Why Should Readers Read Your Book? Identifying Your Why for Stronger Nonfiction Books (Part 3)
Step One on this journey of writing a book is to figure out what you want to write about. Step Two is writing and editing the book. Step Three is sharing it with readers and the world. This article series is all about Step One, but it will also get you a long way toward finding your superfans and readers in Step Three.
In part one and two, we covered what you’ll write about and why you’re credible to write it. If you’ve not read either, I recommend you read them first. In this part, we’ll tackle the key ingredient for selling your book — what’s in it for the readers.
When you sit down to write a book, the one thing you must never forget is the reader. They are, after all, the end consumers of the product. You want them to not only read it, but love it, share it, highlight it, recommend it to others, and hear your intended message. So, how do you get them to do that?
You answer the question of why readers should read your book. You answer their ‘why’ in what you discuss and how you discuss it. So, what does that look like?
Why Do Readers Pick up a Book?
Reading is subjective. What one reader likes, another could hate, be it your cover, your writing style, the formatting, or the stories you share within. You’ll never please all the readers all the time, and that’s okay, because there are plenty of readers out there.
However, something you want to keep in the forefront of your mind is this: readers are selfish. People read books because of what it does for them, what they gain from content, not what writing it does for you.
In fact, in a 2012 study by Pew Research entitled “Why People Like to Read,” 26% of respondents who had picked up a book said, “what they enjoyed the most was learning, gaining knowledge, and discovering information.” While it’s an old study, its findings are still valid today, especially for nonfiction books.
If you fail to ask yourself what that reader will take away knowing, thinking, or having learned from reading your book, you’ll not only fail your readers but also yourself. Self-absorption is great when you’re brainstorming your book, but not so great when you’re actually writing it.
Readers don’t care about you; they care about themselves and what they get from your book. After all, it’s their hard-earned money they’re spending. You have to keep that in mind when presenting your material or you could end up confusing, boring, or annoying them. Those three outcomes are the quickest way to alienate your reader.
Tell Them Stories
While the reader is important when picking the topic of your book — after all, you want an audience with interest in it — keeping the reader in mind when you’re writing the book is crucial. And the key way to do that is to make sure you include stories.
Human beings are hardwired to learn from, retain, and identify with stories. Stories:
- Engage the listener at an emotional level, which helps retain attention and keeps information flowing into their brains;
- Transport the reader, which increases the possibility for empathy and creates trust; and,
- Change attitudes, beliefs, values, knowledge, and behavior.
When you craft your chapters, don’t forget the stories. These could be your stories or other people’s stories. These could be hypothetical stories or a composite of multiple stories created to illustrate your point. It only matters that you include them. And yes, this applies to theory- or research-heavy nonfiction as well.
If you want to reach readers and have them retain your content, you have to tell them stories.
Give Them Takeaways
The other key thing you want to include in your book are the takeaways. This is the gumball that drops after the reader puts a quarter in the machine. Don’t be that author that lets the reader walk away empty-handed.
For memoirs, readers will learn from your experiences, even if they never face something similar. They also can be empowered or inspired simply by reading your story and processing how you handled your life. Yes, they may be more entertained than educated, but they will still walk away with having learned something.
For creative and standard nonfiction, how you present the material depends on how the lessons appear. The lessons could be woven into the chapter material and presented as answers to questions you have that you’re answering or that you think the reader may have. Other times, they could be questions you ask the reader to think about or specific tasks you ask them to undertake. In short, the takeaways could be explicitly or implicitly stated. It doesn’t matter if it’s one or the other, or a mix of the two. It only matters that you include them.
Also, reiteration is your friend. Repeating the chapter’s lesson at the conclusion of the chapter and the book helps the reader retain the lessons much easier than if you just state it once. It’s even better if you’re able to weave lessons into the chapters in subtle ways and build upon them (but don’t keep hammering them home; it can be annoying for the reader).
If you don’t tell the reader what they should get from your book, if you don’t give them the core thoughts you want them to walk away knowing when they’re done with your book, you’ve not created a book that will stick. If it doesn’t stick, the reader won’t recommend it, share it, talk about it, or think about it again.
You want readers to remember your book, but more importantly, you want readers to be impacted by it. Including takeaways will do that for you.
There are many reasons someone will put down a book. It could be the tone, the perspective, the way you approach the topic, or that life got in the way and they didn’t pick up your book again. Some of this is subjective and personal to the reader and you can’t control it.
What you can control is your why. If your goal is to put your story out there and you don’t care who reads it or if they get anything from it, great. Stop reading and go publish your story. However, most nonfiction writers want their readers to gain something from the telling — to learn something, to feel something, to be inspired, uplifted or to look deep within and explore their own thoughts and feelings.
If you don’t know why your readers should read your book, if you fail to think of them when you craft your message, you’ll be less likely to hit that goal.
If you don’t know what it is about the topic that inspires you to plonk away at a keyboard for weeks and months, you’ll be less likely to finish the book.
And if you don’t give your readers a reward, some dopamine, or even a cookie for reading your book, the message you’ve spent months crafting will go unheard.
Good nonfiction is relatable and is written for the reader, not the writer. Great nonfiction entertains, enthralls, creates discussion (internal or external), and is written with the reader in mind.
It doesn’t take long to determine why this book, why you, and why someone should read it. Ask the why questions so that readers hear what you have to say and can feel it.
Or do it so that your book won’t be one I decide to dissect on my editing table. I’m very good with my (metaphorical) scalpel.
Cassandra Stirling writes about nonfiction, memoir, and fiction writing tips, book reviews, and random deeper thoughts on writing. You can find all her writing at cassandracstirling.medium.com. Her urban fantasy series, The Space Between, is available at all major retailers.