Image: Matthew Loffhagen
Your potential reader picks up your book off the shelf or clicks on the book preview, turns to your introduction, and starts to read.
You’ve got them interested; they’re reading your work, now it’s your job to tell them why they should buy your book. In nonfiction, your job is to prove yourself to your reader in the pages of the introduction. This is essential because if the reader closes the book and returns it to the shelf, you’ve lost them. But if you can hook them, prove to them that your book solves their problem, meets their needs, or introduces them to a person or a story they want to know more about, you’ll have gained a new reader and sold another book.
So, without further ado, here are four things you need to do to nail your nonfiction introduction and gain more readers.
1. Focus on the reader
For writers passionate about their topic, it’s tempting to use the introduction to talk about themselves: why they wanted to write the book, what they hope to accomplish, the research that led to their findings. But in terms of selling books to prospective readers, that’s a poor strategy.
An introduction that is author-focused is rarely engaging enough to hook a reader for one simple reason: the reader wants to know what buying the book will do for them. If you can give them this information up front, they’ll be much more likely to trust the book to deliver on its promises. If you want to hook a reader with your introduction—and you do—you’ve got to keep your reader’s needs and desires in mind.
If you need some help to refocus your opening, here’s a quick exercise. Ask yourself the following questions:
- Who is my target reader?
- Why have they picked up my book in the first place?
- What do they need and how can I meet their expectations?
Think about your introduction through the lens of your reader: answer their questions, set their expectations, and make promises about how your book can meet their needs.
2. Address fundamental questions
Look back at the list you just made.
What are the fundamental questions your reader will want answered about your chosen topic? An introduction is not a place to be vague. Go ahead, spill the beans, give them a preview of what to expect from the rest of your book. If you don’t, they’ll either have to go digging for it in later pages (if they’re a patient consumer) or they’ll move on to another book, one that gives them what they’re looking for.
If you write a book about how busy moms can implement a complicated new diet for the whole family, but you don’t mention how you’re going to solve her problem in the introduction, will she have the confidence to buy the book? Will she have the time to flip through the chapters and make sure your ideas are valid and tailored to her needs?
Why are you writing this book? How will you meet the reader’s needs? Why are you qualified to do so? What makes your book different from other books on the topic? The introduction is the place to address those questions.
3. Establish your voice
The introduction isn’t only about selling your solution to your reader’s problem, it’s about forming a relationship. If they feel they know you and care about what you have to say by the time they’ve finished the intro, they’ll keep reading.Your nonfiction introduction is about forming a relationship with your reader.Click To Tweet
I hear you, you’re saying, “Didn’t you just tell me the introduction isn’t about the author?” Yes, I did say that. But there’s a distinction.
Let’s go back to the mom looking for a healthy family diet.
The introduction is reader-focused, answers her questions about the content of the book, and reveals that the author is a mom who used this particular diet to revolutionize her family’s health; it changed their lives so drastically that she’s been compelled to write this book to help other moms just like her. Do you see the difference? This author met the reader’s needs and answered her questions first, then she revealed a personal reason for this reader to trust her expertise. Do you think the reader is engaged? Likely to buy this book?
What’s the application for your book? How can you use your expertise, personal experience with the topic, passion for this book’s potential to connect with your reader in the introduction? Maybe it’s through a brief personal anecdote, outlining how your considerable expertise gave you the solution you’re offering, or simply writing with such a strong voice that the reader feels connected to you by the end of those first pages.
4. Make a promise you can keep
What does your book promise your reader? Many topics have an inherent promise that’s obvious, but what about a memoir or an inspirational story? They still offer the reader a product—they promise to inspire, inform, or enlighten. The introduction is the place to state your promise and show how the rest of the book intends to keep it.
Do you have someone in your life consistently making promises he or she doesn’t keep? That’s profoundly frustrating isn’t it? It doesn’t encourage trust. The same is true of the author-reader relationship in any kind of writing, but in nonfiction especially. First, be sure that the promises you make in the introduction are fulfilled in the rest of your book. Second, don’t be shy about addressing that in the opening pages. Tell your reader what you intend to do for them and how you’re going to do it, then back it up in the rest of the book.
Do this and you’ll not only gain a satisfied reader but one who will sing your praises to their friends. Successful authors understand that selling their books isn’t just about making a sale, it’s about establishing long-term relationships with readers. Establishing and maintaining trust is an essential part of that process.
If your introduction includes these four elements, you’ll make a personal connection with your reader, outline how your story will change their lives, and show them why they need your book. A great introduction has the power to hook readers, get them to buy your book, keep them turning the pages, and tell their friends about it. Now go out there and write your own stellar intro!
What did these ideas help you think differently about your introduction? How have you used these elements successfully in your own books already? Tell us about it in the comments.
For more on writing engaging nonfiction, check out How To Find The Story In Your Nonfiction Project, or Writing Creative Nonfiction – How To Stay Safe (And Legal).How To Nail Your Nonfiction IntroductionClick To Tweet