9 Non-Fiction Writing Tips

 

Over the thirty years I’ve been involved in book publishing and book retail, I found that certain tidbits of advice seem to always float to the top. I’m asked all the time about how to be published or how to start writing and these ten answers or pieces of advice resurface time and time again. Here goes:

  1. Why your story? I’m not being mean, just factual. Everyone has a story to tell and about 5% of those people have actually written a book or shot a DVD that tells the story. So, what makes your story unique and remarkable? If you can’t tell me quickly and effortlessly, then please put on some imagination. Chances are it’s been done before so find a better, more unique, more remarkable way to say it.
  2. Yes, there is competition. This point expands the first one a bit. Many (maybe most) first-time writers who come to me think, “There’s no competition to my book/story.” Well, I’m sorry, there is. Just go to Amazon, type in some key words and look at all of the titles that are there. So, don’t put your head in the sand about competition or other books. Instead, show me what makes your book/story/teaching unique. What is your differentiation? Take on competition and tell me why your book should be featured and not the others.
  3. Writing a book is not like writing a term paper. Please don’t start your book or your proposal with weak sentences, weak verbs or “my story is about.” It’s not a term paper, it’s a book. Even non-fiction books need page-turning moments and excitement for the reader.
  4. Know your reader. The line I hear most often is “everybody needs this book.” In reality, they don’t. A certain, well-defined segment of the population may need your book. Define them and know them intimately. Write to them and their hearts. Write how they want it to sound—if it’s a scholarly work; write as a scholar. If it’s a popular book, write it to that audience. There’s no right or wrong but you need to know them and write to them. When I write I develop a person in my mind and think I’m writing a letter to him or her. I pick out characteristics of their personality and I try my best to write straight to their hearts.
  5. Get outside opinions. Just because Uncle Harry loves your book doesn’t mean it’s going to sell millions. And, just because you spoke to an audience at the local library and they loved the topic doesn’t mean a book will sell either. Sure three people may have told you it was great, but how many walked out without saying a word? Let someone who may need the book read it that has no connection to you. Let a teacher at your local High School or college read it. Be open to the truth, flexible and keep honing it.
  6. When in doubt, cut it out. Save the detail for when you do a seminar or speak on the topic. Today’s reader faces a lot of distractions. Give them what they need and move on.
  7. Stay on your premise or your promise. Many book covers, back covers and synopsis offer the reader a promise or a premise. Don’t meander around it—stay in focus or you’ll lose your reader. Keep your promises and take the reader on a remarkable journey through your story or teaching.
  8. Write every day. Writing is an art and it needs practice and development. I’d suggest you try to write something every day, even if you’re just keeping a journal. At times you can be imaginative, use power verbs and write clearly. Other times you may just jot down some thoughts. Whatever you do try to keep writing.
  9. Read great writers. Pick up some classics pieces of fiction and non-fiction and read them not just for entertainment or learning but look at style, substance, and how they communicated.

I’m sure there are more, but this is a start. Writing is so much fun, if you keep these nine thoughts in mind, it may lead you to the next NY Times Bestseller.

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