If you’re frequently approached for advice on a certain subject, it can be a telltale sign that you are growing in authority on that topic. Add your own growing knowledge and passion to that mix, and you may well be ready to write your own nonfiction book!
A nonfiction book is essentially a resource filled with all the information someone might need on a given topic. However, the vast array of possible details to include can prove daunting for a new writer. The following questions might come to mind:
- What should you include (and not include) in your book?
- How do you organize everything in a logical sequence?
- How do you hook your readers from the first page and keep them reading until the last?
- How can you ensure that your book will make a difference in your readers’ lives?
These questions may be enough to scare many new writers out of writing even a single page! But rest assured that with the right amount of effort and commitment, you can push through those challenges.
The following 10 steps will guide you through the process of writing an excellent nonfiction book.
#1: Explore Nonfiction Book Ideas
Since you’re reading this post, chances are you already have an idea of what you want to write about. So why are we suggesting that you explore other ideas?
First, exploring other ideas does not mean you should write about every single one of them. Instead, keep a list of any ideas that come to you before you start writing.
Use a notebook that you can carry along with you, or a file that you’ve saved in your phone. Make it as accessible as possible so you don’t lose ideas that come to you while you’re on the go.
These ideas may or may not be related to your first idea, but they will keep you open to other possibilities.
Another great reason for writing down your ideas is that many writers and creative people tend to be tempted by the “shiny penny syndrome.”
New ideas can come up when you’re halfway through the writing process, and each new idea can look like a shiny penny—an opportunity that looks brighter and more attractive, which can sidetrack you from your writing.
So instead of being lured away from your current subject when a new idea comes along, just add that idea to your list. You can always think about writing another book later on.
#2: Choose Your Top 3 Ideas
Now that you have a list of ideas for your nonfiction book, the following questions can help provide clarity when it comes to choosing one:
- Which idea are you most excited and passionate about?
- Which topic do you feel uniquely qualified to explain for readers?
- Which idea do you think will add the most value to your readers’ lives?
- If you could only write one book, which one would it be?
These questions should help you narrow down your list to at least the top 3 book ideas you want to write about.
#3: Conduct Market Research
You may wonder what market research has to do with writing a nonfiction book. The truth is, doing market research before you start writing will give you a taste of what readers are looking for. This in turn will help you provide the best possible solutions to your readers’ problems.
Writing a book on something you are simply passionate about may be fun, but if nobody wants to read it, you won’t be able to make much of an impact.
So now that you’ve picked your top 3 ideas, doing market research will help confirm whether the book you want to write is in demand or not.
How do you do market research?
- First, determine your target audience.
You can do this by listing down specific details of who will likely benefit from the book you plan on writing.
For example, if you’re writing a book on homeschooling, your target audience will most likely be parents with school-age children. If your topic is specific to homeschooling grade-school children, your target audience will be even narrower.
- Next, understand what your target reader wants.
One great way to understand what your potential reader wants is by studying the bestselling titles in your chosen niche.
On Amazon, search for keywords related to your idea or check the bestseller list on Amazon’s Kindle Store Categories.
When you find comparable titles for your chosen genre, take a look at the following:
- Book covers: observe how these books use colors, fonts, images, placement, text size, and the emotions that you feel as you look at the cover.
- Titles: word of mouth still plays the biggest role in influencing people to buy books. This means that your title needs to be three things: memorable, repeatable, and searchable.
- Keywords in the subtitle and book description: studying the way your competitor uses keywords in the subtitle and how they phrase their book description will give you an idea of what readers want.
Book reviews: study the book reviews in your chosen genre to better understand what works and what doesn’t.
Give your target readers what they want.
People buy nonfiction books in order to solve a specific problem they have. This means that you have to pick which problem you want to address, and make sure your book provides a clear, thorough solution. Give your target readers what they want by directly addressing that problem in your book.
#4: Choose a Bestselling Title
Some people recommend writing a bestselling title first, while others prefer to push it back until the first draft is done.
Either method works, but do remember that this is an important step: after all, the book title is one of the first things any potential reader will see when they search for a solution to their problem, or when they browse through a bookshop.
Take everything you’ve learned from your market research and craft a book title that’s catchy and immediately tells readers what your book is about. Choose a memorable title and pair it with a descriptive subtitle to explain exactly how your book will solve a given problem.
Here are a few tips to remember for creating a great nonfiction book title: be specific, be descriptive, and use top-ranking keywords in your title or subtitle.
#5: Write a Book Outline
Now that you have a clear picture of what you’re writing, who you’re writing it for, and why you’re writing it, it’s time to write a book outline.
- Start by creating bullet points for every topic and subtopic that you want to include in your book. Break down each main theme into detailed groups of whenever possible.
- Then, arrange your bullet points into a logical order. Remember that nonfiction readers are paying money for you to help them solve a problem, and solving a problem requires a logical sequence.
#6: Write the First Draft
Bestselling author and ghostwriter Michael Levin has offered a valuable tip for aspiring writers: don’t set excessively high page quotas. Many beginning writers set lofty goals of too many pages per day, only to end up discouraged when they can’t meet those daily goals.
Instead, aim for consistency. Keep at a steady pace of even just two or three pages a day, but strive to write every day, even when you don’t feel like it. This daily discipline will help you develop the skill of getting your thoughts down on paper.
#7: Edit Your Manuscript
After you write your first draft, set it aside for at least one week, and then come back to proofread and fact check. Choose between editing your work yourself or asking someone else to edit it for you.
If you choose to self-edit, try to read your manuscript as though another person wrote it. Be diligent about spotting things that don’t make sense or paragraphs that need a more thorough explanation. Also watch out for typos and grammatical errors.
As you edit, also see if any chapters need more case studies and real-life examples.
Stories from real life will help illustrate your points more clearly to your readers. When re-reading your work, carefully note down where you need more stories.
A general rule of thumb would be to have at least one real life example for every major point, or even more if the point has several subtopics.
If you don’t have enough stories, consider doing more research, or perhaps interviewing more people in order to flesh out your points.
#8: Hire a Professional Editor
Finally, no matter how good you are as a writer and editor, after your first round of proofreading and editing, seriously consider hiring a professional editor.
A professional editor will be better equipped to dig deep into your writing. They can ask questions to draw out things that an amateur reader may not pick up and provide valuable feedback that can help your present and future writing.
#9: Publish Your Book
Now that your book has gone through the rigorous process of editing and fine-tuning, it’s time to think about publishing. Aspiring authors typically have the following options:
- Traditional publishing
Traditional publishers will pay you royalties for every copy of your book that they sell. For traditional publishing, you will normally need to submit your manuscript with the help of a literary agent, although some publishers accept unsolicited manuscripts directly from authors.
As for the Big Five publishers in New York that most writers dream of, they typically only publish books written by people who already have a solid platform and following.
- Vanity press
Vanity press companies offer to publish your book, but instead of their simply paying you royalties, you have to pay them for printing costs, and you’ll usually have to market your books yourself.
Self-publishing used to be the least preferred option among writers, but with the advent of Amazon, CreateSpace, and other e-book publishing platforms, more and more people now prefer to go this route.
As the author, you will be involved in the entire process, from creating (or having someone else create) a book cover, marketing the book, and building your author platform.
#10: Write Another Book!
Now that you’ve finished writing your first book, you may want to consider writing a second one. Having a second book (or a third or fourth) will help you stay connected with your base of readers so you can build a solid relationship with them.
The more your readers trust you, the more likely they will be to recommend your book to others. So now that you’ve gotten your feet wet, keep on writing to continue expanding your market and influence!