4 Tips to Make Your Nonfiction Book Stand Out

triumphant female author, computer

by Bridget Cook-Burch

The publishing industry has dramatically changed over the past few years. It’s more important than ever to know what agents, editors, publishers, and especially readers are looking for when it comes to a fantastic memoir, biography, how-to, or creative-nonfiction book. 

One thing to realize is that the average reader’s attention span (including those who read and write for a living) has been greatly reduced. You have only a smidgeon of time to get their attention. Everything you submit must start with an effective hook. And then you’ve got to have both a powerful platform and provocative prose. The following tips can help you take your book’s success to the next level.

Tip One: Write a Riveting Storyline Synopsis and Hook

If they’re going to represent you or give you an advance on a book, the first thing any agent, editor, or publisher wants to know is that your storyline or angle is unique, powerful, and compelling. If it is, they can be pretty sure the rest of the book will deliver the same punch!

So research and prepare a one-page synopsis of your book. This synopsis will be invaluable as you’ll use all or parts of it in a myriad of situations: from a pitch and query to book marketing materials to jacket covers. Use it first to prepare your agent pitch and then expand it into a summary of your book proposal.

Whatever you do, though, make sure this piece of writing is your best—then make it better! This is how you get in the door.

Tip Two: Build a Powerful Platform

I cannot stress this enough: publishers these days want to see that you’ve been building a powerful platform while you’ve been writing your book. Most won’t even look at your manuscript if you haven’t. They’re in the business of selling books. The larger your platform, the more built-in readers you have. Become a master in a few different social-media arenas. Have fun with it! (For great ideas on how to get started, see Eschler Editing’s Book Promotion category in the blog archives.) Nurture your future readers–that’s really what your most loyal social media followers are. Start NOW.

Tip Three: Write to Knock Their Socks Off

While a great pitch and platform are must-haves, they won’t do anything for you if the essence of your book (especially with nonfiction) isn’t powerfully provocative—it must hit your reader’s emotional high points. This means you get to focus on the following:

  1. A compelling introduction where you explain/weave in your credibility
  2. Masterful storytelling with principles either built in or clearly outlined
  3. Juicy settings, characterizations, dialogue, etc., when stories are included (or, when it’s not a narrative-based book, powerful language/descriptions generally, with strong word economy)
  4. A strong, satisfying ending to each chapter and to the book
  5. Appropriate and consistent use of tense and point of view
  6. Prose that’s so well executed readers are caught up in the story before they realize they’ve read a hundred pages.

Want to get a good idea of what these things might mean for your book? Purchase several five-star rated, best-selling books in your genre. Read them first for pleasure, then go back and pick apart what the authors did so well that readers (and obviously publishers) loved them. Don’t copy their exact words or strategies (obviously), but learn from these masters of storytelling as you build powerful content. And learn from their mistakes as well as successes; if you read something in their books that doesn’t work for you, decide what it is and avoid it in your own book.

Tip Four: Get Feedback Before Submitting

In addition, it’s essential to get outside input. You only see what you see. You see what is “supposed” to be there. Others see what deficiencies are really there—holes in your storyline, problems with your pitch, and whatever weaknesses may exist in the chapters and content of the book itself. I always recommend at least three other savvy readers (or groups of readers): 1) those familiar with your genre; 2) those unfamiliar with you, your genre, or your book; and 3) a professional freelance editor or successful author/coach skilled in your genre. This is an extremely important process—don’t shortchange yourself by avoiding it.

The world needs your story and message! You just have to get their attention so they’re listening. Then be ready to watch doors open and to change the world!

Do this now:

Bridget is a master writing coach and teaches these skills in her retreats and coaching courses. To sign up for her free write-juicy tips and to hear about the next course you don’t want to miss, start exploring her work here.


Bridget_ProfileKnown for her riveting tales of transformation, Bridget Cook-Burch is a New York Times best-selling author, a Wall Street Journal  best-selling author, and a transformational speaker/trainer and human-potential expert. Her books have been showcased on Oprah, Dateline, Good Morning America, The Today Show, and in People Magazine, among others. Bridget loves to use her abilities as an extraordinary trainer to “wake people up to the importance of their stories and their possibilities” so that they can use every experience as a stepping stone to their most glorious lives. Bridget’s transformational Inspired Writers Retreats can be found at BridgetInspires.com.

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