Who do you expect to read your nonfiction book? Taking the time to think about your book’s audience will help you write a better book. Most nonfiction will appeal to only a segment of the mass market. They are niche books. What’s your niche?
If you are planning a book like a family history or memoir that will be read by only family or friends that’s a relatively simple question. Most people answer, “It’s for the grandchildren.” Great. Craft a book that will appeal to them. You can ask them what they would like to see in the book. Focus on telling interesting stories. Recognize that younger readers who are growing up in the digital world are used to visually interesting material so you’ll want your book to be illustrated with engaging photos and graphics.
If you are writing nonfiction you hope will have some commercial success, the question is a bit more complex. One way to answer it is to look at your book’s comparables - books on similar subjects likely to appeal to similar audiences.
Suppose want to write a memoir about coping with cancer as Gail Caldwell did in Let’s Take the Long Way Home. The audience is most likely people who are living with the disease, their families and their close friends.
If you are planning a how-to book the audience is the people who want to acquire the knowledge and skills you can teach them. Think of the Idiot’s Guides and For Dummies books.
A travel memoir like Peter Mayle’s A Year in Provence is for an audience of people who have traveled to the place the book is set, those who might someday travel there or who have an interest in the place even if they have no plans to visit it.
Another way to get to know potential readers is to go where they are likely to be. Social media makes that easier than it has ever been. Discussion forums, Facebook Pages for groups interested in your book’s topic, Google+ hangouts, Twitter search and many internet locations can let you see what your book’s audience is interested in.
As you get to know your potential readers you can decide what they want in the book you are writing. If you are in the planning stages you can make sure that your book will include the things that will interest your readers. If you already have a draft or partial draft use the knowledge you have acquired about your audience to edit and revise your manuscript. Are there things in the book that don’t seem to match the interests of potential readers? Maybe they are best removed. Are there things of high interest to readers that aren’t present in your draft or that could be developed more fully? Paying attention to them as you revise will increase reader engagement with the finished product.