Finding the Best Angle for Writing Your Nonfiction Book

17 May 2019


Whether you’re writing a how-to, biography, memoir, or even a family history, you want your nonfiction book to stand out and be successful. And, most importantly, you want it to be interesting and enjoyable to your target audience.

One of the first steps on the road to crafting an engaging, enjoyable, informative nonfiction book is to find a great angle for your book – in other words, a way of presenting your information and telling the story that makes it interesting, unique, and memorable.

“Snap” Judgment: Why Angle is Important

In an article for Writer’s Digest, Adair Lara explained why an angle is a must-have for any nonfiction piece:

“Say you want to write an essay about how you love to cook. You have a subject, but you don’t yet have an angle. Subjects invite you to write and write but give you no particular direction in which to take your writing. Angles, on the other hand, tell you exactly what to write—and that’s what makes them so essential…  Once you have a good angle, the actual writing is a snap, because you know what to put in and what to leave out.”

Lara is right: Without an angle, all you have is a broad topic that you could take in any and every direction. You can, as Lara says, “write and write” – with no clear goal in sight. Not only is this overwhelming for you as a writer, it results in a rambly, unfocused book that will likely confuse your readers.  

An angle will help you stay focused and keep you from wandering off in random directions. The writing part may or may not be “a snap” – but it is true that an angle will help you stay the course.

Here are a few examples of nonfiction books with great, unique angles:

  1. Chicken Soup for the Soul by Jack Canfield, Mark Victor Hansen, et al, is a book of inspirational true stories — not from celebrities or sports figures or politicians — but from average, everyday people. Since the book was first published, the authors have released numerous follow-ups, each with a slightly different angle: Chicken Soup for the Teenage Soul, Chicken Soup for the Preteen Soul, Chicken Soup for the Soul: Angels Among Us, and more.
  2. Two books about the tragic life of Anne Frank illustrate how the choice of an angle can produce very different results:  The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank is tightly focused on the daily life, experiences, and feelings of Anne Frank during the two-year period she and her family were in hiding during WWII in Nazi-occupied Holland. The author of the book Anne Frank: A Life From Beginning to End tells the story of her entire life, starting before she was forced into hiding. 
  3. While there are numerous books written about the life of President Abraham Lincoln, Dan Abrams and David Fisher, authors of Lincoln’s Last Trial: The Murder Case That Propelled Him to the Presidency, focused on the point in Lincoln’s life that allowed him to become president – a much different angle than often-repeated subject matter.  
  4. There have been countless books written about Mt. Everest, usually with a broad-sweeping focus. Many people have climbed the mountain, and there have been many hardships, success stories, and life-changing experiences. However, Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Mount Everest Disaster by Jon Krakauer offers a firsthand account of one single, killer storm and the resulting deaths and survivors’ guilt of those who survived.

Narrowing Your Focus; Finding Your Angle

Not sure what your angle should be? Need some inspiration? The tips below will help you refine your topic and get clear on who, what, where, and why of your topic and help you determine the best way to angle your book so it is fresh and interesting to your audience.

Write What You Know . . . Literally

Make a list of everything you know or everything you’ve researched about your subject. Doing this gives you greater insight into your topic and helps you identify the things that most interest you about your topic.

A few questions to consider:

  • What do you know about this topic?
  • Why do you want to write this book?
  • Why is this topic interesting to you?
  • Why are you the best person to write this book?
  • What would you want to see in a book about this topic?

Check Out the Competition

Take time and head to the book store, library, or Amazon and review books about your topic. Pick several and write down the angle for each one. This will give you a good feel of what’s been written about your topic and how each writer chose to present the information.

A few questions to ask yourself:

  • Which books do you like best, and why?
  • What books did you like least, and why?
  • What would set your book apart from the books that are already out there?
  • How is your perspective on this topic unique?

Take a “Test Drive.”

One good way to test market your book idea is to publish a blog or article about your topic. Think of it as a mini version of your book that will help you see who is interested and what kind of feedback you receive. It’s also a great way to see how much you enjoy writing about your subject matter.  

Here are a few things to look for during your test run:

  • Did you enjoy writing this article? Can you see yourself writing 100 or 200 more pages on this subject?
  • Did you find enough information? Are there enough resources out there for an entire book?
  • Who read your article? Was it appealing to your target audience? Did it appeal to readers outside your target audience?

Ask the Audience

If you’re an established writer with a subscriber list, email them a quick survey or ask them about your topic idea. Not an established writer (yet)? Check out Facebook groups or message boards dedicated to your topic and ask around.

Here are a few questions that will help you gauge interest:

  • Are you interested in another book about this topic?
  • Is there anything about this topic that you’d like to learn more about?
  • What interests you most about this topic?
  • Is there anything that you don’t want to see? Angles that are tired or overdone?

When you take the time to determine the best angle for your book, you can make that challenge easier. Finding the right angle will set your book apart from others in your topic area, make it more interesting, and help you stay organized while writing, ultimately saving you time, stress, and a lot of rewriting in the end.  

Shelly Spencer 
Shelly Spencer has been a professional writer for the past 25 years with a specialized focus on grant and RFP proposal writing. She has written for small start-up and mid-sized businesses as well as numerous non-profit organizations and also worked at a daily newspaper editing and proofreading display advertisements and real estate articles. Shelly has experience in writing for a variety of industries in all types of copy, including articles, blog posts, e-books, websites, proposals, brochures, press releases, newsletters, and more. Choosing not to go the traditional route, Shelly gained her skills through hands-on experience and by studying direct mail, B2B, and SEO copywriting through various American Writers and Artists Inc. (AWAI) programs. She is an AWAI verified direct response copywriter having completed their Accelerated Program for Six-Figure Copywriting and the Master's Program for Six-Figure Copywriting. She has also completed the Secrets to Writing High Performance B2B Copy by Steve Slaunwhite and Dan Kennedy's Writing for Info Marketers, both through AWAI, and The Ultimate Travel Writer’s Program by Great Escape Publishing. Shelly is a member of the Professional Writer’s Association (PWA) and the International Travel Writers and Photographers Association (ITWPA).

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