Kern_web shot Jan here, enjoying a beautiful fall afternoon in the foothills of the Sierras. Today I’m considering the readers of the books we are writing–the essential person that we must keep in mind.

Over the years I’ve critiqued quite a few nonfiction proposals and manuscripts. The writers pored out their souls in their manuscripts, sometimes to the point of (figuratively) bleeding on the page. Each hoped their story would make a difference in the lives of others who had experienced similar struggles.

I found the ideas of many of the stories compelling. And yet, for some, the delivery left me feeling alienated from or cautious about the heart of the message. Why?

As I read each manuscript, it quickly became evident when an author wrote her own story and journey without the reader in mind. The narrative took the reader to a precipice . . . and then pushed her over the edge.

As nonfiction writers, we want to be real about the tough topics. We want our stories to have integrity and authenticity. At the same time, it’s important that we write with utmost care and sensitivity for the reader who is likely hoping our book will help her understand how to address similar struggles, healing, or issues.

If you’re writing this kind of book, it might be time to pause and take a step back. Check where you are in the process. Are you ready to write for the reader? Here’s a checklist:

–I’ve given time and space to my own pain and what God wants to accomplish in me before writing for the reader.

–I have on hand notes or journals that keep me in touch with the events, thoughts, feelings, and prayers I had while working through the situation or the healing.

–I have an interest in and growing understanding of the different ways these same events or issues impact others.

–I’ve spent substantial time learning the craft of writing through books, courses, and conferences. (This cannot be understated!)

–I’ve practiced my writing craft and practiced some more—for instance, through writing articles and other short pieces that reflect my interests, passions, and even what I am discovering in my journey.

–As I began to write my story in my book, I let go of having to tell it all.

–I’ve asked God to partner with me in helping me know what the readers need in pace, timing, and details.

–I’ve sought to write with the reader in mind. I’ve thought: How is she handling this part of my story? Is she appropriately challenged or encouraged? Is this section that I’ve written too much or too little? Does it increase understanding, growth, and healing–more for her than for me?

–Before I proposed the book or offered it to an editor, I’ve sought feedback from writer or reader friends who are willing to be entirely honest. And I have fully considered the comments they’ve shared.

If you do all of these wholeheartedly, you are well on the road to offering a book that will make a difference in a reader’s life, and one that an editor may be very interested in snatching up and publishing.


Jan writes nonfiction from her home in the foothills of the California Sierras. She is currently adding to her Live Free series for the teen/ya audience and also enjoys life coaching and mentoring writers. Visit her site at

2 thoughts on “Essential: Writing Nonfiction with the Reader in Mind


October 10, 2009 - 08 : 57 : 56

Good article, Jan and so true.

Jan Kern

October 12, 2009 - 20 : 07 : 42

Thanks, Shirl!

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