The 7 Key Rules for Writers of Outstanding Nonfiction Books

The 7 Key Rules for Writers of Outstanding Nonfiction Books

Rules for Writers

If you research what the basic rules for writers are, you’ll read about proper punctuation, proper use of adverbs and adjectives, sentence and paragraph length, and so on. While these mechanical writing rules are all valid and must be observed, I’ve chosen to focus today on the behavioral rules of writing instead.

On the surface, the job of the writer is to create helpful content that readers will consume and enjoy. But the true job of a writer is much deeper than that. Stephen King put it very eloquently when he said: “The job of a writer is to transfer the ideas inside your head into the heads of your readers.”

Let’s explore this further. People like to compartmentalize things in order to make sense of the world, so we create labels – you’re a writer and I am a reader. As a writer you’ll decide what you’re going to write about, and as the reader I’ll decide what to read. But when you think about it, while labels may make for a nice intellectual construct, they’re not very useful for describing human connection. If anything, they’re more about separating than unifying.

Rule #2: Write Honestly and Authentically

Now you’re ready to begin your journey. Here’s my advice: it’s critical that you learn to communicate in writing in the same way that you communicate directly with your clients. In all your interactions, you must have a foundation of honesty and authenticity; otherwise you wouldn’t be able to stay in business, right?

Let me re-frame it this way: writing your book is really an extension of your business. You’ll be communicating in a different medium and to a much larger audience, but your goal remains the same – you have to be transparent and you have to be yourself at all times.

On the other hand, when authors use their authentic voice and aren’t afraid to be themselves, warts and all, the reading experience becomes refreshing and the connection with the reader becomes much deeper.

Freedman’s One More Time Then I Must Get On With My Life Rule

Articles should only be revised once before submitting them. Any more than that and they lose their freshness. Basically, if you can’t get it right second time, take the view that this will have to be good enough. Tough one that, if you’re a perfectionist like me.

The shorter an article or presentation has to be, the longer it takes to prepare. It once took me a day to prepare a 5 minute talk. If I am given a word count limit of 500 words it takes me longer to write the piece than if the limit were 2,000 words.

I think the reason is that if you’re given room to waffle, you can afford to be imprecise, because you can come back to the same point in a different way and ensure that your meaning is clear in the end. Where the word count limit or time limit is lower, each word or minute has a much higher value, thanks to the old economics law of scarcity.

Grosch’s Law

From what I have seen (and apparently this is a well-observed phenomenon), in any undertaking only about 1% of the people affected are active in any way. What that means is that, on average, if you have a blog, say, that is followed by 100 people, only one of them is going to be moved by your efforts to get them to respond to something you’ve written.

The trouble with podcasts and their video equivalent, vodcasts, is that it’s not easy to skim through to see if it’s worth listening to or watching all the way through. Now, iTunes lets you listen or watch for 90 seconds without your having to download it. That should be enough time for anyone to decide if it’s worth bothering with the whole thing.

Astonishingly, some podcasters have completely failed to understand this. There was one I was interested in, and I tried previewing 3 different episodes. All of them spent at least the first minute and a half on completely irrelevant stuff. Apart from the intro, which took up at least half the time, there was stuff about his loft, his dog, and some other highly interesting (to him) topic. By the time he said, “OK, today we’re going to. “, the preview timed out. I’m too busy to have other people waste my time: I can do that myself, but far more productively thank you!

Keep It on the Market until Sold

In the old days (when submitting to publishers was the only option for getting a book to market), this was a good suggestion, encouraging authors not to give up too early. We’ve all heard Rowling’s story. Imagine if she had thrown in the towel after the first few rejections. So if you’re wanting to publish traditionally, it’s not a bad idea to keep sending out submissions .

When you’re self-publishing, though…it depends . If you’ve had a book for sale for a while and it’s not selling, it’s probably not going to sell until something changes. Maybe you grow in your craft and start writing better books that start selling, and then your audience discovers your earlier works. Or a very currenty event occurs that ties into your story’s theme and all of a sudden people are looking for stories like yours. So in the case of a book not selling because it (or you) just haven’t been discovered yet, there’s no harm in leaving it on market.

But it’s always possible that your book isn’t selling because you published it before it was ready. For indie authors, having that book out there could cause harm because people who read it won’t be inclined to buy your other books. And if they slap it with a bad review, other potential readers can be turned off, too. So if a book is getting panned, I’d say it’s a good idea to put it away and…that’s right. Write the next book.


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