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I wrote a first draft of a non-fiction, and an established professional writer and editor in my subject area gave me a good review, but said I should edit for structure and flow.

Given this great response, I've tried very hard to develop a better understanding of writing good non-fiction, but I have some major stumbling blocks.

I have a feeling that the following is the main problem and cause of the others:

I really don't know what audience I should be approaching. The ideal would be that I could write a non-fiction that's accessible by most readers. The reality though is I find myself having to be concious beyond any reasonable degree to all the potential questions these millions of readers could ask.

I'm guessing that I'm simply trying to achieve the wrong thing, but I'm not sure what I should do instead. Maybe I should focus on my best-bet audience first, and then rewrite for others if it's popular for that audience?

I'm really baffled, and would greatly appreciate any help!


I just spoke to my brother, and he suggests that I go with the audience I can help best. Which to me sounds like a very good idea. Though I'd appreciate any thoughts.

In response to an answer, the book is about government, decision-making, and related things.

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Folks here might be able to give you more helpful advice if you can be more specific than "non-fiction". Is it a history book? Astronomy? How to fix plumbing? Etc. That said:

I think you always have to consider your audience. What level background do your readers bring to the subject? A book on astronomy intended for 10 year olds would surely be very different from a book intended for professional astronomers. What perspective do your readers have? A biography of Karl Marx intended for devoted communists would probably be rather different from one intended for libertarians. Etc.

As for "structure and flow", at least one important thing to keep in mind is: You should organize your material so the reader can go from front to back. That is, don't put material in chapter 2 that assumes the reader already knows the information that you don't present until chapter 9. This can be very tricky because in many fields, there isn't an obvious straight line from start to finish. Lots of things are interrelated. But you have to figure out a way to untangle it all.

  • Where do you get the idea that the structure should not be linearly dependent? Definitely sounds interesting, but I'm puzzled if it's possible for all non-fiction. I'm writing about government and decision-making (amongst other things). Thanks! – Tom Apr 28 '15 at 18:18
  • I think a book SHOULD be linearly dependent. But unfortunately reality may not be. – Jay Apr 28 '15 at 18:26
  • Oh ok, I thought 'back to front' could have been wrong! – Tom Apr 28 '15 at 18:33
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1. You cannot write for everyone.

Don't even attempt it.

2. It is very likely that your book is not the first on your subject.

How is it different? Who would be interested in that difference?

Your target audience is defined by (a) who you are and (b) the market situation.

Who are you?

  • What interests you?
  • What is your level of expertise? (Can you dumb down your knowledge?)
  • What is your writing style? (How flexible can you be?)
  • What kind of people do you want to interact with (face to face, social media, ...)?
  • ...

What is the market situation?

  • What other books are there on your topic? What do they cover? What is missing from them?
  • What are current trends in your field? The social and political situation? Urgent questions waiting for answers?
  • Which part of the public is interested in which aspect of your field? Which part needs information on what?
  • What is the buying behavior of different reader groups? Are other interests they have somehow related or relatable to your field?
  • ...

3. How to

Take a huge sheet of paper, or a big pile of little sheets, and start writing down everything that you can think of that defines both (a) you and your work and (b) the market as it relates to you and your work.

Don't hurry this. Take a few days. Take walks. Visit book stores. Browse relevant blogs. Try to find resources on market analysis – not how to do it, but actual research on "what teens do on the web today" or "how elder people spend their retirement" or whatever. A lot of these studies are not publicly available for free, but some have been summarized in the media.

Don't get lost on the web or confused by the ocean of opinion. Use the information you can find not to tell you what you should do, but to understand who you are not or what resonates with you. Always come back to taking lonely walks and thinking without outside interference. Do not attempt to bend yourself to where you think an audience might be, but stay true to yourself and your vision.

Try to see trends in your note taking. Define a core focus that is narrow and clear. Try to phrase that focus in one sentence (that's your unique selling point). Define a target audience for that focus. Make this definition narrow and clear, e.g. "24 year old male sports enthusiasts working in the media and living in big cities".

Write

  • for this target audience and
  • about your core focus.

This narrow focus gives your book a clear profile or "character" and makes it attractive for readers outside your target audience, too.

Note: You can always write another book on another aspect of your topic for another audience.


A book about government and decision-making? How utterly boring! I don't even vote.

But The Drug Taking Wastrel's Book About Government and Decision Making? Or International Politics for Busy House Wives? Ha. Sounds funny. Let's google that.

  • Wastrel! I like that word. Do you have any references for these suggestions? (Even if you give a short bio of yourself.) – Tom Apr 29 '15 at 12:59
  • These are just examples I made up that sounded intriguing to me. – user5645 Apr 29 '15 at 15:55

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