transformational nonfiction


Why should someone buy your transformational nonfiction book? Because you’re going to solve an urgent problem of theirs.

Back when I was an in-house editor at G. P. Putnam’s Sons and HarperCollins, I used to evaluate book proposals (selling tools used to try to get editors like me to give authors book deals). The book proposals for transformational nonfiction books—think business books, self-help, parenting, lessons on achieving success, and so on—had to make a compelling case that the book would solve an urgent problem for the reader.

When you write a transformational nonfiction book, you’re promising readers you can help them go from problem to solution. You’ll help them achieve this goal by offering them information and strategies, yes, but you also want them to feel they have to buy your book right now. It’s emotion that draws people in. Make your potential reader experience a sense of urgency about their problem and finding a solution that will end their headaches and frustration at last.

 

And keep this in mind: A reader’s urgent problem your book will solve might actually be a combination of problems.

 

My book, Raising a Sensory Smart Child, was written for the parent who wants to know how to help their child who has sensory processing issues. When I first began thinking of writing the book, there was information out there in bookstores and on the Internet but not enough for a parent like me to have a solid sense of what to do to get my child’s teeth brushed and to prevent him from melting down at the grocery store. Plenty of parents were stressed out and confused about what to do for their kids. My book would meet that urgent problem by offering even more information and strategies than they currently had. However, I knew that beyond needing those things, parents of kids with sensory processing issues are afraid that if their kids are struggling to function well (which is the case when kids with sensory issues don’t have them adequately addressed), kids are likely to become demoralized and give up on themselves. No parent wants that for their child so I knew that addressing that particular fear was important. My coauthor and I reassured potential readers with the promise that the book could help them go from being lost, confused, and worried (as I once was) to feeling competent and capable and actually helping their child manage their sensory issues (where I ended up after learning about sensory issues and developing “sensory smart” parenting strategies).

Problem and promise.

Both were infused with emotion.

My expertise was in going from where they were to where I was—an effective parent of a happy kid who yeah, had sensory processing differences, but that’s okay and even a good thing in some ways.

The narrative arc of my story was emotionally compelling.

I wanted to make sure people believed and felt that if I could do it, they could, too.

 

Increase the emotional reassurance factor of your book and you will have an easier time getting people to buy it.

 

Your narrative arc of going from your worst point to your greatest success increases the emotional factor of your book if you make your readers feel your fear, shame, and distress back when you were at your low point and feel the excitement of having reached your high point. Make them feel you empathize with their plight. That will help you attract readers who are in crisis or nearly frozen with anxiety about what will happen if they don’t fix their urgent problem.

If your readers have the problem you’ve identified but you’re concerned it might not feel very urgent to them, you can increase the emotional impact of your book by warning them of what might happen if they don’t make a change now—they might end up where you did! Simultaneously, you can encourage them to believe they can get to where you are—success!—if only they read your book and use your strategies for addressing their problem. In sum, you can make their problem feel more urgent. And you can offer the tantalizing promise of solving it at last.

 

Effectively convey the urgent problem and your promise of helping them solve it.

 

Once you have identified your potential reader’s problem or problems, and you’ve offered a promise, you’ll need to make sure you clearly and effectively convey them. Use your title and subtitle combination, your book’s jacket, the short description of your book they’ll find on its back, and copy and images on your author website to get across the problem and promise. Also, spell out the urgent problem and your promise for solving it at the beginning of your book. Keep in mind, too, that you’re going to want your chapter titles to reflect the reader’s ability to go from where they are (having an urgent problem) to where they’re going to end up (problem solved or nearly so because they’re now better informed, have a clearer sense of what they need to do, and feel more confident). What’s the promise? What can they actually achieve? What will their journey from problem to promised outcome look like as they read your book?

As you try to identify the urgent problem or problems you reader has, consider the following:

How long has your reader had this problem? Is it ongoing and frustrating? Has the amount of stress the problem has caused them and is causing them enough to make them, well, pretty desperate for help now?

Does your reader feel he has tried everything? Has he become skeptical about whether the problem can be solved or at least addressed sufficiently that it no longer bothers him? Can she start believing there’s hope because of your inspiring story that led to your writing your book?

Have you anecdotes about working with people just like your reader who thought there was little hope for change and who discovered that by using your ideas and strategies, they were able to achieve it after all?

What’s your reader willing to give up or do to make the urgent problem go away at last? Is he willing to commit to an action plan for change? Is she willing to question old ideas that have her stuck in a failure mindset?

The greater your reader’s frustration, the greater her urgency to finally find a solution. The greater the impact of the problem on your reader’s life, the more motivated she is to give your book a try.

Maybe you have the right action plan and approach that no one else has offered.

Maybe your personality, voice, and approach will make your book the game-changer for your reader because unlike other books, your book gives them hope for the first time in a long time.

Maybe your hand-holding, compassionate way of talking about their problem will make them set aside their shame and embarrassment and tackle their problem at last.

Increasing the emotional impact of your book’s message will definitely give you a better shot at having your transformational nonfiction book sell. Even more than that, it will make your book more effective at helping readers to transform their lives for the better. Believe me, hearing from a reader that your book changed their life feels fantastic. THIS is why you’re writing your transformational nonfiction book!

 

Need help writing your business book, self-help book, life lessons book, or other transformational nonfiction book? Contact me and let me know what your expertise is, what type of book you have started to write, and what kind of help you feel you need.

 

transformational nonfiction books solve an urgent problem

Are you feeling lost as you’re structuring chapters in a how-to or self-help book you’re writing? Did you get lost as one section of chapter one started to grow like creeping Charlie on your lawn, taking over the grass? Do you feel as if you’re repeating yourself over and over again, but you don’t know where to first introduce an idea and how to acknowledge that it’s familiar to the reader when you mention it a second or third time? Developmental editors like me help authors out of the weeds when they have trouble structuring chapters or sections. If you aren’t working with a developmental editor, here are some simple tips for structuring book chapters that might help (and of course, you can check with me to see if I’m available to get you out of the weeds, too):

First, don’t try to cram in too many ideas. Aim for five to eight topics per chapter. That’s true whether you are writing a full-length book or a mini-book. If your book is a “life lessons” book of transformational nonfiction, and the title is something like Fifty Ways to Make Your Fifties Fabulous, one topic per chapter makes sense since you’ll have fifty short chapters. However, if the number of lessons is smaller and you want each lesson to be a chapter, you’ll want subsections in each chapter to break up the text. For example, if you want to write The Six Laws of Marketing to Millennials, you’re probably going to need several sections for each law or chapter.

Second, arrange your ideas in a logical order. You might want to write your ideas on cards or simply type them into a document and move them around to get a feel for what order might work. In a book chapter, consider making an emotional connection or offer them a provocative idea at the beginning. Start with a story or some a startling statistic, statement, or fact. That can lead the reader into your first topic. You want to meet the reader where they are to get them where you want them to go, so make a connection right away.

Third, justify or change your order. Explain to yourself why you want to cover one topic before you cover another. You probably have a good reason and don’t realize it! As you justify to yourself why topic 2 comes before topic 3, you will get a better sense of how to write a transition from that topic to the next when you are writing the actual chapter. If you realize your order doesn’t make sense or doesn’t work quite right, it might be that a topic is a subtopic of one of the others. You can write it up as a subtopic in your outline for the chapter and perhaps give it its own header that is a different size from the headers for your main topic. You might even end up placing some material in a sidebar or boxed text that can be read after a section of text has been read. Sidebars and boxed texts are a convenient workaround when you have material that doesn’t smoothly fit into the main text. You might use a sidebar for text that is focused on resources (how to find a practitioner, nutritional or educational testing that can be done, etc.) or that serves as a warning, practical tip, or fun fact.

developmental editor nonfiction

 

Fourth, keep in mind that your entire book doesn’t have to fit into chapter one. It’s easy to get bogged down as you think about all the things you want to write about in your book. Remember, chapter one’s purpose is to meet the reader where they are and make a connection with them and then offer the main points that will be explored in detail later in the book. Phrases such as, “Later in this book,” and “As you will learn,” can help you cut yourself off before you go into too much detail on a topic that you want to explore at length later on. You don’t want to overdo the references to what’s coming, but you also don’t want to pile everything into chapter one.

Again, if you get completely stuck in your structuring and writing, consider hiring me as a developmental editor. I can pull you out of the weeds and convince you that you truly can conquer the task of writing a how-to or self-help book, business book, parenting book, life lessons book—or even a memoir. You might want to check out my services and testimonials pages to learn more about how I work with clients and what their experiences have been.

I especially love this endorsement from a recent client:

“I am an experienced author who has sold 1.1 million copies worldwide. Nevertheless, I got stuck on book number four and was paralyzed for five years. In one conversation, Nancy gave me a piece of advice that simplified a complex problem and actually got me excited about the book once again. Thank you, Nancy!”—Randi Kreger, Author of Stop Walking on Eggshells

Need help structuring your transformative nonfiction book? Contact me.