Make Your Nonfiction Book More Reader Friendly

Confession: I rarely read nonfiction books (except the ones I edit, of course). I’m such a voracious fiction reader, I just don’t have the time. But I edit nonfiction more than fiction, and I’m really good at it.

Some books I edit, I think, “Yeah, I would enjoy reading that.” Others, I am like, “Even if I had time to read nonfiction more, I would not enjoy this one.”

So what’s the difference between the books this nonfiction editor would read and those she wouldn’t?

Well, I would read the good ones. So you gotta write a good one. Simple, right?

If you’re going to write a nonfiction book, write a good one.

Okay, not helpful.

So let’s look at what makes a nonfiction book more reader friendly because truly the readers are the ones who decide if the book is good or not.


Share Stories


Everyone loves stories. Readers and nonreaders alike. While those non-book-readers may not be reading novels, they are watching and hearing stories in movies/TV, social media, and conversations with friends.

I stared this blog with a mini story. I’m not saying it is the most engaging story—because it isn’t. But still, it is a story. A much better start than “Let’s talk about how to make your book more reader friendly.” Or “Some nonfiction books are not engaging and are hard to read. You want yours to be engaging.”

Nothing wrong with those statements, but my mini confessional story is a stronger start. 

Now don’t run wild with this and turn your nonfiction book into a memoir (unless, of course, it is a memoir), but share your stories, share others’ stories, share stories you’ve heard or read about.

You don’t need to turn them into novel-worthy stories, written fully out in scenes with dialogue and narrative summary and action beats and all that. Just share aspects of your or others’ life that relate to the topic.

Writing a medial how-to or self-help book? Share successful and nonsuccessful case studies.

Writing a how-to guide? Share yours and others’ successes and failures.

Writing a religious guide book? Share how people’s lives changed for the better.


If you struggle with this, follow Jonathan Jordan on Linkedin. He is all about helping people find their inner storyteller. He finds stories in everything and always writes in story format, and guess what? He blends storytelling lessons from both fiction and nonfiction.


Don’t Be Too Academic


If your audience is the general public, avoid jargon and toss out much of what you learned about writing in your English classes or your major classes in college.

Look, I’m a former English teacher. My writing instruction was valuable. And a lot of what I taught can be applied to writing a book. But forget the essay paragraph structure.

Don’t begin your chapters with a thesis statement, or worse, “This chapter is about [insert quick overview of every subtopic in the chapter].” And don’t end each chapter with a conclusion that restates the thesis “Now that you’ve learned about XYZ …”

I delete that kind of content when I’m editing nonfiction manuscripts. Now, this doesn’t mean you can’t begin the chapter with a type of overview and end with a chapter summary (my blog ends with an example of a non-academic summary). But if they’re worded like how you would state it in an essay, then just no.

This takes readers back to their English days, and many students say, “English class is boring.” (Except, of course, not my students. After all, I tap danced and rapped for them.)

Just avoid anything that is reminiscent of an essay or textbook.

If you’re a doctor, pastor, lawyer, CEO, a whatever, do not write for your audience like they’re your colleagues. Unless, of course, your colleagues are your audience.

Every industry has terms that only those in the industry will understand. If you need the audience to know that term, then use it and explain what it means.

I’ve edited a few medical self-help books that were written like an article in a peer-reviewed journal. My brain hurt. I couldn’t make sense of their message without rereading and eating sugar.

Plain language editors are a thing now. Ain’t nobody wanna read your dry, technical book. They already had to do that in school.

Make sure some of your alpha readers are unfamiliar with your industry and see if they can make sense of your manuscript.

I have had authors who, in an attempt to avoid being academic, haven’t cited their sources. Yeah, don’t do that.

Cite your sources.

But if you want to avoid the look of formal citations, you can just have a resources consulted list with links to the online books and sources you used. Of course, that only works in an ebook.

In a print book, you will need some detail beyond the title so interested parties can find it.

No plagiarism here. Cite your sources!   

And on that note, do use sources.

Bring in information from other authorities or non-authorities. Don’t let your voice be the only voice.


Use Visuals

Look as an aphant, I don’t do visuals. Don’t know what an aphant is? Look it up!

Just kidding! I used jargon so I gotta explain it. An aphant is someone who can’t visualize in their mind.

You all who can do that are from some strange SciFi world. I don’t get it.

Anyway, I’m not a visual learner. I usually have a harder time interpreting visuals than words.

But I’m the minority.

According to an article in the Cognitive Brain Research journal, roughly 65% of the population are visual learners. (Look I cited my source with a link. Did that scare you? Too academic? I bet not.)

The visuals don’t have to be actual pictures and graphics. Not all book topics will lend themselves to visuals and graphics.

If your topic could be shown in a graphic or visual, by all means do so.

But guess what? Words can be turned into graphics. Now those are the kind of graphics I like. 😀

This just adds visual interest to the page.


Include the Reader

Let’s be real: people can be inherently selfish. When you bring them into the book, they will be more engaged.

Make it about them more than it is about you.

You can do this in many ways.

A simple way to include the reader is just by including them in the pronouns you use.

Using “we” includes the reader in your experiences.

Of course, when you’re telling your story, it is disingenuous to use “we,” and it is okay to use “I.” However, if in that story there is anything universal, switch to “we.”

Example of using “we” while writing a story


Let’s say I tell a story about my experience writing blogs. I could start the story with this line: “We business owners don’t always have the time to blog.”

Then my unique story uses I.

After the story, I could end with a “we” statement too: “While not every strategy is for everyone, we have to start experimenting and trying things we aren’t excited about.”

Even more powerful than “we” is “you.”

“You” speaks directly to the reader.

When you’re stating lessons and action steps, “you” is more powerful than “we.”

So instead of ending that story in the previous example with a “we” statement, “you” would be more powerful:

“While not every strategy is for everyone, you have to start experimenting and trying things you aren’t excited about.”

In your manuscript, do a search for “you” and see how many instances you have. Do a search for “I” and see how many instances you have.

Is it unbalanced? If so, add more “you” in there.

You can also include the reader by giving them something to do.

This could mean giving them specific action steps or asking them questions that prompt them to write down the answer. Don’t just pose the question, provide space for the answer.

Even if they have your ebook and can’t write their answer directly in the book, providing the space lets the reader know you’re serious about wanting them to actually write an answer down.


Start with Why

Making your book more reader friendly starts at the very inception of the book: you gotta know why you’re writing the book.

This advice comes from Jordan Ring’s forthcoming book Nonfiction Alchemy. In it, he says,

“So, why are you writing your book? Answer this for yourself and your project. If you discover your why for writing, it will push you forward when the going gets tough. Make sure the reason is realistic and not bound to factors outside of your control. …

“Whether your goal is to make money, help others, or reflect, reevaluate your reason for writing. Find a reason for your book that makes you write no matter how it feels to write on any given day. Have a strong why for writing your book that goes beyond a delusional aspiration of becoming a NY Times bestseller. A driving purpose is how you stay motivated throughout the long and arduous writing process.”

So that advice is solid, but what does it have to do with making your book more reader friendly? Well, if you have a strong reason for writing your book that keeps pushing you forward, you’re going to write better content.

If your reason for writing your book isn’t very motivating, you may end up writing some useless content just to get the book finished. When you lose the passion for the subject, it shows in your writing.

Why should the reader care about your book if you don’t even care about your book?

A strong why, keeps the passion apparent throughout the whole book. And that speaks to readers.

So right now, write down your why for writing your book and keep it on your desk (or wherever you write).


Conclusion

Now I’m not saying that this blog is award-winning. But I can say it is more reader friendly than one written by AI.

Not sure if you noticed, but I used all the strategies in this blog.

  • Shared stories: didn’t have time for long stories since it’s a blog, not a book, but I sprinkled in mini stories (A tap-dancing, rapping English teacher is a story.)
  • Avoided being too academic: didn’t use jargon that I didn’t define, didn’t use the standard paragraph essay structure, but did cite my sources
  • Used visuals: my visual wasn’t anything fancy. But notice how I put examples in a box. This adds a visual element.
  • Included the reader: used “you” throughout and included a few action steps at the end of the tips
  • Start with why: my why for writing my blogs is twofold—help people improve their writing to reduce the cost of editing and establish myself as an expert.

If you’ve got a current WIP, stop and figure out your why, then make sure you got all these elements.

If you don’t, before you begin, figure out your why, then think about how you can incorporate these elements into your manuscript.

 

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About Me

With a passion for words, collecting quotes, and reading books, I love all things writing related. I will admit to having a love-hate relationship with writing as I am constantly critical, but I feel a grand sense of accomplishment spending hours editing my own writing.

Lest you think I don’t have much of a life, I should add I also enjoy dancing, singing, acting, eating out, and spending quality time with my husband and adorable kids.

I’m pretty cool. And you may want to be my friend. But in order for that to happen, you will need to know more about me than this tiny box allows.

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