What makes a non-fiction book “good”? It’s not the imaginative prose or difficult concepts. All that determines whether a book is good or not, along with the quality of the information presented, is readability. You should aim to make your book as easy to read as possible. Your goal is for readers to understand and absorb the information you present, so don’t make it difficult for them to do so.
Here are some tips on what to do and what not to do when writing your book:
Use Common Vocabulary. When you’re writing a non-fiction book, use common and familiar vocabulary. Avoid language that’s too colloquial, idiomatic, or slangy. Be careful with industry jargon. Use jargon only if you’re sure your audience will understand it.
Avoid Redundancy. Don’t use redundant phrases like “added bonus,” “final outcome,” and “end result.” Be especially careful with adjectives. If you find yourself using two adjectives that mean basically the same thing, choose the better of the two and cut the other.
Aim for Precise Language. Avoid using phrases like “about,” “almost,” “kind of,” or “that kind of thing.” Try to say things in a more concrete way. Instead of saying “etc.” or “and more,” give the reader more concrete examples. Precise language helps avoid misinterpretation.
Keep Sentences Short and Simple. Most sentences should have only one clause. The maximum should be two clauses. Cut down run-on sentences and try to make each sentence describe one distinct idea.
Keep Paragraphs Short. For books published on places like Amazon Kindle, remember that people will be reading your book on a digital device, which makes it hard to read large blocks of text. Paragraphs should be 2-5 sentences.
Start with the Main Idea. The first sentence of each paragraph should introduce its main idea. The other sentences should go deeper into this idea or offer examples or explanation.
Guide the Reader. Move the reader through your text with transition words like “firstly,” “however,” and “finally.” These words help make your book smoother and easier to read.
Use Active Voice. Try to always use the active voice and avoid using the passive voice. The active voice is usually more direct and easy to understand. It also makes sentences shorter and quicker to read.
Break up Text with Headings and Subheadings. Break up your text with headings and subheadings to make it more easily skimmable. These are like mini-chapters that tell the reader what topic the text is discussing.
Use Bullet Points and Lists. Bullet points and lists come in handy for picking out key words and ideas. They help the reader organize the information you’re presenting, and also provide an easy way to reference the material.
Let Each Idea Breathe. Avoid hitting the reader with too many ideas per page. Make sure that you fully flesh out each idea and provide plenty of explanation and examples. Remember that information that’s everyday knowledge to you can be new to your reader.
Use White Space. You don’t need to stuff every page with text. From a design point of view, white space makes your pages look nice. It also helps the reader to not feel overwhelmed.
Test Your Writing with Flesch-Kincaid Readability Tests
The Flesch-Kincaid Readability Test is a test that rates texts on a 100-point scale where a higher score means it’s easy to read and a lower score means it’s difficult. It gives an indication of the age and level of education a reader needs in order to easily understand your writing. The test is available in Microsoft Word and online proofreading software programs.
It’s best to write for a junior high school level reader. This will ensure that it’s understood by most readers without sacrificing quality. A Flesch-Kinkaid Readability Test score of 60-70 means your text is easily understood by readers aged 13-15. Run your finished book through the test and see how it’s graded.
Tips for Self-Editing Your Book
- Don’t do any editing at all until the first draft is finished. Writing and editing are different mental processes and editing as you go will slow you down.
- Don’t rely on editing or proofreading software. A software program can’t catch everything. Read through your work and also run it through spellcheck or your editing software.
- When editing, watch out for repeated or overused words.
- Look out especially for common spelling and grammar errors, and refer to an authoritative source if in doubt.
- If your attention is lapsing during editing, take a break, and then come back refreshed so you can give it your full attention.
- A great way to find problem areas is to read your text aloud.
Your book is important and it needs to be tight. It’s not enough to just edit yourself. Try to get as many pairs of eyes on your work as possible. Others are likely to catch things you missed.
If you’d like to learn more about writing and launching a best-selling digital book, be sure to check out my complete course. Head to this link so we can talk.
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