How to write a non-fiction book in 30 simple steps
You woke up this morning and decided you want to write a non-fiction book. Congratulations so did I. When I say want to, I mean that the book idea found me and decided that I would write it. I no longer wonder how these things happen, I accept that a book needs to find its way into the world and I get on with it. That is not to say that I find it easy, far from it. Writing a book is not easy and nor is it hard, it does, however, take up a lot of different personal resources.
I have two other non-fiction books in edit mode, and another idea fleshed out for next year. Which even to me seems crazy. The truth is that I like new, fresh and exciting and I like to work on several things until I get bored (hate the bored word). I need reflection time, so having other projects on means that I can change my focus, and get some valuable insights for when I come back to the project.
But that is just me; you will have your way of working and getting your book written and published. What is important for me to impart is that…
- You can do this
- The book you want to write is already written, it is inside of you, just waiting to be revealed
- All you need is the steps, a plan and to take action
Let’s look at the steps to getting your book written.
How to write a non-fiction book
- Get all of your writing tools together – being prepared is key
- Find the right space to write in – there could be several
- Know why you are writing your book
- Know what your BIG idea is (where reader, vision, content and strategy come together)
- Have a plan and break everything down into bite sized chunks
- Understand how you like to plan
- Write up your procrastination list
- Negotiate with your distractions
- Start to call yourself a writer and author
- Identify your ideal reader
- Know what the story or stories are that you want to share
- Understand what you want your reader to get as a result of reading your book
- Start the marketing plan
- Create an outline
- Design a chapter framework
- Test write and find your voice
- Write and write some more and tell your inner critic to take a hike
- Have an editing plan and enjoy the editing process
- When you are at your final manuscript, give it to your proofreader
- Employ a book coach to support you through this process
- Create a tight cover design spec
- Have a brilliant title and subtitle
- Write an awesome back blurb and book description
- Ask someone you admire for a foreword
- Find beta readers and give them your beta reader specification
- Ask for testimonials
- Keep on marketing
- Turn your book into an online course
Sign up and get your copy of checklist as a PDF (at the bottom of this post).
Get all of your writing tools together – being prepared is key
What constitutes a writing tool? That depends on how you like to work. For me, these things would be key to my shopping list.
- Roll of brown paper (mind mapping)
- Blue tack
- Index cards (outlining)
- A4 paper (keeping notes and Step it out exercise)
- Post-it notes (brainstorming)
- Coloured pens
- Journal and pen (to keep by your bed)
- A3 artists pad (storyboarding and mind mapping)
- Box to put all of the above in
- Word processing (WORD or PAGES). Some people like Scrivener, I am not a huge fan, outside of the outlining and planning stage
- Mind mapping (e.g. iMindmap, iThoughts)
- Dragon Naturally Speaking (voice translation)
- Evernote (filing system) (https://evernote.com/ )
Find the right space to write in – there could be several
I write in many different places depending on what it is and how I am feeling. Today I am sat on a sofa in my downstairs lounge, sometimes I’ll write in my office and at other times in bed or on the day bed near the terrace. If you feel stuck in one place – go somewhere else. In the past, I have driven to the beach with a journal and pen and scribbled on a bench looking out on the early morning sea.
Know why you are writing your non-fiction book
Writing a book is a big undertaking, so getting to understand your motivation to do this is paramount. It is never because someone told you that you should. You need to feel it in your heart and soul. Otherwise, you will waiver, and your monkey will get in the way.
Know what your BIG idea is (where reader, vision, content and strategy come together)
This is another big subject. Just because you are an XYZ coach, consultant, trainer, or a director does not mean that your book will be on what you are currently doing. Your book may be part of a plan to move into something else and therefore what is that and how will this book fit with that.
Some people write their first book to set their position as an expert. That is certainly what I did with Plan your non-fiction book in a weekend. Although it is not my first book, it is the book that I use for my book coaching business. This book is a workbook and has no stories or case studies. I was very clear who my ideal reader is, what my vision for this book is (online course, retreat, workshops, book coaching). The content is what I have been teaching for many years, and the strategy is that the book is the springboard for other products, services and to demonstrate my expertise.
In your next book, you will have a clearer idea of what you want it to achieve, and you will know where these four components come together. I call the intersection of these the heart spot. Get to know yours, and you won’t go far wrong.
Have a plan and break everything down into bite sized chunks
I could wax lyrical about this until the cows come home. Have a plan, (you can grab one in the sign up at the top and bottom of this blog), then go with your intuition. When you know how you like to plan (next point) you will see the wisdom in having a plan and working it your way.
Chunking everything down makes life so much easier. I have to work in chunks, and they have to be the chunks I feel like writing in that moment.
Understand how you like to plan
To get anything done, you need to know how you like to do things. You may have heard the phrase, how you do anything is how you do everything. I can remember sitting with a sheet of brown paper and colouring pens and asked my muse to help me to honestly guide me to how I did things.
I came up with a list of how I naturally work. Next to each step, I mapped out whether that was visual, kinesthetic, auditory, intuitive, etc. It was highly illuminating. After which I created a set of strategies which meant that I would get a plan completed.
Understanding how you like to plan is one of the keys to getting your book designed and written.
Write up your procrastination list
Allied with above is knowing where and when you typically procrastinate. There will be a time, a moment when you will procrastinate, and it will be connected to an emotion. Get to know when you normally throw your toys out of the pram and you are half way there. Doing something about it by writing a procrastination busting action plan will help.
Negotiate with your distractions
Your distractions could be your friends and family or your mindset. Whoever or whatever they are, have a chat and arrange some you time where you can get this book planned and written.
Ask what or who is standing in the way of you writing a book?
Start to call yourself a writer and author
Yes, yes, yes. Look in the mirror and say hi ‘author how are you doing today’. A writer writes, and an author has had something published. It is that simple. You will be forward pacing yourself and see yourself as already published is incredibly powerful.
You could create a mock up book cover and frame it as well. That should stop that inner voice that says ‘you are not a writer’. Of course, you are. Don’t wait for something to happen or when put pen to paper and know the words will flow. Remember your first draft gives you a foundation to work from. The magic always comes in the editing phase.
Identify your ideal reader
When you are writing a book, you are only ever writing for one person, and that is your ideal reader. Get this right, or as close as you can, and it makes it easier to write.
Draw a picture of them and frame that along with your book cover. You can get a cover made on Canva or Fiverr.
Know what the story or stories are that you want to share
“If a nation loses its storytellers, it loses its childhood.” Peter Handke
Identifying the right story can be tricky. You are writing a book that shares your knowledge skills and experience, but more than that you are writing a book for your soul. A book which will touch others, souls.
Words have the power to change lives.
You may feel uncomfortable sharing your stories, however, we have our experiences for a reason. Our crap lives are our gifts. As you write your stories you will heal just a little bit more. You will gain clarity of your purpose and as you touch others lives they will too.
Your book and stories will help you to boost your brand and you can build your business with them.
If you are writing a book that you want to base a business on, ask how long will be it relevant? For example, I once ran a fertility company and wrote a book on natural fertility planning. It was short lived. The market changed for the products I was selling, and my body and life moved on. I do not regret it, but it no longer has any meaning for me. At the time it would have made sense if I told my fertility story, however, that is long gone.
Find the right story or stories that emotionally connect you to your reader and your words will change lives.
Understand what you want your reader to get as a result of reading your book
Every book takes the reader on a journey. I’ve got some of my best learnings from Chicklit. They are easy to read, and the protagonist’s journey always has a message for me. Likewise, I have read some great non-fiction books that have enabled me to gain perspective on things. Others that are very factual. All of them have given me a result.
When you outline your book, decide what the journey and outcome are before you start to write. It will make your book so much easier to pen.
Start the marketing plan
All products and services need to be integrated into your overall marketing plan and have a strategy of their own which dovetails this. Start marketing as you write so that you can build up a following and are preparing your readers. Create your author tactical plan, add your actions to your daily planner. Doing some each day will ensure that by the time you launch you are ready to go and will no have a huge ‘how am I going to market this book‘ headache?
Create an outline
Another area I could go on about for what seems like forever. Never start a book without an outline. This is your books roadmap. Always start a book with the vision in place. I’ve tried pantsing a book only to find after 21,000 words I was lost. Ok, it is a more creative book, but none the less I learned that I have to have an outline and I find that many people who come to me who are in a mess, need to get to grips with theirs. If you are writing a memoir and telling a story, structure it like a novel, and you will find it easier.
I have a proven process that I use for my clients, but even so, I amend it to suit. You must find a way to create an outline that works for you. Start with a working title for the book and each chapter as that will make it easier as well.
Design a chapter framework
The chapter framework is an extension of your outline and as such provides your reader with a way to navigate your chapters. When you arrange things in the same way, it makes it easier for the reader to navigate. Again having a framework in place makes it easier to write. We are back to our chunking concept.
Test write and find your voice
Once you have your framework in place, it is time to do a test write. This will a) let you know if the structure works and b) what your writing voice is like.
You could before you start your book journal or do some other creative writing to flex your writing muscles. Try these:-
- The day I left home
- And then a miracle happened
- It was when I was 16 that I discovered…
When you have written two test chapters, you will know what the structure will be and you will get a good idea of your voice.
Write and write some more and tell your inner critic to take a hike
Writing is a muscle the more you use it, the better you will become. When you are in the first draft mode, it is more of an unconscious download. The key is to keep writing and not falling prey to the wicked witch of perfection and editing. I have terrible trouble with this. I like my interior laid out, and I have a habit of going back to edit. I say to myself ‘just this little bit.’
A lot of my bad habits come from the way in which I like to work. I want new fresh and exciting, and I like to jump around my projects. It works for me. Last week I wrote three chapters in one day and did not edit once, which is a miracle. After having the weekend off, I shall write the next however many, and I want to edit the first one but have told myself that I can come back to it. I wonder how long my resolve will hold?
Reflection is vital to writing a non-fiction book
You must take time out to allow your brain to process. By stopping you are making space for good stuff to come in. After a mega brain dump, it is good to walk away, in fact going for a walk is very beneficial.
Have an editing plan and enjoy the editing process
Like the outlining process, I have a method for editing which works for me. I do a read through with no judgement, reflect and then read through with coloured pens. After that, I edit on screen. I will get to a point when I cannot edit the text anymore and need to look at the more mundane things like full stops and commas. All of the practical must checks are in my editing plan. Also, I use Grammarly with is a fabulous tool for not only checking your content but making you stop to read and edit differently.
When you are at your final manuscript, give it to your proofreader
In no time at all, you will have had a gutful of editing and feel that it is beautiful and ready to go. Oh no, it’s not. We, writers, get word blindness and when you get to what I call your final manuscript, it’s time to send it to the proofreader. Depending on how well it has been written and how many pages will depend on how long your proofreader will take. Give him/her time to do a good job. My proofreader has permission to question everything, allow yours to come back and do not see it as criticism, rather see it as positive feedback.
Never publish without the proof stage.
Employ a book coach to support you through this process
You will have coaches for other aspects of your business and life, and a book coach is someone who is experienced with writing their books and supporting their clients to plan, write and publish books too.
Your coach knows the steps, will understand you and your book and will guide you through the process. They will inspire, motivate and keep you on track. Some (like me) will often do some writing for you.
When should you engage a book coach? I would say at the beginning, but if you haven’t, it doesn’t matter as your coach can help you to sort through your book and get you back on track. I often get books to look at when the writer thinks they are completed, or they are in a mess, and we work together to sort it out.
Create a tight cover design spec
Before you run off to find the best designer for you, understand what you like and don’t like by doing some research. Also look at recently published traditional titles as these will tell you what is trending. And if you fancy a browse in your local book store you will certainly get a feel for what is popular and why. When you have researched your cover idea, scribble out some ideas for yourself, find images you like, write up your specification and chat to your book cover designer.
Have a brilliant title and subtitle
Remember to think about how people search for things on the internet or on Amazon. We are simple souls and will use simple search terms. Use the Google Adwords tool and see what comes up. It is pointless giving your book a whacky title if no-one searches for it. When you are super famous then you can.
If for example, you were writing a book on dieting, you might expect to use words like diet, dieting, GI index, lose weight, etc. Make a list of all of the keywords that you might use to search for a book that is similar to yours.
Once you have your keywords, head over to Amazon http://amazon.com and http://amazon.co.uk and start researching titles, authors and books. Try randomly typing vaguely associated search terms into Amazon and see what comes up.
Many authors take advantage of the subtitle to explain what to expect from the book. For example, you may have a title like Flourish and a subtitle like ten easy steps to feeling great during the menopause (ok I made it up, but you get the point).
Write an awesome back blurb and book description
The blurb is the written sales pitch on the back of your book, usually called the back blurb. It provides your potential reader with an insight into your book. The book blurb should arouse curiosity, rather than provide answers. You are looking to draw your reader to “Look Inside”, browse through the first few pages and make a purchase.
- Read the blurbs of books you own; what attracted you to them?
- What do you like or dislike about the way the blurb is presented?
- Take the ones you like, what do they all have in common?
- Take three books whose blurb hooks you in and model yours on theirs
- Imagine if you had 15 seconds to sell your book, what would be in those vital seconds?
- What are the benefits?
- How will your book fulfil its promise?
- Is this the first of its kind?
Ask someone you admire to write a foreword
The foreword adds credibility to your book. Be brave and ask some you think would add weight to your book to do this. You may need to write a sample for them to endorse. Do whatever it takes to make it easy for them to say yes.
Find beta readers and give them your beta reader specification
Like the cover design spec, it’s a great idea to set your expectations for your beta readers. Choose people who you know will read your book and give you a good critique. These can then be the first people you ask for a testimonial.
Ask for testimonials
I don’t know about you, but I always read testimonials. These give me some guidance about the book and if there are enough of them which instil confidence in me then I will make a purchase. You could give your book away in return for testimonials. When I am given a product to try I will say that in the review.
It sounds very glib to just say publish. You will need to know if you want to self-publish, use a hybrid publisher or go all out for a traditional publisher. Please ensure you research which option suits you, your aspirations and your budget. Today no matter which option you choose you will have to do some marketing. So make sure you have your marketing plan mapped out.
Keep on marketing
While you are writing and long after publishing you will need to keep marketing. One of my favourite ways is to blog my books. There are many, many ideas that you could employ. Look at what others do and learn from them.
Turn your book into an online course
Finally, once the book is published you can draw breath and turn it into an online course. This will add an extra dimension to your book and provide you with residual income.
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