When you begin to revise your nonfiction book, first and foremost, you will need to nail down 3 essential elements that will make your book both saleable and valuable to readers.
1. Hook the reader’s attention straight away and hold it by using the same opening structure journalists use
2. Construct each paragraph- and chapter as a whole- to travel forward with purpose toward clarity and insight
3. Reference only smart, successful associates and colleagues, verifiable research, and businesses you trust and know.
In our previous blog, Part 9: A Revision Editing Checklist for Your Nonfiction Book Is A Game Changer, I share a comprehensive revision checklist designed for people editing their own nonfiction books.
(In case you missed it, I’ve included the sign up below so you can receive the checklist straight to your inbox!)
The downloadable checklist takes small business owners, freelancers, and writers working on nonfiction books through the various areas of the draft, so you have a specific guideline and framework for revising your work.
Even with this checklist, however, if you’re not a trained editor, you may not know which of the items of business are more “important” to attend to and sculpt during your initial revision (or substantive edit).
The following 3 are key. Nail these, and your book will have the authority, viability, and purpose to get sold and find a strong readership.
1. The Hook and Introduction
As you are well aware, given that your book has stiff competition, you will need to ensure the opening of the nonfiction book you’re writing to support your business engages your reader instantly. Practically speaking, if you’re aiming for traditional publishing, you need that poor tired editor who is inundated with manuscripts (typically hundreds per week) to see the spark in your work, its saleability, and marketability in the first paragraph or two because if they don’t, they will pass on your project.
I’d say something like “no pressure!” but, no, really: it’s a ton of pressure.
If you plan to self publish, you still have to meet the criteria of a discerning audience whose attention can make or break your project. Like bounce rate on your blogs or web pages (whereby you have between 10-20 seconds before your reader decides to stay or go), bounce rate for a book is equally as deleterious: fewer personal recommendations, crummy reviews, and lacklustre sales.
First: The Hook
Make your introduction stand out with something only you can say and said in a way only you can say it. This is called your “hook” (for obvious reasons). Anecdotes, statistics, or fresh prose (writing) are great hooky openers.
Consider these first lines and their effect on you:
“Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”
~ Michael Pollan, The Omnivore’s Dilemma
“We are going to die, and that makes us the lucky ones.”
~ Richard Dawkins, Unweaving The Rainbow
“The great English novelists are Jane Austen, George Eliot, Henry James and Joseph Conrad.”
~ FR Leavis, The Great Tradition
“We were somewhere around Barstow, on the edge of the desert, when the drugs began to take hold.”
~ Hunter S Thompson, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
This is a sample of styles: imperative (the author telling you what to do in short no-nonsense sentences), making declarative bold assertions, and using suspense, setting, concrete nouns, and a narrative voice to begin an anecdote.
Second: The Introduction
After the hook, you will quickly move into the journalist’s 5 WH questions as you explain what your readers will gain and why it’s going to change them, thus sealing the deal and holding them for the entire book (in this order):
1: The hook
A bit of homework: read the opening lines of these 60 books to see what the authors have done. Make notes: what do you like and why, and what don’t you like and why. What style of opening would work for your nonfiction book?
First line of That Time I Loved You, Carrianne Leung
2. Chapter Design: the ice cream cone method
Western* nonfiction writing is built upon the ice cream cone method: begin each chapter (and each paragraph that begins a new series of paragraphs) with the widest part of the cone (the main idea), and gradually become more specific in your scope and focus with examples, anecdotes, facts, general research, statistics, and case studies whose purpose is to back up or support the main idea you put forth at the top of the graph or chapter.
The ice cream cone construction is designed to bring the reader into the fold of the issue; subsequent supporting ideas then prove or unpack that issue for the reader as you strive for clarity, insight, and education.
Have a look at each of your chapters- toward the top, there should be an assertion of some kind followed by text that seeks to clarify and support that assertion. Note the groupings of paragraphs in each chapter, and make sure they follow a similar pattern.
Now, can you upend this? You betcha. After all, patterns become boring after a while, and the last thing you want to do is lull your reader to sleep.
What’s important is you maintain a mindful and artful architecture and forward-moving flow while balancing stylistic usages to keep the reader’s eye and brain engaged:
- Turn the cone upside down and start with examples that lead (aaaaand bam!) to the main idea
- Sprinkle anecdotes and research throughout to keep the eye engaged, meanwhile giving all those supportive bits of text a “narrative arc” or the opportunity to develop as a sub-purpose of their own.
As long as you’re mindfully aware of the progression of your paragraphs and chapters as a whole, each striving toward forward momentum, clarity, and deeper insight, you’ll keep your reader along for the ride.
*If you are writing for another country’s market, note how those cultures approach nonfiction writing and adapt your style accordingly to meet that market’s reading expectations.
3. Keeping Careful Company
You are judged based on the company you keep, and your audience’s perception of your brand is enhanced by the brands to which you refer. If in your book you reference Bob, Bob had better be a solid performer in your field (and a nice guy as well). The same holds true for all facts and stats, any additional references, quotes, and case studies. Aim for those parties whose business values and purposes align with yours– who make you look good by association.
Additionally, you are part of a community in your field, and collaborating with and featuring colleagues or fellow business owners will engender goodwill and foster future relationships and reciprocity. The same as would apply for a blog post: any business you reference, link to, or recommend will potentially do the same for you applies here. Except in this case, your book is forever (or until you revise and reprint as a 2nd edition) and those references are not so easily changed, so exercise due diligence before using any other business in your book.
Once you’ve nailed these 3 essentials in your revision, you’re well on your way toward having a saleable nonfiction book project.
To ensure you’re on the right track for your overall revision process, download our FREE revision checklist below. (To augment it, here are a few other checklists that speak to additional areas of the revision process):
- General start-to-finish checklist that provides an overview of items to note as you write the book for your business
- A detailed checklist for the various types of edit, such as fact-checking and what to look for when proofreading.
Editing Assistance at One Lit Place
If at any time you feel it would be valuable to outsource any aspect of the development, revision, editing, proofreading of your book, or you’d like some general coaching, support and guidance as you go through this process, please be in touch. That’s what we’re for: to help writers meet their goals.