniture making book might have a chapter on chairs and a chapter on cabinets, with each chapter detailing individual designs.
Wrap Up, Encourage the Reader
When the meat of the book is gone, you’re not done yet; it’s time to reward the reader with a little coffee and dessert. Tie everything in your book together, make further connections and incite the reader to keep going, keep thinking and not stop there.
Most nonfiction books end with a Conclusion section (even if it isn’t literally titled “Conclusion”). However, many nonfiction books make the mistake of just summarizing everything they’ve already said. That’s boring and nowadays perhaps even a little disrespectful to the reader. Good nonfiction books should leave the reader satisfied, yet still hungry to know more.
Good nonfiction books serve as beacons of knowledge with the power to teach, inspire and entertain readers in subjects such as history, science, economy, business, biography, music, art, literary criticism, religion, sociology, technology or your domain of choice. How will you be sharing your knowledge with the world?
Dudley Court Press
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For more information, including about DCP’s programs for writers including Writers’ Sprint, Memoir Writing Made Easy and Aspiring Author to Published Pro, please get in touch at publisher@DudleyCourtPress.com.