Learn How to Write Nonfiction: 12 Tips from The Pros
If you want to learn how to write nonfiction to help your audience solve a problem, this article is for you. As nonfiction pros will tell you, when you’re writing a problem-solving book everything in it has to be addressed to your target audience and no one else.
This not only includes your solution but also your message, your tone and your choice of words.
Your book will have to communicate and to educate, while at the same time develop a strong bond with your audience. The deeper this bond, the more effective your book will be in making a meaningful difference to their lives.
If you fall short of this goal, you run the risk of limiting your book’s appeal to just becoming a resource guide instead of the change agent that it could be.
Bestselling nonfiction sells millions of books every year because it moves its readers. On the other hand, there are countless books published every year with as good information as the bestsellers that remain in obscurity because they fail to connect with their audiences.
In this post you’ll learn 12 tips to write nonfiction like a pro. Master these tips and you’ll be able to write a book that truly matters to your audience.
How Can I Learn to Write Better?
Granted, we all know how to write. But for the most part, we only develop the writing skills that are needed for the task at hand.
When you write an email to a client, an employee or a colleague, you’ll instinctively customize your message to achieve your immediate goal. You may be trying to troubleshoot a problem, communicate a policy change or request assistance.
But it’s unlikely that you’ll be writing to influence their thinking and persuade them to take actions to improve their lives.
On the other hand, when you’re writing to an audience of nonfiction readers that you’re trying to help solve a problem, the relationship needs to become much more intimate.
It’s in learning how to develop this author-reader intimacy through the written word that you’ll become an effective nonfiction writer.
How Do I Improve My Writing Skills?
In order to developing a deep level of connection with your audience, you need to first internalize and then master the following nonfiction writing tips. Your goal is to make this knowledge become second nature through practice.
Build a Bridge Between Minds
Successful nonfiction writers are bridge builders.
They’ve formulated a solution to a problem in their minds and know that in order to be successful they need to transfer this knowledge into the minds of their readers.
Therefore, the actual words that they use have to almost be transparent to the reader. They have to write in such a way that their language is “heard but not seen.”
This is how you’ll be able to truly deliver your message in a way that makes a difference in the lives of your readers. Choose language that makes your thought transfer smooth. Choose words that communicate but stay “out of the way.”
Become an Avid Reader
Every successful author (in any genre) is an avid reader. But they don’t just read anything that comes across their desks. They’re very selective in their choices. They’ll only choose authors they can learn from.
Make it a habit to read and analyze the best nonfiction books in your field. Feel the connection that those authors have been able to create with you as a reader and then try to reverse engineer it.
Try to figure out what it is that they’re doing to build this bridge between their mind and yours to the point that the words get relegated to the background.
Take lots of notes – there’s nothing more powerful than learning from the work of masters.
Know Your Audience
Before you write a single word, you have to truly know your audience inside and out. You have to understand what it is they’re feeling in relation to the problem you’re trying to help them solve.
You need to understand their fears, their challenges, their hopes and their desires. You need to be able to put yourself in their shoes before you can figure out how to reach out to them through your writing.
If you’re trying to solve a problem that you think your readers have, but they don’t see it the same way, your message will fall on deaf ears.
So it’s imperative that you know their state of mind: what they’re prepared to hear and, more importantly, what they’re not. A naked truth can hurt and turn people off, but a truth told with empathy and compassion doesn’t hurt as much.
Write for Your Audience, Not for Your Peers
As an extension of Tip 3, make sure that your language is always addressed to your intended audience and not to an audience of colleagues.
What do I mean by that? If your book is addressed to your readers but written in language meant for your colleagues, then you’re mixing two distinct groups and you’ll end up confusing them.
If you want to communicate your solution to an audience of peers, then publish your findings separately in a professional journal or equivalent publication. Target your book to a single audience – only those you want to help.
Use Simple Language
Since the language you choose is meant to be a bridge between your mind and the minds of your readers, don’t use complex words or jargon. They’re the equivalent of stones on the road.
Be concise. If you can express the same message with fewer words, err on the side of simplicity. Remember that your words need to serve your message, not obscure it.
If your words are front and center in the minds of your readers, if they need to be deciphered in any way, if they’re confusing to your readers, your flow will be broken and your connection will suffer.
You may be proud of your message, but don’t be proud of your words. That’s a sign that your ego is getting in the way. Your readers will only care about your message and what it means to them, they won’t care about your choice of words.
Never Write to Fill Empty Space
Use only the minimum number of words necessary to communicate your message – no more and no less. Stay away from tortured logic, run-around sentences and extremely long paragraphs.
Always be conscious about using an economy of words every time you sit down to write. If there’s no more to say about a particular subject, don’t belabor it; move on to the next subject.
Write with Authenticity
The goal of nonfiction writing is to connect first and then to communicate. What allows you to communicate is your language, but what allows you to connect is your authenticity – no different that when you work with clients in your business.
So, don’t use language that could be perceived as pretentious or condescending, because it’ll make you sound insincere.
Authenticity always clears the path; insincerity clutters it.
Write to Communicate, Not to Be Interpreted
Nonfiction pros always write in clear language, even if they have multiple PhD’s and are Nobel laureates.
Even though many of them operate at very high levels of abstraction in their day-to-day jobs, when it comes to communicating their thoughts in a book, they bring themselves down to a level playing field with their target audiences.
They don’t write in a way that forces readers to interpret what they’re saying, because that would break their bond. So when you sit down to write, make sure that your thoughts are always crystal clear in the eyes of your intended audience.
Readers will simply not be able to translate complex thought patterns unless they have the level of expertise necessary to do so. Always communicate at a level they’re comfortable with.
Write the Way People Think
Whenever you write, use personable, conversational language. Don’t write in a “formal” way, such as not using any contractions or common abbreviations, because it’ll muddy your connection.
As we established in Tip 1, your book is there to create a bridge between your mind and the minds of your readers, so you need to communicate in the same way they think. Any unnecessary formalism will throw them off your mind-to-mind wavelength.
Use active verbs, refrain from using elegant or “flowery” words, refrain from using excessive adjectives or adverbs, and avoid language that’s foreign to your audience’s way of thinking.
Fact Check Before You Publish
Make sure that you thoroughly fact check any information you quote from external sources. If you don’t corroborate facts and figures before publication, rest assured your readers will, at great risk to your credibility and professional reputation.
If you don’t have time, make sure you hire a professional proofreader to do this work on your behalf.
Rewrite Until It’s Right
Make sure that you take some distance from your writing on a regular basis in order to gain perspective.
Every time you finish a complete section (a chapter, a sub-chapter or a sub-subchapter) put it aside for a few days and move on to other sections. Later on, do a full rewrite wearing your editor’s hat.
Repeat the rewriting process until you get to a point where you feel your message is solid – there are no hard and fast rules for rewriting, you’ll simply know when you’re done.
Hire a Professional Editor
Last but not least, do what every single successful writer does – hire a professional nonfiction editor to make your manuscript publication-ready.
There are several successful authors who don’t use agents and many who don’t have business managers, but all of them, without exception, have editors.
There’s good reason for this. Writers are creators; editors are wordsmiths – these are two different skill sets and both are required in order to publish a professional book.
This is of particular importance if you’re a business owner, a consultant or a coach because you’ll be putting your reputation on the line, and you want to make sure that your book – your legacy – will be of the highest quality.
Investing in a good editor will pay off for years to come.
You now know how the pros do it! Make use of the above 12 writing tips and practice them until they become second nature – you’ll then be able to create a book that’ll truly make a difference in the life of your readers.
If you’d like to learn more granular nonfiction writing skills, check out this companion article: The 10 Must-Have Writing Skills For Nonfiction Authors.
I wish the best on your journey.
If you enjoyed this article and are in the process of writing a nonfiction book, be sure to check out my free nonfiction success guide, drawn from years of experience editing books for bestselling authors (including a New York Times bestseller) and ghostwriting for CEOs and politicians. Simply click here to get instant access.
Leave me a comment below if you have any questions or a specific need that I can help you address – I operate an author services firm that specializes in helping entrepreneurs, professionals and business owners who want to publish books as a calling card for prospects, to establish their status as an expert or to just to generate additional leads for their businesses.
Here are some related articles I highly recommend:
How to Write a Compelling Book in 12 Steps: A Must-Read Guide for Nonfiction Authors
The 7 Most Effective Writing Strategies for Entrepreneurial Authors
How to Find the Perfect Writing Coach for Your Nonfiction Book
How to Become a Great Book Writer in Business Nonfiction
How to Come Up With Killer Book Titles for Your Nonfiction Book
Bennett R. Coles is an award-winning author of six books published through Harper Collins (New York) and Titan Publishing Group (London). He is also the publisher at Promontory Press, editor for multiple bestselling authors (including a NY Times bestseller), ghostwriter for CEOs and politicians and the founder of Cascadia Author Services, a boutique full-service firm that specializes in premium author services specifically designed for busy professionals. Our end-to-end services include writer coaching, ghostwriting, editing, proofing, cover design, book layout, eBook production, marketing, printing and distribution.
Leave a Reply