Writing Nonfiction: 5 Tips to Help Readers Enter Your Nonfiction World

Sunday, April 21, 2019
Each time I turn in a nonfiction project, I think I’ve nailed it. Certainly after 20 books, I should have tiny clue. But still I find myself working through the rewrite using my editor’s comments to clarify and smooth the way for my reader. Helping them enter the nonfiction world I’ve chosen to recreate is always tricky.

Here are 5 tips to help make the task a bit easier:

1. Set the Hook. Whether I am writing about The Ancient Maya or The Evolution of Reptiles, I have to hook my reader and hook them fast. The young adults who read my books have way too many demands on their time to read 30 pages before they decide if they are willing to keep reading. I have to hook them and hook them fast which I often do with the help of a creative nonfiction scene. The Ancient Maya opens with a game on a ball court and The Evolution of Reptiles with the discovery of a vital fossil.
2. Bring The Reader Up to Speed. Once I’ve hooked my reader, I need to bring them up to speed. What information do they need to understand the topic? The creative nonfiction scene may be my hook but I have to follow this with the details readers need to comprehend the topic. In The Ancient Maya I wrote about their rise from farming villages to city states. In The Evolution of Reptiles I wrote about evolution, what exactly a reptile is and taxonomic classifications. But I still have to be certain that I gradually dole the information out…
3. Bite by Bite. Too much information too fast will overwhelm my readers. If I do that, they’ll give up on the book and move on to something less confusing. To prevent this, I need to give them new information a bit at a time. This is true whether the information takes the form of dates, names, or terms.
4. Acknowledge Your Expertise. To introduce information bite by bite, I have to understand just how much of this is familiar to me but new to my reader. Not surprisingly, when my editor sends me a list of potential topics, I generally pick things that interest me. I’ve been interested in ancient people and all kinds of animals since before I could read. This means that things that I consider common knowledge probably aren’t. Last but not least, I need to look for ways to make connections when I . . .
5. Wrap It Up. This is one of the hardest parts of the job for me. I have to reiterate for my reader why the topic is important. This can be tough when it is a topic that fascinated me. After all, just say Inca, Aztec or Maya and you have my attention. My readers? Some of them probably share my fascination, but most will need a reason to care. Recent research shows that Mayan civilization may have collapsed due to climate change.

Writing nonfiction means making a variety of real places and times accessible to your reader. These tips will help you make your nonfiction world real, easy to enter, and meaningful to your reader.


To find out more about Sue Bradford Edwards' writing, visit her blog, One Writer's Journey.  Sue is also the instructor for Writing Nonfiction for Children and Young Adults. The next session begins May 20th, 2019.


Sioux Roslawski said...

Sue--You could give the same advice about fiction.

You have to get the reader hooked on the story and the characters right away. Bringing them up to speed can't happen too quickly--you don't want to subject them to an information dump. However, you want to give them enough information about the characters and the plot to keep them interested and prevent them from getting confused. Bit by bit and bite by bite, the reader gets immersed in the story. As the creator of the characters and the world/situation, the writer has to tell the story in a expert way, and finally, has to serve up a satisfying ending, where all the loose ends are tied up (unless there is a sequel).

Thanks for this post. You are the queen of nonfiction, so as usual, I bow down to you when it comes to advice like this.

Renee Roberson said...


Great bullet points on how to succeed in writing nonfiction for younger audiences! I'm curious as to what the word count usually is for these types of books?

Sue Bradford Edwards said...

It is the same as writing fiction.

My Abdo books for young adults are 15,000 words.


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