Non-Fiction: Novel Ways to Spice It Up

image by OpenClipart-Vectors
image by OpenClipart-Vectors

I’m working on a non-fiction book based on my blog’s writing posts and more. The book’s purpose is to help writers transform their manuscripts into editor-friendly books in 32 steps.

Here’s what I learned about introducing novel ideas into non-fiction books from Debbie Harmsen’s article, “Straight Up Non-fiction With a Twist” (Writer’s Digest March/April 2015).



image by Deedster
image by Deedster

Harmsen talks about how we present our thoughts, ideas, and information. This involves the title, chapter titles, headings, and running themes. She suggests the that framework add fun, make the content memorable, and provide lightness.

I want my title to communicate the benefits the book provides. But I also want readers to anticipate fun as they work on their manuscript.



When I brainstormed titles, the first seven revealed my book’s benefits, using lofty but tired words. Then I pictured what my book would help writers do to their manuscripts. With the resulting simile, I wrote a title that sported creative words. I brainstormed other images, similes, and creative titles.

Once I choose a title, I can work the theme of the simile into the chapter titles and headings.



image by OpenClipart-Vectors
image by OpenClipart-Vectors

Next, Harmsen mentioned the novelty of exchanging the normal cheerleader approach with helping readers realize whether the work involved is right for them.

In my introduction, perhaps I’ll ask whether performing 32 steps seems too much work to improve their manuscript. Writing a sellable novel is much work, and getting one into shape may not be worth their time. That’s okay. Another choice may be to pursue forms of writing that require less editing.

Scenes and Dialogue


In this section, Harmsen discusses using stories to show how a principle works, e.g. characters in business situations.

My book will have plenty of fiction examples to support the principles.

image by eslfuntaiwan
image by eslfuntaiwan

Supplemental Material


Here, Harmsen talks about the importance of such things as sidebars and subheadings. She stresses adding novel materials that interactively engage the reader, such as quizzes and fun extras at chapter endings.

So, I’ll include simple, humorous drawings, text boxes, and worksheets to help readers work on their manuscripts.





Harmsen suggests a flashback could work well in non-fiction books. She mentions opening with a failure story about a person who hadn’t used the book’s principles and then closing with a success story for a person who had.

My book is for:

  • the unpublished writer, whose manuscript needs work, has been rejected, or received low contest scores;
  • the self-publisher, who knows his manuscript needs work or has received poor sales and reviews; and
  • the published author who wants to improve her manuscript.

Therefore, my targeted audience should identify with my opening failure story, and my ending success story.



Testimonials can make information and principles stronger. Dave Ramsey sprinkles in testimonials in his Financial Peace books.

At the end of each chapter, I might add a testimonial about how a writer improved his manuscript by applying a technique or principle.

(If you’re interested in possibly having your testimony in my book, contact me at with “Testimony” in the heading.)

Try these novel ideas in your non-fiction book. Click to tweet.

What technique made a non-fiction book you’ve read enjoyable to read?


5 Steps to Find the Comparable Novels Publishers Want in Your Proposal

Include books that are similar to yours in theme, tone, style and/or genre.— Rachelle Gardner

image by rebbeccadevitt0
image by rebbeccadevitt0

I’ve noticed writers, myself included, struggling to find comparable books for publishers. Many blogs explain why publishers want Comparable Titles and how to write this proposal section. But, I found little on how to find novels comparable to mine. With hindsight modifications, here’s what I did.

Step 1 – Complete this form for your book using few words (examples provided):

  1. Genre
    1. Romantic Suspense
    2. Legal Thriller
    3. Women’s Fiction
    4. Cozy Mystery
  1. Time period
    1. Contemporary
    2. 1950s
    3. Regency
    4. Pre-Columbian
image by Bonnybbx
image by Bonnybbx

  3.  Main setting
       a.  Southern Plantation
       b.  Lake Norman, NC
       c.  Rome
       d.  Thanksgiving




  1. Plot
    1. Solving a murder using police dogs
    2. Romance between widow and widower
    3. Overcoming covered wagon journey hardships
    4. Foster child surviving and receiving permanent home
  1. Theme and/or takeaway
    1. Coming home
    2. Rising above abuse
    3. Healing a broken marriage
    4. Oddball fitting in
image by kartal8167
image by kartal8167
  1. Style/Tone/Voice
    1. Humor
    2. Clean romance
    3. Christian
    4. Military
  1. Main Audience
    1. Women
    2. Young adult males
    3. Arts & craft lovers
    4. Sports fans
  1. Authors You Write Like


image by Bonnybbxvitt0
image by Bonnybbxvitt0

Step 2 – Choose the most relevant identifiers. Perhaps these will spark a book you’ve read. Don’t be too strict; appropriate books may have only a few of your identifiers.

Example: contemporary, clean romance, humor, office professionals, overbearing father, Thanksgiving


Step 3 – Search and make a list of 5 to 10 possible titles. Using your keywords, try these sources:

image by moritz320
image by moritz320
  1. Search websites, such as Amazon, Christian Book Distributors, and Goodreads. Make sure candidates:
    1. are fairly current
    2. have lots of reviews heavily loaded toward 3-5 stars
    3. have recognizable publishing clout (well-known publisher, multi-published author, or strong sales).
  2. Send emails to reader friends and ask: Considering one or more of these keywords, what books that you enjoyed come to mind? (Unlike story summaries, relevant keywords may keep people open to more books.)
  3. Ask your critique partners and beta readers for popular titles similar to your book.
  4. Browse books in a bookstore, noting the ones in the section in which your book would be shelved.

Step 4 – Arrange your titles from the most to least promising. During the next step, you may have the needed comparable titles before you exhaust your list.

Step 5 – Starting at the top of your list, look up the title on Amazon and Goodreads.

  1. If you haven’t already done so, read the blurbs.
  2. Read many reviews. With reviews and blurbs, you should see readers mentioning your keywords or similar words. If you don’t, put that title aside.
  3. Make sure reviews with 1 – 3 stars don’t repeatedly mention an important flaw that you’d prefer your book not be compared to.
  4. Also, reading lots of reviews might reveal some common thread or belief that’s something you’d rather not have in a comparable title.
  5. Authors with multiple books satisfying your keywords is even better.

Use these 5 steps and find comparable titles for your fiction book proposal. Click to tweet.

What suggestions do you have for finding comparable fiction titles?