The Learning Sequence and Why It Matters to Nonfiction Authors

POSTED ON Apr 4, 2011

Joel Friedlander

Written by Joel Friedlander

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When I started baking I couldn’t tell the difference between a bundt pan and a burnt pain au chocolat. I was enthusiastic and tried to learn as much as I could as fast as possible.

I bought books, watched instructional videos, recorded cooking shows for convenient watching, and hung around cooking equipment stores fondling the flour sack towels and perusing the petit fours pans.

It’s a Newbie’s World

In short, I was a total newbie, open to all different approaches to baking, avid to learn, and ready to spend money on tools and training to do the baking I dreamed of. In my mind I stood at the kitchen counter with a hot fruit tart fresh from the oven, dinner guests oohing and ahhing at the miracle of gastronomy sitting in front of them.

Some people say that beginners, like I was, account for 80 percent of the purchase of instructional material and tools in any specific field, and that makes sense. Once you know how to make that tart, and you own the cookbooks with the recipes, the rolling pins, sifters, tart pans, pie weights and other equipment needed to create them, your purchases will be sporadic.

You won’t watch videos on how to roll your crust, because now you know how to do it from experience. You won’t experiment with different timers, you’ll already have settled on your favorite.

And you won’t spend nearly as much money on these things as you did when you were new. Now you’ll move on to different purchases. A new French pastry rolling pin for specialty items. Maybe a new stand mixer, since you’ve gone as far as your little hand mixer can take you. A more advanced book of recipes.

These better tools usually cost quite a bit more money. At some point you’ll probably stop buying new tools altogether. You have become a knowledgeable and experienced baker. You no longer dream of the fruit tart, you serve it regularly to your guests, and now you’ve added your own ideas to the recipe.

Although you’re not a professional, you know vastly more than someone just starting out. To them, you are something of an expert. This is the way it works in most hobbies and many professions, too.

Nonfiction Authors Sell Entertainment, Education, and Information

For nonfiction authors of information products, understanding this sequence is essential to effectively reaching the people who can make the best use of your content. It’s also how you build a series of publications that link to products that will be appropriate to buyers at various points on their development in your field.

Here’s another example: When I teach book cover design we start off with simple concepts. These ideas are the foundation on which new indie publishers will build, and it’s vital they understand them before we can move on to more advanced concepts. Later, with the basics well understood, we can branch out to more complex and interesting projects for our book covers.

Think about this sequence in your field. When you write books, workshop curriculum, presentations, blog posts or sales letters, do you take this continuum of experience into account? Here are a few questions you can ask yourself to keep your content on target for its intended audience.

  1. What is the specific thing people should take away from this content?
  2. Have I given readers all the information needed to take action?
  3. Are there steps the reader should have already taken in order to perform the actions I’m suggesting? Do they understand that?
  4. How does this information fit into a larger picture of learning about this field?

And if you blog your book, you know that your blog represents another long-form narrative that can be organized to provide another type of content to readers than what you’re able to give them in your books.

Remembering the sequence of learning will make your content more focused, more useful and, because of that, more popular with readers.

The photo shows logs of dough about to go into the oven for the first bake on the way to becoming three dozen orange-raisin-almond biscotti. Don’t they look good?

Joel Friedlander

Written by
Joel Friedlander

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