The Nonfiction Book *No One* Wants You to Write or Publish
Tough love for writers who need to hear this now
Maybe you have a friend or colleague who needs to hear this now. Or maybe, in all honesty, that someone is you. You know, the one who says, “I could write a book, after all these years. After all, I’m the top expert in the field.”
Or: “I have yet to see a book about X. Somebody needs to write that. Maybe me!”
Or: “These authors don’t know what they’re talking about. I’m sure I could do better.”
Getting published is a deeply rewarding experience. But reaching that goal — your book in your hands, on a bookstore shelf, or piled up for sale at a conference — can be long and difficult. If you aim to write and publish, don’t be discouraged, but do get educated. Do not assume there is “someone” out there who will gladly polish and market your book for you. The hard work falls on you, first and foremost, as the author.
Here are a handful of pitfalls every aspiring nonfiction author should avoid at all costs. To put it bluntly: Don’t be this person; and don’t let your friend be this person, either.
1. Your book is a polemic — a written attack on someone or something. It’s fine to write a book that is critical of an idea, institution, policy, etc., but your critique must be based on sound logic, evidence, and reasoning, not grounded purely in emotional opinions.
2. You condescend to your reader. Don’t fall back on a straw-man argument, where you assume at the outset your reader is misinformed or misguided about your topic. You will sound defensive and worse, you’ll quickly bore (and lose) your reader by adopting a tone that strives to prove you are right and your reader is wrong.
3. Your entire book is a love letter — to yourself. Writing a nonfiction book can be a great way to enhance your brand and burnish your reputation as a subject-matter expert. However, if you conceive or write a book that is steeped in your ego, written in the first person (the “I” voice), and draws exclusively on your own experiences (and triumphs), you will do yourself no favors and you won’t find any readers apart from your mother who already loves you. You can write an engaging “here’s how I did it” type of book, but it requires a form that is not merely self-serving.
4. You write in a vacuum. You’ve done all the research yourself and all the writing. You also designed the cover and wrote the jacket copy. Now you believe you’re ready to self-publish — but this is practically a guaranteed pathway to an embarrassing disaster. Every author — even the most experienced — needs initial readers (called beta readers), an objective editor, professional cover art, and help writing the marketing copy intended to position and sell the book. Don’t go it alone; you’re unlikely to succeed.
These pitfalls are real and all too common, even if your own common sense suggests you’d avoid them.
The good news is you can avoid them. How?
Hire a certified book coach. (A what, now?)
A book coach will hold you accountable to meet your writing goals while providing structure, guardrails, and tools to get and keep you on track to find your best route to getting published — whether that’s self-publishing, hybrid, or traditional publishing.
A book coach is your clear-eyed champion who will provide the guidance and tough love you need to turn a raw idea into a polished proposal that’s ready to be seriously marketed to agents and/or publishers (if that’s the route you choose).
You wouldn’t try to rewire your entire house without an electrician, would you? Or remove your own gall bladder?
Writing book-length nonfiction is a complex, serious business. You can’t do it on the fly and you most likely can’t do it entirely on your own.
Friends don’t let friends write bad books.
Amy L. Bernstein is an Author Accelerator certified nonfiction book coach. As a journalist and novelist, she helps writers turn complex information into compelling, readable chapters. Learn more here.