6 Reasons No One Is Going to Read Your Nonfiction Book
What makes a person put down a book? Sometimes the plot isn't cohesive, sometimes the characters are not true to themselves, and sometimes the writing is simply bad. But what about nonfiction? After all, not everybody reads fiction.
There are plenty of great nonfiction books out on the market today, and more are being published every moment, it seems. Even so, there’s no guarantee that someone will want to read your book from beginning to end. There are many topics to choose from, with more and more authors getting their books out there as people seek information like never before.
Do You Have a Story to Tell?
Every so often, we'll meet someone in our lives who is simply a captivating individual. Let's face it, some people are just interesting and that's all there is to it. Maybe you have a friend who's the funniest person you know. Perhaps you have an acquaintance who's traveled all over the world and has stories to tell from each place. Maybe you know someone who has gone through a huge life change and the way they got from point A to point B is fascinating to you. And there’s always someone who has come through a situation in a way that can only be deemed miraculous.
Maybe You Just Like Learning and Teaching
Nonfiction books on the market today can range from improving your business to teaching you how to learn an instrument. You can find memoir, history of a country or a sports team, or any number of things in between. Some of these books are meant to be read from beginning to end, such as an autobiography. Other books are meant to be digested bits at a time, like a Bible study or a daily devotional.
Self-help Books Can Be Found in Abundance
If you've written a book about how to increase blog traffic or grow your business, it's not likely that someone will end up reading your book only once. They may whip through it in a single reading, and then go back, chapter by chapter, to implement each step. If you’ve written the latest Five Surefire Ways to Dominate the Freelance Market, then your readers may go through the book and then start again from the beginning, trying each suggestion and building on it.
So with all that great information out there, what would make a person not want to read your nonfiction book?
There can be a number of factors in play here.
1. Rehashed Content
If you want people to buy your book, you’d better have something original to say. There’s nothing worse than buying a supposedly revolutionary new book—whether it’s about health and fitness, business practices, or decluttering—only to find that it’s full of all the same stuff you’ve read countless times on the internet, or in the other handful of books you have on the subject.
2. Can the Average Person Understand You?
Perhaps you have a great deal of knowledge in your chosen field but you can't express it to the average person in a way they can understand and use.
How often have we sat and listened to someone who was obviously intelligent but who spoke way over our heads? If you lose your audience within the first few sentences, you may not get them back. Sometimes we need the simplified version, and that's okay. Showing off everything you know does your readers no good if they can't even begin to parse the information for their brains to process.
3. Is Your Information Presented Coherently?
Sometimes the problem with a nonfiction book is that the information is simply not presented clearly, in a progression that makes sense.
You may be using plain language, and that's terrific, but if your chapters don't make any sense in their organization and flow, or if there are so many tangents that the reader can't follow the main idea from paragraph to paragraph, then you have a problem.
I'm pleased to say that most of the nonfiction writers I've worked with have hired a developmental editor and worked with them long before they ever came to me for copyedits. This made my job so much easier, and it made the narrative so much more readable.
4. Outside Your Family, Your Story’s Not “All That”
I attended a webinar last year that discussed the basics of editing memoir. The first thing the presenter mentioned was that not everyone who thinks they should write a memoir should actually write a memoir. She noted something that I found a little bit hilarious but 90% true. When someone is listening to another person's story, there are those times when they'll say to that person, “Wow, you really ought to write a book.”
The webinar presenter said that this is a cocktail party equivalent of I can't listen to this anymore and I need you to stop talking. A listener's version of “oh look at the time,” if you will.
Yes, there are some fascinating stories out there. And a lot of them would benefit from being shared with others. But you should always keep in mind that what one person thinks is an incredible family event is often only incredible to that family, or maybe even only that family member. The rest of the world either sees it as no big deal, been there done that, or simply ridiculous. So your uncle buried cash and homemade pickles in his backyard all his life, and no one knew about it until the plot of land was being excavated for new development. That's certainly a quirk that can be laughed about around the Thanksgiving table from year to year, but is it really something you want to write a book about? A clickbait article, maybe. Is it really something that a reader would want to pay money to read about? Doubtful.
This next one is very hard to say, but . . .
5. Your Writing May Simply Be Boring
Sometimes a writer will ask for help with a certain scene in their book, and they'll say something like, “I don't know, I'm finding it hard to get into this scene and keep skimming over it when I work on my edits.”
More experienced authors usually chime in with something like, “if it's boring to you, why do you think your readers will be more interested than you are?” This usually inspires the removal of a scene, or a character, or a plot bunny.
Sometimes—not always, but sometimes—a manuscript that’s tedious to the writer is a good indicator for whether the book will have appeal to others.
6. You Should Have Stopped Five Books Ago
I firmly believe that people can recognize when you're writing a book to make money, as opposed to writing a book because you want to share the information with others to help them grow.
An example I always think of is the Chicken Soup for the Soul series. Don't get me wrong, there's nothing inherently wrong with those books. I think they’re sappy and irritating, full of contrived stories presented as true, but that’s my own opinion. How many of them do we need? Chicken Soup for the Soul, Chicken Soup for the Soul for Pregnant Ferrari Owners, Chicken Soup for the Soul for Empty Nesters, Chicken Soup for the Soul for Pet Groomers, and the list goes on. Disclaimer: I don't think any of those are actual titles but they illustrate the ridiculousness of all the follow-up Chicken Soup books and their specificity.
Publishers and movie makers are alike in that aspect—if the first one’s popular, they’ll want to immediately make another and ride the wave until the money stops coming in. As a nonfiction author, you should take a look at whether you’re rehashing a bunch of ideas that have already been said (by you or someone else), or whether you’re bringing something new to the table. The same basic information can be made fresh so it appeals to a different demographic.
What About You?
Have you ever put down a nonfiction book? Are you reading a nonfiction book right now that you wish you hadn’t spent money on? What made you get to the point where you said, “I’m not reading any more of this”?
Keeping the above reasons in mind while you’re writing can help you make your book un-put-downable.