There are many qualities that make a piece of nonfiction great. Style, voice, and organization all come together to form a solid work that flows well and educates the reader. However, to truly be powerful, the content of your nonfiction piece must also be actionable.
Actionable content tells readers what they need to do to incorporate the information in your book into their existing habits. It’s what takes your work from being insightful to being truly educational, which is what will ultimately be of the greatest benefit to the reader. In this respect the author is a teacher, showing people ways they can improve their businesses, get healthier, stay out of debt, or solve some other problem.
There are many different types of actionable content you can develop to include in your work:
- Quiz. Test the reader on key concepts by posting a small quiz at the end of a section.
- Self-assessment. Have readers assess their current behaviors and compare them to the habits you’ve introduced. You can then introduce them to ways to change their behavior (if necessary).
- Activity. Give readers an activity that engages them in the process of applying the information you just shared. For example, a health book could ask readers to pick one unhealthy food to eliminate from their diets that week. A business author could create a team-building exercise that the manager could apply at work that week.
- Sample problem. If you are educating people on ways to solve certain issues or make certain judgments, give them sample problems. For example, if you are writing a book on flipping houses, give your readers a scenario in which they would need to evaluate a property’s earning potential compared to the cost of improvements.
- Next steps. Now that they have the tools and ideas you introduced, give your readers the next steps they should take. Do they need to do more research? Then direct them to additional resources. Do they need to reallocate time or some other resource? Then tell them exactly how do go about doing it.
You can weave this actionable content throughout the work, placing in different areas depending on what makes sense for your book. For example, you can try the following approaches:
- Close each section with an assignment. After you have introduced the reader to a new concept or strategy, give them an activity they can do to either asses how they are working now or to start incorporating a new habit or thought process.
- Sprinkle them throughout. Have readers slowly build their skills throughout the book by having them do activities before, during, and after the introduction of each new concept.
- Put them at the end of the book. You can group all activities at the end as part of a “Next Steps” section or an appendix.
- Direct people to an accompanying workbook. You can group your book with a workbook. Special note: Workbooks don’t work well as standalone products. A book that thoroughly explains the concepts and strategies behind the activities you are teaching should accompany your workbook.
- Get interactive: Send readers to a website or other online destination that has activities for the reader.
Remember, when a reader is comparing your book to that of your closest competitor, he or she is looking for the one with the most value. Make readers’ decisions easy by giving them content they can immediately use to improve their business or personal life.
Shennandoah Diaz is the Business Development Assistant at Greenleaf Book Group, a publisher and distributor supporting independent authors and small presses. Diaz develops educational materials for authors in addition to managing Greenleaf’s social media, writing case studies and white papers on the publishing industry, and coordinating Austin Publishing University.