Let me not bore you with the fact that every good story is useless without fully fleshed characters. You know that, of course. You are a writer. What is so obvious for a fictional or historical novel seems pretty obsolete when you are writing non-fiction literature. Unfortunately the total opposite is here the case. There is this one character that is always with you. The one character most writers fear and sometimes try to ignore: THE READER. The reader is the character that has to be known inside out.
But isn’t every reader different? Does not every person have their own personality? Not entirely true, I am afraid. People have similarities. Thousands of people have the same hobby. Millions of people suffer the same problem, or share the same dream or experience. When writing a non-fiction book knowing your exact audience is vital – literally.
Let’s start with the one reader everybody should know inside out: ME. When you look at the nonfiction section of your own bookshelf, which kind of books are you willing to put money into? What does the cover look like: full of strong colours and pictures or clear and simple? How about the title? What is the keyword you can find in most of them? Are the titles simple and professional or promising and pleasing to your fantasy? Are there pictures on the cover, or do you prefer symbols? So much information and we have not even opened the book yet.
Join me now on an imaginary trip to your favourite bookshop. A perfect reader is coming through the door. Is the person male or female? What age is your reader? 20 and still eager to learn more about the secrets of the world? 50 and already knowledgeable, educated and pretty sure of his or her needs? What does your reader wear? Something super stylish or all natural and comfortable. Are they a busy person or someone with time to spare? Will he or she walk right to the exact shelf, pick the right book and leave for the cash desk (how did they know where to look?)? Or will your reader stroll about, muse over several volumes before he or she decides to pick one, or two – or better make that three. Always remember: first the spine, then the front, then the back. The back cover is crucial, but let’s talk about that later as the synopsis is always the last thing to write.
Your book has passed the first test; it is one out of five. The reader sits down to have a closer look. Most people start with the beginning. That is, in case of a non-fiction book, the index. What is this book assuring it will give me? Does the index make sense; is it promising or just confusing and boring? Three out of five books might pass the index-test. The next step is crucial. Some people will open the book on the page with the most interesting chapter, others will open it on the first page and start reading. It is a gamble, but over half the readers will start at the beginning. This is where most books lose their readers, by providing a tedious entrée. The best tip I can give you for that: write your book, throw away the first chapter and write it again. It actually pays off.
We are down to two and your book is still in the running. This is the point where I can not help you. This is the point where your personal ‘more’ will bring your reader to you: your spirit, your ambition, your philosophy, your knowledge. This is the moment when it is all about you. And there it is. The spark that says: I want this book. I must know what it says. Who is the author? You have made contact.
Let us now assume that it is this very particular reader whom you have invited for tea – in your favourite bookshop. After ordering a nice cup of his favourite blend (have you guessed it right?), you start talking. What are you going to say?
Why don’t you think about it – until next week. Yours Sonja Nemecek