7 Key Writing Strategies Used by Bestselling Nonfiction Authors
As someone running your own business, you need the best writing strategies available to write your book because time is always in short supply. You want a book to grow your business, to attract more prospects and to increase your profile, but you don’t want to spin your wheels in the process.
So you do a Google search for the best writing strategies, only to find that most articles are addressed to bloggers, students and fiction writers. To your surprise, there’s next to nothing for entrepreneurial authors who want to write a nonfiction book.
I’ve written this article with you in mind, because busy business people need to be able to quickly find actionable writing strategies that produce results, and there’s no better blueprint to follow than that of bestselling nonfiction authors.
What Are Effective Writing Strategies for Nonfiction?
Strategies for good, professional nonfiction writing are quite different from those for any other kinds, such as creative, historical or autobiographical nonfiction.
As a professional, business owner, consultant or coach, you make your living by solving problems for your clients and your nonfiction book will reflect this.
As a result, your book will be written with one goal in mind: to solve a problem for your readers – you won’t be describing events (historical nonfiction), you won’t be sharing the emotional journey of a fictional character (creative nonfiction), and you won’t be sharing your life path in detail (autobiographical nonfiction).
Instead, you’ll be devoting your book to understanding, commiserating with, empathizing with and enlightening your audience while solving a painful long-term problem that they suffer from. Your book will be for them, but above all, it’ll be about them.
The writing strategies required to achieve this goal must allow your readers to “see” themselves in your book. More specifically, you’ll be targeting your writing to a single member of your audience – each person reading your book.
The main goal behind your writing is to establish a one-to-one connection with a single member of your audience (each reader), and to use this channel of communication to solve a painful problem they have. If you do this right, you’ll have a successful book in your hands.
What Are The Different Types of Writing Strategies?
Below you’ll learn the seven most effective strategies for writing a problem-solving nonfiction book:
1) Define Your Book’s Main Idea
The key to a successful problem-solving nonfiction book is to focus on a single problem. If you are in a multi-faceted profession, where you’re trained to solve a number of different problems, you’ll need to choose a specific niche to tackle.
If you try to solve many problems with your book, you’ll end up confusing your audience, or worse yet, you’ll be addressing multiple audiences and breaking the “audience of one” rule.
If you think a single problem is too limiting for you, given your wealth of experience, then you could write a series of books which each address a unique sub-niche.
Now it’s time to choose your book’s main idea. Choose a single, very painful problem to solve that a significant number of people have. You don’t have to search far to find it – begin by looking at your own clients: what’s the largest group of clients that have benefited from your solutions? Begin there.
2) Map Out Your Knowledge
Now, it’s time to get your relevant knowledge downloaded from your brain onto the page. You’re not writing your book yet; you’re simply dumping the information you need to write about from your memory bank onto a chart in order to organize it for your book.
One very effective technique to achieve this goal is Mind Mapping (read my companion article How to Use a Mind Map to Create a great Book for your Business for detailed instructions). This technique will allow you to easily “map out” the knowledge you hold in your brain by emulating the same technique that it uses to store and recall information.
When your mind map is completed, you’ll have a chart that will have your book’s main idea at the center, connected to all of the relevant information needed to write it.
3) Create Your Book Outline
The next step is to turn your mind map into an outline for your book. This outline will be the precursor of your book’s table of contents and it’ll contain the topics for your chapters, sub-chapters and sub-sub-chapters.
Your outline will also contain background information in bullet points that will act as the prompts for you to begin writing the different book sections (for more details, ready my article: How to Create a Book Outline Step-By-step: A Guide for Entrepreneurs).
Your book outline will be the most important part of your book project because it’ll become the roadmap to get your ideas organized before you begin your writing journey. It’s the foundation upon which your house will be built.
If this foundation is weak the house will collapse, so it’s critical that you get this part right. If your outline isn’t structured in a way that’ll make sense to your “audience of one,” then they’ll become confused and lose interest in your book.
Not only does your nonfiction book need to solve a painful, long-standing problem for your audience, but it also has to be structured in a way that takes them through a journey that makes logical sense to them.
To keep your reader engaged, you must have a clear roadmap so they can understand where it is they’re going to be taken. If “How am I going to get there?” is answered by the content of your book, then “Where am I going?” is answered by your book’s outline.
4) Create Your Audience’s Avatar
Now that you have a fully fleshed-out roadmap, it’s time to focus on your audience.
As I stated before, for a problem-solving nonfiction book to be truly effective, you’ll have to address it to an “audience of one.” You’re clearly targeting your book to an audience of many, though, who you hope will one day become clients of yours.
So how do you solve this paradox? By creating an “avatar” of your ideal customer and addressing your book to this one person. What do I mean by an avatar? I mean a composite of the many prospects that make up your book’s audience.
For example, you may find that the ideal target audience for your book is made up of women 35-50 years old afflicted by a specific problem. Next, you have to research this group to find out their challenges, fears, hopes and dreams and then create a profile for a single composite person that encapsulates all of this information.
Finally, you give this composite person a name, age and a profession, you describe their status (married, single, divorced, widowed) and their living situation: are they homeowners, how much do they earn? Do they have children? How many? What are their ages, names, education level, etc.? Do they have pets? Do they have hobbies? You now get a headshot from a free stock photo website and paste onto your profile.
This will be your avatar. Whenever you write your book you’ll be addressing this person directly in the second person, you’ll be empathizing with them and you’ll be solving their problem.
Now, what do you do if your audience is composed partly of women 35-50 but also partly of men in the same age group? Then you have to create two distinct avatars, one for each gender. However, when you write your book you’ll still address it to an “audience of one.” You just have to be thinking about these two avatars at the same time, so your book will no longer be gender-specific (which shouldn’t be a problem since you’ll be writing it in the second person).
In other words, whenever your avatar “Jim” reads the book, he’ll have to believe that you’re having a conversation just with him, and whenever your avatar “Susan” reads it she has to think exactly the same thing.
5) Tune into WIIFM (“What’s In It For Me?”)
You have your book’s outline and your avatar (or avatars), so now it’s time to tune into WIIFM. When people read a problem-solving nonfiction book there’s only one question in their minds: What’s in it for me?
If your book doesn’t address this question every step of the way – that is, if your book veers off from your audience at any point – there’s a strong chance you’ll lose them.
Make sure that as you write you’re always making your avatar or avatars front and center and that you use language such as:
Don’t share a client’s story unless your audience can relate to them and their experiences. Don’t talk about yourself, your experience and your credentials unless you do it in relation to your audience and how they’ll benefit from this information.
Any part of your book that doesn’t directly address your reader’s needs will become a roadblock. After a number of these they’ll quickly lose interest in your book.
Now, you may think that this is selfish behavior, but think about how you behave yourself whenever someone presents you with new information for your consideration. As busy as you are, the first thing that subconsciously comes to mind when you assess whether this is worth your time or not is: what’s in it for me?
6) Write Using Your Authentic Voice
When you begin writing your book, make sure you write with the same authenticity that you use when you communicate with clients in person.
Being inauthentic during the course of your business would naturally be the death knell of client trust. But writing is likely a foreign way for you to conduct business. So, when you do, it’s critical that you make a concerted effort to come across as “yourself” on the page as you do in person.
Don’t try to disguise your personality by using an academic tone, or by trying to sound like a “guru on a mountaintop.” Your audience will quickly detect your lack of authenticity and be turned off by it. Perhaps they’ll feel your writing is condescending, or maybe authoritative but they’ll perceive you as unreachable.
Your goal when communicating as an author/expert is to solve a problem for your audience in a way they feel is attainable. Don’t be afraid to be vulnerable and tell your audience how you struggled with the very same issue in your own past.
Successful writers always bare their souls onto the page. That’s how they’re able to connect so well with their audience (successful musicians do the same). So, be honest, be authentic, be vulnerable, and never hide behind your writing.
7) Get Feedback
Finally, make sure you get feedback on your writing from early on. There’s nothing worse than pouring your heart and soul into a book only to discover when it’s finished that it doesn’t resonate with your audience. You thought you knew how they felt, but you never bothered to check with them first.
From the book outline stage onward, create an advance group or readers from member of your audience – they could be current or past clients, acquaintances, someone referred by a colleague, etc.
Share with them a simplified version of your outline to see if your roadmap needs to be adjusted, and also share with them each chapter as you complete it.
This feedback will prove extremely valuable and will inform your writing in fresh new ways. This step is critical to align your message with your audience and will result in a much more refined and effective end product.
Naturally, you need to choose people you trust who’ll provide you with honest feedback. Family and friends may provide valuable feedback, but you should take it with a grain of salt. Often times, their feedback will be toned down because they want to support you while not hurting your feelings. People you trust that are at arms-length will prove a better fit for your advance reading group.
You now have the strategies you need to embark on your nonfiction book-writing journey. If you’re ready to begin, I’ve created a article that compiles the ten writing skills successful nonfiction authors rely on to create great book after great book. It’s entitled: The 10 Must-Have Writing Skills for Nonfiction Authors, and it’ll help you gain in-depth knowledge about the specific writing techniques these authors use to great effect in order to connect with their audiences.
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 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.