Don’t Spin Your Wheels: 3 Time and Energy Savers When Writing Non-Fiction

Sep 22, 2016


Writing a non-fiction book can be daunting. So much hard work goes into completing the manuscript, and when it’s done, there are so many additional items to consider. Should you solicit a foreword from an expert in your field? Do you need an index? Do you need to provide an exhaustive additional resource guide at the end of the book? Recently we’ve had the good fortune to speak with bestselling author and publishing guru David Chilton about publishing best practices, and he’s emphasized some key points we’ve been telling our clients: conserve your energy and put your resources into things that really matter, rather than spinning your wheels in areas that won’t have a strong impact on book marketing and sales. With thanks and credit to Dave, here are some tips that will save you time and energy:

Time waster #1: compiling an exhaustive resource list for inclusion in the book
Unless you’re writing a book intended for an academic audience, offering a long resource list of publications related to your book’s subject area isn’t necessary. Consider who your audience is: readers who are not experts in your field won’t appreciate a list of 75 books in your subject area; in fact, they will feel overwhelmed by it. Most general-interest readers will appreciate either a short, carefully curated list of select resources, or a link to a website on which you might offer additional information. The latter could also drive traffic to your website, which could have additional marketing benefits for you and your book.

Time waster #2: soliciting a foreword
While forewords still appear in academic publications, they are no longer as common in general-interest books. Some authors feel that forewords add credibility to a book, but consider whether your readers really want to read a foreword or if they might simply care to know that a “big name” is associated with you and your book. If you can secure the interest of a well-known person, why not ask them to provide a winning endorsement instead? That way, you can use their endorsement on your front or back cover, benefiting from that nice association, while not putting someone else’s words in front of your own. Most readers who buy your book will want to dive right into your chapters, so a foreword will just get in the way.

Time waster #3: preparing an index for a general-interest book
Indexes are relevant to historical books, reference books, and publications aimed at academic or specialized audiences. If the purpose of your book is to inform or educate the general-interest reader in your subject area, chances are they won’t find a detailed index useful. The preparation of an index is a specialized job that requires additional production time and is typically done by a professional indexer. Some of our clients have instead compiled a brief list of “frequently used terms” or a glossary, which saved them time and money, and can guide the reader without overwhelming them.

Publishing is a unique and quirky industry, but many fundamental principles of business still apply. Keeping things simple will help both you — the author — and your reader, so hold off on the “extras” that will cost you time and money. Keep your reader’s interests front of mind, and it will be easy to determine what goes in and what stays out. And as Dave would say, forget the bells and whistles: just write a really great book. That’s the best way to set yourself up for success.

Do you have a question about your manuscript? Give us a shout — we’d be glad to help.