In order to self-publish with success a work of nonfiction, you can follow a clear path that has been charted and refined over the years by many successful authors.
Nonfiction is a well-developed genre with a number of best practices that facilitate the connection between authors and readers in a way that produces tangible results.
In this article I’ll show you the key best practices that you’ll need to implement throughout the writing and editing stages of your manuscript.
For your book to work in the nonfiction market, you’ll need to be able to target it like a laser beam. Before you write a single line of text you have to know exactly who will get the most value from your content, why, and also how you’ll get them to buy into your ideas.
Best Practice 1: Know Your Audience
If you’re writing your book to expand the reach of your business or your professional practice, your target audience will most likely resemble your current clients.
Since you’ll be connecting with them through the written word, though, you won’t be able to rely on body language to facilitate communication.
So to make up for this deficit you’ll need to get to know them much more intimately than when you deal with them in person.
You’ll have to learn not only who they are in terms of demographics, but you’ll also have to know about their hopes and dreams and what keeps them up at night (which your book will naturally help them take care of!).
The more you know about your audience, the better you’ll be able to connect with them through your writing. Your goal is to make them feel like you’re a friend who understands them and wants to help them improve their lives.
Best Practice 2: Solve Their Problem
This leads us to the main goal of your nonfiction book. For your book to find success, not only do you have to know your audience intimately, but you need to solve a big problem for them.
You need to know what their biggest challenge is that overlaps with your area of expertise and then you need to come up with a unique solution that’ll solve that problem once and for all.
Now, the key for success is to help them deal with a problem that creates a high level of psychological pain. If your audience’s pain is only mild, their motivation to seek out your book will be diminished.
If you were to measure their pain from a scale of 1 to 10, you want to be able to address a problem in the 8-10 range. That way, your unique solution will become much more valuable in your audience’s eyes.
Best Practice 3: Outline Your Book
Once you found the key problem to solve and clearly defined your unique solution, it’s time to put pen to paper – but don’t start writing your book yet!
First, you need to create an outline to map out how your book is going to be structured, and the information that’ll fill out this outline isn’t something that needs to come out of thin air.
All this information is already stored in your brain, accumulated through years of skill development and experience practicing in your field.
Now, this information is not yet in “book form,” so you’ll need to use a technique called “mind mapping” to download it from your head onto a diagram that can then be turned into a book outline.
Once your outline is fully fleshed out, you’ll be able to begin writing in earnest by simply expanding on each of its sections until your manuscript is complete.
To learn how to mind map your book, read the following article: How to Use a Mind Map to Create a Great Book for Your Business? To turn your mind map into your book outline, read the following article: How to Create a Book Outline Step-By-Step: A Guide for Nonfiction Writers.
Now that you’ve completed your manuscript, it’s time to begin the process of polishing it in order to turn it into a proper nonfiction book.
However, this isn’t something that you can do on your own. You’ll need to enlist the help of professional editors to turn your book from a diamond in the rough into a beautiful jewel.
Even the most successful and accomplished authors need editors to help them with their books. As the author you’re just too close to your work and you’ll need a pair of trained eyes to look at it subjectively.
Editing is quite a complex process, requiring different editors that specialize in different aspects of the craft. Below, you’ll learn the best editing practices that the pros use to produce great book after great book.
Best Practice 4: Developmental Editing
This is the first editing stage for successful nonfiction books. A developmental editor will take care of the overall structure of your manuscript – the 30,000-foot view.
Their job is to show you at a high level which aspects of your book will work for your target audience and which aspects will fail to connect with them. Then they’ll make the necessary recommendations so that you can fix those problems.
Perhaps your chapters are fine in and of themselves but they’re not in the right order to achieve an optimal flow of ideas. Or perhaps some of your reasoning has logical flaws that need to be corrected.
This is the area of expertise of developmental editors. They’ll help you right the ship before any time is committed to lower-level editing tasks.
Best Practice 5: Content Editing
The job of the content editor is to take over from the developmental editor by shifting the focus from overall book structure to readability and style.
They’ll make suggestions to improve your clarity such as shortening unnecessarily long paragraphs and splitting up run-on sentences.
Also, they’ll make sure that all graphical elements, such as images, tables, charts, diagrams, etc. are correctly placed to support your text so that they don’t end up confusing your reader.
Best Practice 6: Copyediting and Proofreading
The final two editing stages used by the pros are copyediting and proofreading. The copyeditor will take the reins from where the content editor left off and shift the focus once again, this time to linguistic and factual accuracy.
They’ll correct spelling, punctuation and grammatical errors. They’ll also take care of syntax, capitalization and hyphenation errors. They’ll check for proper use of language, identify any anomalies and check for inconsistencies.
Finally, they’ll flag any potential legal issues with your content, such as statements that could be interpreted as libelous, unintended infringement to other people’s copyrights and trademarks, and so on.
Now that you’ve produced top-notch content for your target audience through your manuscript, you’ll need to package it into a book that looks and feels as professional as its content.
Your goal now will be to meet the expectations of the nonfiction market when it comes to your book layout and your book cover design. To this end, you’ll need to hire professional book designers to help you nail these two critical tasks.
To steer you in the right direction, I’ve created a couple of companion articles that will help you understand the key requirements of book design so you can make a good hiring decision: 10 Nonfiction Book Layout Tips That Will Glue Your Audience to the Page and 5 Book Cover Maker Mistakes to Avoid When Designing a Nonfiction Cover.
If you enjoyed this article and are in the process of self-publishing 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.
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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.