4 Questions to Improve Your Nonfiction Book Draft
So you’ve written your nonfiction book draft. Now what?
Getting the first draft out may have been easier than you’d imagined. Perhaps it spilled out of you in a torrent of ideas and feelings and energy. Perhaps it didn’t, and you spilled buckets of blood, sweat, and tears over every page. In any regard, you’ve completed your first draft, so it’s time to celebrate right? I did it, you think. Time to kick back, relax, and wait for the royalty checks to stream in.
Well, yes . . . and no. And, yes . . . relax, but only for a brief while. And, we all hope for those royalty checks, but first there’s more work to be done.
But, Kimberly, you plead. I’ve done the hard work. Can’t I just hand it to you (or [insert friendly, qualified editor’s name here]) to “clean up”?
Oh, dear writer, if it were only so. You’ve written your first draft, so yes celebrate. Celebrate your socks off. Text your friends at inappropriate times of the morning after you giddily type the words The End. (Not that this writer as done that. Sorry, Michelle in Reno.)
Dance around your house wearing your lucky first-draft yoga pants and ironic writerly-type T-shirt. Pour a glass a wine, or pop a tab on a Diet Coke, or drink herbal tea out of a too-expensive hipster pottery mug you bought on Etsy and celebrate!
Then, relax for a month or so as you let your first draft “cool down.” Come off the writer’s high we all experience when we finish a first draft. Then get to the down-and-dirty but wholly-terrifying-and-wonderful job of revising your manuscript.
Note: These four questions for improving a nonficition book draft came about because I couldn’t find anything online that addressed revising nonfiction. All the blog posts were about improving novel drafts or academic papers. My nonfiction book client, a first-time author, had finished his first draft. He was experiencing that nervous tension that comes when you find yourself in the middle of an intersection and can’t decide which way to go. You got there, you’re okay, but if you don’t go one way or the other something, you fear, will come any second to plow you over.
And because I could find nothing appropriate for said happy-but-anxious newbie nonfiction book author, I wrote my own brief guide to reading the first draft of one’s nonfiction book with fresh eyes and evaluating what concerns to address before the manuscript zips through the Web and lands in your editor’s in-box.
4 Key Considerations for a First-Draft Revision
When considering revisions for a nonfiction book draft, think in terms of the 4 C’s. Anyone who’s taken a writing class with me has heard me preach about the 4 C’s: Coherence, Consistency, Clarity, and Compelling Content. OK, technically that’s 5 C’s, but the fourth key consideration counts as one and the fifth C is actually Correctness, and we’re not concerned with that at this stage. And, it’s my blog, so it’s 4 C’s. Deal with it. J/K. Love you, dear writer.
I advised my nonfiction book client to take a break from the first draft for a few weeks, a month if he could, long enough to let it rest. Then he could pick it back up and consider these 4 key concerns, asking himself each key question and questions related to each key question.
Whew! that’s a lot of questions. Don’t worry if you haven’t got all the answers. It’s just about seeing the first draft with fresh eyes and addressing what you do recognize and can revise to produce a stronger second draft.
So here is (slightly edited) what I suggested to Beloved Client. (And I mean that sincerely. He’s a wonderful man with a huge heart to help others, my favorite type of client.)
As you read your first draft after its cooling period, consider these four key concerns and ask yourself the following questions:
1. Coherence of message – Does my nonfiction book draft make sense?
Related questions: Is each chapter and the sections within the chapters making sense after setting the draft aside for a while? Does any passage or section seem confusing? If so, mark the spot but keep reading, or take notes for the revision stage.
Have you explained key terms so that the reader understands what you mean by special language in your nonfiction book? If you’re making an argument, have you laid out your case logically? Are there gaps missing in content that the reader needs in order to follow the logic of your argument or understand your thinking on the subject?
2. Consistency of tone – Does the tone established in the introduction or first chapter carry through the entire draft?
Related questions: Is your naturnal writing voice coming through on each page? Are there places where the tone turns too “academic,” too “parental,” too “bossy,” or in someway unappealing? Have you included any lighter moments so that the message doesn’t feel too heavy? Does it sound as if you’re having a welcoming, honest conversation with your reader?
Note any passages you may need to address in revisions. Revise for a consistent tone throughout as much as you are able at this point. Some places you may not see, which is perfectly fine. Your editor will point those out and help you resolve them. That’s what we’re here for.
3. Clarity of vision – Does the draft fulfill the promise of my book implied in my book premise?
Related questions: Does each section of each chapter speak in some way to the vision, book premise, or central idea of the book? Do certain passages feel as if they’ve drifted off or gone on a tangent? Are any passages, sentences, or examples redundant? Do all the stories, research, anecdotes, facts, etc. still seem relevent and necessary? Could any section, passage, or detail be cut without hurting the book overall?
4. Compelling Content – Is the reader “hooked” and engaged until the final page?
Related questions: Is the first draft still interesting to you? Are there spots where your mind drifted? Did you get bored? Cut out anything that seems boring to you now. The reader will surely be bored as well. If your mind drifted, it may be a matter of clarity, so go back to number three and consider where you could sharpen the focus.
Is each story presented in a compelling way? Are you using dialogue to represent what others said? Dialogue can be engaging. In stories or anecdotes, do you paint a scene for the reader or use other narrative elements? Do you appeal to the reader’s emotions and persuade him or her to adopt your way of thinking about the subject?
Remember the 4 Cs for a Stronger Nonfiction Book Draft
These four key concerns–coherence, consistency, clarity, and compelling content–should give you plenty to consider as you work on your nonfiction book draft. Remember to let the first draft cool. This resting period is part of the writing process. Every writer needs some distance from the first draft to see it the way the reader is likely to see it.
Then, do a full read-through of your completed draft. Consider the 4 Cs of a well-written nonfiction manuscript. Make any revisions to the draft that you feel you can make before sending it to your editor. And, very important, trust your editor to do his or her part. Your editor is on your side. If not, fire your editor and find one who is.
Finally, kick back and give yourself time to refresh your mind, spirit, and creative self. You still have more revision work to do, dear writer, but know that in the end, you’ll have the magnificent nonfiction book of your dreams.
As always, believe in your creative self. You can accomplish your authorship goals. You deserve your best draft.
Writing is a process. Trust the process.
Joy and Blessings,