Most nonfiction books either fail to attract an audience or achieve only short-term success. Those that perform well often rely on expensive marketing campaigns, temporary media buzz, or the author’s popularity. As a result, it’s rare for new authors to break through and create a lasting impact.

Write Useful Books by Rob Fitzpatrick provides an alternative path. It explains how to plan, write, test, and refine engaging nonfiction books using proven strategies from the world of entrepreneurship. The approach can help you create a truly useful book that automatically attracts new readers through word-of-mouth referrals.

Let’s explore three of my favorite insights from the book.

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1. A Truly Useful Book Doesn’t Require Much Marketing

There are several ways to be successful in writing a nonfiction book. However, the most reliable option, especially for new or unproven authors, is to create a book that is so useful that readers recommend it to others. With that in mind, much of this guide is about ensuring your book provides a great reader experience.

There are two types of nonfiction books. First, there are ‘pleasure-givers’ that are often described as interesting, fascinating, or beautiful. Second, there are ‘problem-solvers’ that are considered useful, actionable, or clarifying. The latter is outcome-driven and thus is more likely to perform well via word-of-mouth referral.

A great problem-solving book can be validated like a traditional product. In other words, it can be designed, tested, and proven to be helpful prior to publication. As a result, you can significantly reduce or eliminate the risk associated with your book while dramatically increasing the likelihood of strong reader recommendations. Fortunately, nearly every style or theme of nonfiction can be designed as a “problem-solver.”

As noted earlier, most nonfiction books achieve only short-term success. These early results tend to rely heavily on marketing spend, media coverage, or other temporary efforts to attract readers. Unfortunately, sales decline sharply once these initial efforts wane due to fewer and fewer people hearing about the book.

A truly useful book performs very differently. It steadily builds momentum as more people read the content, benefit from the practical advice, and then recommend it to others via word-of-mouth. As a result, a great problem-solving book doesn’t require ongoing marketing efforts to reach a large audience over time.

Note, you will need to attract the first 1,000 readers to initiate momentum. Beyond that, marketing becomes optional as word-of-mouth referral begins to take over. At that point, you can either continue promoting the book or pursue other work.

Naturally, this approach is predicated on creating a genuinely helpful book, so let’s continue to the next insight from Write Useful Books by Rob Fitzpatrick.

2. Start With A Clear Promise For A Specific Reader Profile

A useful book makes an explicit promise, often in the form of a subtitle on the cover, and then delivers on that promise. For example, your book might offer to help the reader achieve a goal, answer a question, understand a concept, develop a skill, or improve their life in some other way. By shaping your book around a clear promise, you create a scenario in which the book can be proven to be helpful.

In addition to being outcome-driven, a useful book must be paired with a specific “reader profile.” This is critical because people are often at different stages of life in relation to the problem you are helping them solve. If you try to serve beginners and seasoned pros alike, or a comparable spectrum of readers, the message will suffer. Much of the content will necessarily be irrelevant for any given reader.

The secret to five-star ratings and positive reviews is to be clear about the book’s promise and its intended audience. Unfortunately, many authors make the mistake of trying to appeal to everyone by making a generic or broad promise. As a result, some readers are unsatisfied with the book, which results in lower ratings. Worse still, lower ratings make it harder for the book to appeal to its ideal audience.

With all of this in mind, it’s critical to develop a clear scope for your book. Author Rob Fitzpatrick explains that “Scope = Promise + Reader Profile + Who it’s not for + What it won’t cover.” There are other important factors to add to the mix, but this is the essential starting point for writing a useful book.

3. Deliver On The Promise To Drive Word-Of-Mouth Referrals

The unfortunate reality is that most problem-solving books fail to deliver results. They may be interesting to read and convey helpful information, but they don’t provide the outcome that readers were promised. As a result, they rarely get 5-star ratings or benefit from consistent word-of-mouth referrals.

The good news is that this creates an opportunity for you. So long as your book delivers on its promise, readers will be eager to reward you for it. They will give the book strong ratings and recommend it to others that might benefit from it.

For a problem-solver book to grow in popularity, it requires four “DEEP” qualities:

  1. Desirable – it must promise an outcome that readers care about
  2. Effective – it must deliver on the promise by creating actual results
  3. Engaging – it must be front-loaded with value and rewarding to read
  4. Polished – it must be professionally written and well presented

Few will buy the book if it doesn’t help solve a problem they care about, so everything starts with desirability. Next, it must deliver results by helping them solve the problem or achieve a meaningful outcome. Naturally, the book must be engaging to ensure readers complete it and experience the value it offers. Finally, people are more likely to read and recommend information that is well written and well presented.”

Note: If these insights are inspiring you to write a book, or you’re already serious about doing so, I strongly recommend you read Write Useful Books by Rob Fitzpatrick. It covers many practical tips for ensuring that your book meets this standard.

In addition to creating a book that is “DEEP,” it’s also critical to consider the longevity of its message. Much of the power of this strategy relies on building steady momentum over time, so it’s ideal to address a timeless need or problem. Likewise, it’s best to avoid including tips or advice that will quickly become dated. That way, your book can attract and serve new readers for years or even decades to come.

Are You Ready To Write Useful Books?

Write Useful Books By Rob Fitzpatrick Book Cover
Write Useful Books by Rob Fitzpatrick

The purpose of this summary is not to cover every tip or insight mentioned in the book. Instead, the goal is to help you determine whether or not this approach is right for you. So, if you’re ready to learn more, I recommend you read the original book.

Here are just a few of the topics you can expect to encounter:

  • How to execute on creating a “DEEP” and useful book
  • How to improve your book even before you’ve written it
  • How to strengthen the “recommendation loop” of your book
  • How to gather valuable feedback by attracting “beta readers”
  • How self-publishing compares with traditional publishing

I randomly stumbled upon this book after reading another great title by author Rob Fitzpatrick. Over the years, I’ve considered the possibility of writing a book, so the topic jumped out to me. At the very least, I figured it would be fun to explore the process and share the core insights with others.

However, since reading Rob’s guide, I’ve been inspired to outline and start writing my book. If you’re interested in learning more about the journey, I encourage you to follow my updates here or subscribe to my YouTube channel. I’m still very early in the process but am excited about the overall direction.

Do You Have A Question Or Comment?

Please visit the Write Useful Books video summary on YouTube to share your thoughts in the comment section.

Rick Kettner

Rick is an avid reader and lifelong entrepreneur. He co-founded popular online music education platforms including Drumeo, Pianote, and Guitareo. He now spends much of his time sharing tips on business strategy, marketing, and entrepreneurship.

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