Originally published on June 10, 2014 @ 7:18 am
Think you're ready to start writing your nonfiction book?
As a freelance B2B ghostwriter, I've written dozens of books for authors who've had amazing ideas about how to teach their audience about their industry.
Some of these books have helped these authors to get recognized as thought-leaders within their industry, selling hundreds of thousands of copies and propelling the authors into semi-famedom – at least within their industry.
Others? Well, not so much. Some of these books sat on bookshelves or on Amazon and went ignored.
Now, I wasn't a different writer when I wrote some of these books. My writing didn't all of a sudden become insanely good or get painfully worse. So, obviously there were some other pretty major differences between the books, right?
You might think topics, subject matter, or marketing. And to some extent that might be true. Some topics have a larger audience than others. But the biggest difference between what made a book successful for the author and which book flopped had much more to do with the planning than anything else.
Writing a Good Book has Little to do With Writing
This might sound weird to you, but it's true. While many people focus on the writing in any book, the truth is that the writing is one of the smallest steps in book writing.
I can't think of anything more critical to your book's success than the planning. Which is one reason I tend to focus so hard on this step.
If you don't have a good plan for your book, you can't write a good book.
Three Things to Ask Yourself Before you Start Writing your Nonfiction Book
Question One: What's in it for you?
If writing a book were easy, your book would already be written. You could just sit down and start whipping out words without a problem.
And, more than that, I wouldn't have a job as a ghostwriter.
Writing a book is hard work. It's physically and mentally exhausting. And because of that, no one sets out to write a book unless they plan on getting something real out of it:
- Build your brand and credibility.
- Gain media exposure for your business.
- Get invited to speaking gigs.
- Spread their influence.
- Make an impact on their readers' lives or environment.
I've yet to meet a nonfiction author whose reason was “to make money” or “to be a bestseller” or even “to sell a million copies and get famous.”
And if I ever do meet an author who tells me this is the reason they want to write a book, I am going to tell them what I'm about to tell you — these are not goals or objectives that you can get out of writing a book because you have no control over whether or not they happen.
Getting your head straight about the purpose your book is going to serve in your life or for your business is going to be key not only for how the book is going to be written but also in how to use your book as part of your book marketing strategy later.
Question Two: What's in it for your audience?
Unless you're writing a diary, you're writing for your audience. So what is it that you want them to get out of your book?
What questions are you answering? What needs are you filling? What emotional impact do you want your book to have on your audience?
Have you even taken the time to define your target reader? Do you know and understand what questions that reader is asking?
And while you're working on this step, stay away from the word need:
- My reader needs to learn — No.
- My reader needs to know — No.
- My reader needs to understand — No.
All of these statements might be true — but readers don't buy what they need, they buy what they want. And if you're only trying to sell them what they need without paying any attention to what they want, then they are going to ignore you no matter how much they actually need to hear what you have to say.
So, whenever you catch yourself talking about what your audience is asking for, replace the word “need” with “want” and make sure your book idea still aligns with their goals.
Question Three: Are you the Best Person to Write this Book?
I know what you're thinking: what kind of a question is that?
And, to an extent, you're right. It's your book idea, your career, your name, your subject matter, your expertise, and your future we're talking about here.
How could you not write it?
But before you dismiss this question, there really is a very important note to make: your book has no chance in accomplish your objectives or in helping your audience solve their needs if it never gets published.
Being the biggest expert within your industry does not necessarily make you the best person to write your book. There are a lot of other factors that will come into play:
- How well do you know spelling and grammar?
- How good are you at structuring ideas into a book?
- How much time do you have to actually write the book given your skills?
- If you take the time to write this book, will it take you away from your business or other responsibilities?
And you might be thinking that this is just the pitch of a ghostwriter trying to convince you to hire me to write your book for you – but I assure you that it's a legitimate question you need to answer before you start writing your nonfiction book yourself.
I said it earlier: writing a book is demanding work that will physically and mentally exhaust you. And the less you understand about the book writing and publishing process, the more you need to be prepared for that.
And, if you're not prepared to learn more about the writing process, you will sink a lot of money into editing later. I've seen it time and time again where someone who wrote their own book without understanding the book writing process ended up paying multiple editors a lot of money to fix everything.
I'm not just talking about fixing the spelling and grammar – those are the easy fixes. I'm talking about fixing the story to fact ratio, the structure and organization of the book, verb tense, active voice. It costs a lot of money for an editor to have to do a complete rewrite.
So, if your answer is yes, you are the best person to write this nonfiction book, awesome. Take stock of how much you actually know about the book writing and publishing process and start learning everything else before you start writing your nonfiction book.
If your answer is no, I am not the best person to write this nonfiction book, then start thinking about who might be. Do you have a colleague, coworker, or staff writer who might be the best person? And if not, do you need to hire a ghostwriter?
I always ask this question during my interviews with clients because what I've found is that when people believe they are the best person to write the book but choose to hire a ghostwriter instead, the experience is rarely positive for either of them.
Don't hire a ghostwriter unless you know they are the best person to write your book. To do otherwise will mean a lot of micromanagement, questioning, and a lack of faith on both sides that will make the process just as exhausting as if you were writing the book yourself.
Why These Questions are Important (Other than the Obvious)
Even at a quick glance, you can see why each of these questions is important:
- Defining your ultimate objective for writing the book.
- Defining your ultimate purpose for writing the book.
- Defining the best person to write the book.
But the importance of these questions goes much deeper than that.
Each question can also lead to other questions, which lead to opportunities.
For example, defining the objectives you have for your book help define the role you plan your book to have in your life or on your business. Have you been thinking small or dreaming big? Are you prepared to see these thoughts come true? What else can you do to help make sure you accomplish these things?
Defining what your audience gets out of your book and examining what they're asking for helps with getting inside your target reader's head. Is there something else you could do for your target reader? Or another book idea that could supplement this first one?
And finally, deciding whether or not you're the best person to write this book for you will help you explore other avenues to making this book the best it can be. Perhaps you have a colleague you can bring in as a co-author, or maybe it's always been your dream to be an author and this is your chance to learn how to do it.
Whatever your answers are, use this time wisely to get the most out of your answers.
Tips for Answering these Questions
Do not zip through these questions quickly just to try to move on to something else. For these questions to do their job and give your book its best chance, you need to take your time and really review your thoughts on each of these questions.
Sit down with your favorite pencil and notebook (or note-taking app on your phone or document on your computer) and do a brain dump to organize your thoughts for each of these questions. Lay out everything – every thought no matter how small or how ridiculous they might be.
When you think you have everything down, go through your list again. Does anything need to be changed, tweaked, or removed? Is that really a lesson for this book or should it be moved to the next book? Organize your answers in any way you can so they make the most sense to you.
Finally, internalize them. Memorize your answers, dwell on them, make up songs about them and sing them in the shower. These are going to be the foundational elements of your book, so you should know them inside and out and you should be able to convey that to anyone at the drop of a hat.
Did you enjoy this article? Here are some other posts on nonfiction book writing you may like:
- The Stigma of Self-Published Authors
- Write My Nonfiction Book (The Ultimate Guide to Self-Publishing)
- How will you Know if your Nonfiction Book is Successful?
- 3 Things to Ask Yourself Before you Start Writing your Nonfiction Book
- How to Define your Ideal Reader (and why you need to)
Start Writing your Nonfiction Book FAQ
How do you write a nonfiction book fast?
1. Define your target reader and primary audience.
2. Determine your message and promise.
3. Decide on a topic.
4. Do your research.
5. Set up your writing plan and routine.
What is a nonfiction book?
A nonfiction book is a book published to provide facts about a subject or topic based on experiences, evidence, and/or anecdotes. It is published with the intention of helping its reader learn more about the subject to improve an aspect of his or her life.
How do I start to write a book?
First, define your goal: the impact or promise that you want your audience to walk away with. It's a lot easier to plan and outline your book if you have an established direction set up.
Do you need a PhD to write a book?
Unless you're writing for academia, no. A PhD is not required to write a book. However, there are some subjects in which having a PhD may be seen as an advantage.