Three Mistakes New Authors Make When Writing a Nonfiction Book

Three Mistakes New Authors Make When Writing a Nonfiction Book

This week I’ve been putting the finishing touches on my slides for a presentation that I’m very excited about. It’s an information-packed 90-minute interactive session that aims to help nonfiction authors write and publish the best book possible. I’ll be delivering this seminar on March 6 in Vancouver, at the Book Publishing Boot Camp: An All-Day Workshop for Women Entrepreneurs and Professionals.

You can get all the details (and early bird pricing!) here.

Here’s a little taste of my presentation.

Every author starts out with great intentions and ambitious goals, but they don’t necessarily have good publishing instincts. In countless meetings and consultation sessions with aspiring authors of nonfiction books, I’ve found that there are three key mistakes that most new authors make.

  1. They write about what interests them, rather than what interests their audience. Over the course of your career, you’ve acquired a wealth of information, not all of which is useful to your target reader. Your book is not the right forum in which to explore the arcane aspects of your work that fascinate you most. Instead, ask yourself what need your reader is trying to meet by reading your book. Shape the content of your book to meet that need, giving them exactly what they will find most useful and relevant, and nothing more.
  2. They aim to reach as many people as possible. Many authors assume that writing a book with “mainstream appeal” is the best way to sell a lot of copies. A broad market has more people in it, therefore more potential buyers, right? Unfortunately, that’s not how it works, unless your book is the undisputed bible on its subject. The counter-intuitive truth is that the more specific you are about who your audience is, the more likely those readers are to have a strong positive response to your book when they see it on the shelf. Narrowing in on a theme, a reader demographic or a topic focus will give your book a unique personality and purpose. It’s much better to be a big hit among a smaller crowd than to be overlooked by the masses.
  3. They don’t understand the “rules” that apply to their chosen genre. How-to books, memoirs, “big idea” books and narrative non-fiction books all follow particular conventions, and must have certain qualities in order to be successful. Failure to understand or observe these norms is almost certain to lead to an unsatisfying book that feels “off” to readers, even if they can’t pinpoint why. The most common way this error tends to show up is in books that are neither fish nor fowl, for example part memoir, part how-to. You may have a burning desire to tell your personal story as well as dispensing advice, but the truth is that readers don’t care. They’re just trying to get their own needs met. Understanding and fulfilling your readers’ expectations will help you craft a winning book that stands out in its field.

Behind every successful book is a well thought-out plan that takes these three things into consideration, and that’s just a starting point. It’s also critically important to think strategically about how your book will help you reach your personal and professional goals. Maybe you’re trying to attract more or higher-quality clients to your business. Perhaps you want to raise your expert profile and do more public speaking. Or you’re planning to step away from your practice and establish a serious writing career as an author with a series of books. Whatever your objectives, they must guide your writing decisions at the conceptual level.

There is no shortcut around this groundwork, and it must be done early on. Before you approach publishers and agents, long before you’re ready to work with an editor, and even before you write your book proposal, you’ve got to decide what your book will be about, who it’s for, and what will and won’t go into it.

Concept development is the most important yet arguably most overlooked part of the author’s writing process. That’s why I’ll be covering concept development and book planning in depth in my seminar on March 6. By the end of the day, attendees will have all the information they need to get crystal clear about:

  • What kind of book they should write
  • Who their target market is, or ought to be
  • What it will take to make their book a success
  • How to maximize their strengths
  • How to work around their weaknesses

It’s going to be a life-changing session for any subject matter expert who wants to write a nonfiction book to boost her brand or business.

And that’s just one component of an information-rich day. I’ll be joined on stage with the local publishing industry’s smartest and most experienced publishing professionals, from editors and literary agents to marketers and publicists, all ready to share their very best advice for first time authors. Successful authors will also share their inspiring and hard-earned experiences in publishing their books.

Check out the full program here.

If you are a smart, ambitious woman who wants to write a book to expand her brand and build her business – and who wants to write the BEST BOOK possible for her unique circumstances and goals – then this conference is the place to be.

Register now for the Book Publishing Boot Camp and set yourself on the path to making your publishing goals a reality!

The Book Publishing Boot Camp: An All-Day Workshop for Women Entrepreneurs and Professionals is co-presented by LifeTree Media and Pink Velvet Couch, in partnership with Raise A Dream.

maggie langrick
Founder and Publisher, LifeTree Media


Maggie Langrick is the President and Publisher at LifeTree Media, a publishing company specializing in nonfiction books and ebooks that help, heal and inspire. Before founding LifeTree in 2013, Maggie was Arts and Life editor for the Vancouver Sun newspaper. In June 2016 she was shortlisted for the Tom Fairley Award for Editorial Excellence, Canada's only national peer-reviewed editing prize, for her work on Shell, by Michelle Stewart. She is the author of the forthcoming book Bold, Deep and High: How to Write Your Best Book. Maggie calls herself "an optimistic cheerleader for the human race", and thrives on a balanced diet of yoga and ribald humour.

How to Write a Killer Book Introduction

How to Write a Killer Book Introduction

Of all the book chapters you will write, your introduction is likely to confound you the most. What should go in it? How long should it be? Is anyone even going to read it? Most authors find themselves scratching their heads over questions like these. I hope to answer them here.

A book introduction isn’t strictly necessary in every book, but most non-fiction books will benefit from having one. If you’re going to include one, it’s critical to get it right. Potential readers often skim the introduction to help them decide whether or not to buy a book. An introduction that’s engaging and compelling can clinch the sale, but a dull or meandering one can kill the reader’s interest before they’ve even glanced at Chapter 1. Having said that, some readers skip the introduction altogether, so it must also stand alone and should not establish important facts or statements essential to understanding the rest of the book. So, what does go into it?

A non-fiction book introduction has a few jobs to do:

1. Tell the reader what’s in it for them.

Most importantly, the introduction should tell the reader what they will gain from reading the book. Some introductions are highly specific in describing the book’s content, breaking it down chapter by chapter. This is especially true of how-to books that need to be read or used in a specific way. Others simply describe the life-transforming gifts the book promises to deliver. You should choose an approach that supports your material, and speaks to your reader’s needs and motivations.

2. Create interest.

The introduction must also prime the reader for the experiential journey they are about to embark upon. What will it feel like to read this book? Be consistent with the style and tone of voice that you use in the book, and don’t hold back on the charm. You must sparkle on the page and be every bit as clever, insightful or helpful as you are in the rest of the book. Think of the introduction as a blind date. Your undecided potential reader needs to figure out whether they like spending time with you enough to invest their time, attention and money in a longer-term relationship.

3. Build rapport.

Unless you’re writing a memoir, your book’s chapters will largely focus on your reader’s problem and your solution to it, rather than your own personal stories, thoughts and opinions. But the introduction is one place where it’s definitely ok to “break the fourth wall” and address your reader directly, as an author and a human being. Open up a little bit about your personal motivation for writing the book. Was there a particular “aha” moment when you realized that you needed to write it? Tell that story now. And who do you hope to help with the book? Sharing your desire to serve a particular type of person will help to forge a bond between you and your potential reader, demonstrating to them that you understand their needs and are motivated by serving their best interests.

4. Build trust.

Finally, your introduction should underscore your authority as the right person to write this book. No doubt you are a credentialed expert in the subject you’re writing about, but you can’t take it for granted that your readers know that, so use the introduction to conversationally share some details of your professional history. If you’ve been helping clients with this problem for twenty years, say so. If you played an important role in pivotal moments in your industry’s history, explain how. If you’ve conducted deep research or developed a proprietary system, tell them about it. This is not bragging, it’s putting yourself in context. You must answer the reader’s unspoken question: “Why should I listen to you?”


There are no hard and fast rules regarding the ideal length of an introduction – just make it as long as necessary to get the job done, and no longer. That could be anywhere from a single page in some cases, up to a full-length chapter if there’s a particularly fascinating back-story to share. Usually, it’s best to aim somewhere in between, leaning toward the shorter side. Certainly, you do not want to write an introduction that’s longer than your average chapter length. Just stick to the highlights, and save the detailed foundation of your book’s premise for Chapter 1.


Although your introduction is placed at the front of the book, you don’t have to write it first. In fact, many authors find it much easier to write the introduction last, sometimes even after the first round of substantive editing is complete. By that time, you’ll have found your voice and your confidence as a writer, and you’ll also be able to draw the reader’s attention to specific sections in the book.

Above all, don’t make the mistake of thinking of the introduction as a dull but necessary evil. Yes, lots of people will skip it, but that’s no excuse to treat it like a throwaway. Put your best foot forward. Take time to write it with care and confidently showcase your ideas, your personality, your history, and your dedication to the reader. Your up-front investment will pay off in reader engagement and book sales.

3 Essential Questions to Ask a Hybrid Publisher

3 Essential Questions to Ask a Hybrid Publisher

What the heck is a hybrid publisher, anyway? And how do you know if you’ve found a good one?

At its best, hybrid publishing offers many of the benefits of being published by a traditional publisher — including access to market (i.e. brick-and-mortar bookstores), high quality editing and design — as well as the benefits of self-publishing, such as higher royalties, ownership of rights and creative control. I founded LifeTree on this model because I wanted to offer authors the opportunity to have the best of both worlds. But not every company that calls itself a hybrid publisher delivers on all these criteria.

Because hybrid publishing is a relatively new and emerging model, different firms use the label in slightly different ways, which understandably leads to a lot of confusion among authors about what it is, how it works, and who it’s for. If you’re wondering whether hybrid publishing is right for you, you’ve probably Googled it and discovered some inconsistency in the services offered, which can be a frustrating experience.

It’s hard to shop around for something if you don’t know what you’re looking for. So how can you tell a quality hybrid publisher from a time-waster? When speaking to J.S. Leonard on his Bleeding Ink podcast, I mentioned that there are three essential questions to ask. Now I’ll also give you the best answer you can hear for each of the three, as well as the worst answer.


1. How is your distribution handled?

Best answer: “We are distributed to the book trade, which means that we have a national (or international) team of sales reps who will actively sell your book into stores. We supply these reps with a full set of sales materials relating to your book, including cover art, a sell sheet, excerpts from the text, and sometimes Advance Reader Copies (ARCs), which are also referred to as ‘bound galleys’. Each season, we meet with our distributor to present our upcoming titles to the sales team. In turn, the reps meet with buyers at Barnes and Noble, Amazon, airport stores, specialty retailers, libraries, and all other sorts of booksellers. Through our distributor, retailers sometimes offer us the opportunity to participate in ‘co-op’ arrangements, in which your book is given special placement in the store such as the front table, in exchange for a fee. We also handle warehousing, shipping, order fulfillment, and the processing of returns, as well as calculation and payout of royalties.”

Worst answer: “Your book is available to order in any local bookstore.” Some hybrid publishers and self-publishing companies claim to offer “worldwide distribution,” when really what they mean is that your book is listed in the catalogue of a book wholesaler such as Ingram. This means that, although a customer could technically walk into a store and order your book, they will never find it on the shelf there: no sales reps are presenting it to retailers, so no retailers are stocking it. This is not true trade distribution.

2. Do you do developmental editing?

Best answer: “We sure do! In fact, we consider developmental editing the most important part of the book creation process. This is editing at the bird’s-eye level, in which we examine fundamental aspects of the book such as its topic focus, structure and tone. What are its core messages, and are they clearly expressed? Have new ideas been introduced in the right sequence so that each one builds on what has come before? Is anything missing from the book, and does anything need to be taken out? Is the book geared to appeal to its target market? These are critical questions to resolve before the manuscript can be revised and copyedited. Our editors are industry-seasoned book publishing professionals who will bring sound, informed guidance to your collaborative relationship.”

Worst answer: “We will copyedit your book to make sure it is free from typos and grammatical errors.” Many vanity publishers and self-publishing companies tout their copyediting services to authors, who may be unfamiliar with the  various levels of editing. Yes, copyediting is essential to any book – but only once the deeper developmental work has been done. Otherwise, you’re icing a half-baked cake.

3. Who owns the rights to my book?

This one’s a bit more complicated, because it depends on whether or not the hybrid publisher jointly invests in the book’s production with you, or whether you have put up all the money. If you’re the sole financial backer of your book, then you should own all the publishing rights, now and forever (as you would under LifeTree’s model). If your hybrid publisher is jointly investing with you, then there are a number of different ways the deal might be structured, but be wary of any hybrid publisher who insists on acquiring your rights without making a financial investment in the book.

Of course, there’s much more to know about hybrid publishing. I covered a lot of it in my conversation with J.S Leonard, when he interviewed me for his Bleeding Ink podcast. Click here to listen to it.

This article was originally published on the LifeTree Media blog.

maggie langrick
Founder and Publisher, LifeTree Media


Maggie Langrick is the President and Publisher at LifeTree Media, a publishing company specializing in nonfiction books and ebooks that help, heal and inspire. Before founding LifeTree in 2013, Maggie was Arts and Life editor for the Vancouver Sun newspaper. In June 2016 she was shortlisted for the Tom Fairley Award for Editorial Excellence, Canada's only national peer-reviewed editing prize, for her work on Shell, by Michelle Stewart. She is the author of the forthcoming book Bold, Deep and High: How to Write Your Best Book. Maggie calls herself "an optimistic cheerleader for the human race", and thrives on a balanced diet of yoga and ribald humour.