Would your readers rather read a book that is easier for you to write or one that is easier for them to read? It takes more time to create illustrations for complex topics, to choose sentences to highlight as pull-out quotes in small text boxes on the edge of your pages, and to create an index that will make it easier for readers to quickly find the page that features the information they want.
It can also cost more money to design a book that includes these features, but is the extra time and cost worth it if it means your target audience will prefer your book because of it?Writing a non-fiction book challenges you to get your ideas out of your head and onto paper, but if you want to write a non-fiction book that sells, you need to take the extra step of thinking about how your readers will use your book and making it easier for them.
Your chapters will probably be organized in a way that makes it easy for readers to understand your message, but there are other book making decisions you can make to cater your message to how your readers will use your book.
Organizing Your Book for Your Reader’s Convenience
Having a well-organized book that is easy to understand is a great way to start, but it would be wise to talk with members of your target audience about how they plan to use a book like yours and which of the following features they may be interested in seeing included.
For example, if your book is something people will probably want to reference as they need the information, you may want to include an index in the back of the book that allows readers to quickly find the page with the information they want. Traditional publishing companies know this-they also know that libraries probably won’t buy your book unless it includes one, so they often include it in non-fiction books. Self-publishing authors seldom consider adding an index because they simply don’t know that it’s an option.
It’s easier to come up with ideas of what you should include in your book when you know your options, so the next part is a brief introduction to your options.
Parts of a Book Your Readers May Want
The three basic parts of a book are the front matter, the text and the back matter.
- The front matter includes all the information that comes before the book starts like the title page, the copyright page, the dedication and epigraph, the table of contents, foreword, preface and acknowledgements.
- The text includes all the book divisions and chapters that share your book message.
- The back matter holds the appendices, chronology of events to help readers understand the book’s timeline when necessary, endnotes-often headed as “Notes”-to further explain any information from the text, glossary to define key terms, bibliography or reference list, list of contributors and the index.
How you choose to use or remix these basic book elements are entirely up to you, but your choice should be informed by how your readers will use it.
Michael Hyatt’s book “Platform: Get Noticed in a Noisy Crowd” does a great job of explaining why anyone with something to sell needs a platform and how to use a blog to build the foundation of that platform. The great thing about this traditionally published book is not just the message that the author shares in the text, but the way the front matter, text and back matter work together to teach the message.
The front matter opens with eight pages of blurbs instead of the
traditional title page. The blurbs feature praise from a list of people readers are likely to know, like and respect to help them decide whether they will trust Michael. The blurbs are from big names like Dave Ramsey the New York Times Best-selling author and host of The Dave Ramsey Show, Seth Goden the New York Times Best-selling author and marketing genius, Chris Brogan the president of Human Business Works and New York Times Best-selling author, John C. Maxwell the New York Times Best-selling author and leadership expert, and even Chick-fil-A president and COO Dan T. Cathy. Would you trust a man to teach you about sales when his book opens with blurbs endorsing him from business-world giants like these? Who are the people who could boost your book’s credibility with their blurbs?
The text divides the platform building process into five parts that group the chapters into meaningful divisions. If you wanted to use his book to lead you step-by-step through the platform-building process, these divisions make it easier to find your major milestones along the journey.
The back matter features two appendix items with specific details on legal compliance requirements and ideas to help aspiring platform builders reach their goals. The resource section includes a comprehensive list of books, blogs, software, websites, WordPress themes and plugins and other resources that were mentioned throughout the text of the book but conveniently listed in the back matter for easy reference. The notes section lists the source for quotes and other information organized by chapter number. The acknowledgement, about the author, index, contact information for reaching the author, and five pages of information on Hyatt’s other projects that motivated readers may find interesting.
Michael Hyatt-the former CEO of Thomas Nelson Publishing-and the traditional publishing company that published the book-Thomas Nelson-made sure that everything about the book’s organization contributed to helping readers use the book as a practical resource that users can read from cover-to-cover, reference as needed through each stage of building their platform or do both. They understood how the readers were likely to use the book and designed the book to deliver exactly what the readers needed and more.
Do you know enough about what your readers want and need to organize your book in a way that meets and exceeds your reader’s needs for your book’s message like Hyatt does?
Ideas to Consider for Your Book Display
Your book display features all the visual elements that will be part of your book-from the style of font you use and the font size to whether you will include bullet lists or pictures. Use the following abbreviated list to help you think through your display options beyond your choice of font type, font style and line spacing (which is a discussion better reserved for you and your book designer).
- Epigraphs: You may have read books that open chapters or sections with a short quote that relates to the message, but before you include this in your book you will want to make sure the quote and the source add value to your message. As described in Scott Norton’s book Developmental Editing, “Good epigraphs are snippets of conversation overhead, letters intercepted, diaries plundered. Like vivid chapter titles and subheadings, they draw the reader into the text at the bookstore shelf and revive her curiosity at home in the wheelchair.” It is also the author’s responsibility to secure permission for any quotes they choose.
- Subheads: Each chapter has a title, but sometimes authors-like Hyatt-use subheads to break chapters down into smaller sub-divisions that offer mile markers along their reading journey and can have entertaining subhead names.
- Illustrate concepts with illustrations: Nearly anything that is represented by an image-be it photographs or elementary stick figures-can be used to illustrate your book’s concepts. Your challenge is to decide which concepts are worth illustrating and find the right illustration to represent it. Don’t forget to include maps as an option if location is a big part of your message. Again, it will be your job as the author to secure permission for any illustration you include in your book because even a traditional publisher expects you to take responsibility for securing permission.
- Visualize data with tables: If your book includes a lot of research and numerical data, then you may want to organize it into tables that will help your readers wrap their minds around your information.
- Use text boxes to insert “fun facts”: Sometimes you have interesting bits of information that you’d really love to share with your readers but it simply isn’t essential to your message. These fun facts can be added to the text through a series of six or more text boxes that appear throughout the text to add the fun facts in relevant locations. They can also help break up serious messages. It can be as long as a sentence, a paragraph, or maybe a couple of paragraphs, but it should not take up more than a page. Some non-fiction authors use them as pull-out quotes to highlight key points or sentences in the chapter.
- Sidebars to offer more detailed information on a chapter’s subject: The information in a sidebar may not be essential to help your reader understand your chapter’s message, but sometimes you mention topics that may inspire a burning question that you want to answer. Sidebars are often in a colored text box that visually separates it from the normal chapter text to let readers know that reading it is optional. Your more ambitious readers will want to read it, the others may simply gloss over it and come back to it later. Sidebars-unlike regular text boxes-may be more than one page of the book and may include images.
- Create a web page: A website is the cornerstone of every platform, but you may want to include link addresses inside your book that connect readers to specific web pages on your website for more information. For example, you may want to create a web page that features your latest resource recommendations. It is easier and cheaper to update a webpage each time your recommendation changes instead of the book. You may also decide to offer downloadable workbooks, individual worksheets, calendars, checklists, audio files, video files or other resources that will help readers put your message into action.
Be careful and avoid the temptation to add everything-you don’t want to overwhelm your readers with random elements just because you can. Your goal is to add value to their reading experience, not to add so many costly unnecessary details that your message is watered down in the process.
The words you use in your book are not the only tools you have to help you share your message, but you won’t know which tools are best or the best way to use them until you understand how your readers will use the book. Focus on learning what your readers expect, and then you will be ready to write the book that meets and exceeds their expectations. Ideally, after you write each chapter, you will spend time brainstorming ways to include display elements that will help readers use the information easily and effectively.
Whether you plan to self-publish or partner with a traditional publisher, this is a valuable moment in your book writing process. Learn more about which parts to include in your book when you reference the “Menu of Book Elements” in the Resource Gallery for Milestones 1-3 in your Author Lounge. If you do not already have access to the Author Lounge, claim your free Author Info Kit to get access now.