Originally published on April 10, 2015 @ 7:25 am
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So, you woke up this morning (or maybe sometime last week), took a good look in the mirror and decided “It's time to write my nonfiction book.”
Good for you!
I really mean that. It might seem trite or empty, but these small victories — decisions included — should be celebrated.
Writing a book is hard work. And I'm not just talking about sitting down and banging out words on your keyboard. I'm talking about the planning and the self-reflection and the editing and the publishing…
All of it.
Which is one reason why so many people opt not to do it. That makes this decision a monumental moment in your career and in your life.
So believe me when I say I really mean it: Congratulations!
So, what happens now? Here's a guide to help you through the process.
Write my Nonfiction Book: Setup
How will you Know if Your Book is Successful?
The first thing you will want to do, before you even write a word, is to figure out what you want to get out of this book. What is it going to do for you?
How will you know if your nonfiction book is successful? What's your definition of success as it applies to this book?
Understanding what your definition of success is for this book will help you down the line as you plan the outline of the book, put together your marketing plan, and fit the book into your overall strategy.
This will also help you answer some other questions for your book, which you will need to know before you start writing, such as how you will position your book.
Who will Your Book be For?
Your definition of success may or may not be tied to who you use to define your target reader. Who is going to be reading this book? Why are they going to read it?
What questions do they have about your topic?
What will Your Book Be About?
Most authors can come up with a broad topic for their book pretty easily:
- About personal finance.
- How to fix your credit.
- Time management.
- How I succeeded.
- How to run a blog.
However, broad topics rarely make for good books (though they might make for a good collection of books).
No matter what it is you want to get out of your book, you need to have a solid book idea centered around one thought – one focus. And this is where most first-time authors start to struggle: narrowing down all their book ideas into one thought.
Where will you Position your Book?
Once you have a solid idea on what your book will be about and who it will serve, positioning becomes a lot easier.
In a nutshell, book positioning is the area in a reader's brain that will classify and otherwise store the information about your book. So, when you position your book, you're actually telling a reader how to classify your book.
Positioning your book correctly also helps you develop your plan for querying agents, publishers, and book stores for publication or distribution.
Write my Nonfiction Book: Planning
Outlining the Book
I like to start my outlines with a brain dump.
Brain dumps are a great way to help organize your thoughts by first getting them all out of your head and into print.
So, grab a clean piece of paper and do just that: bang out every idea you can think of. Good or bad, doesn't matter. Get them all into a list.
After that, go through your list and move your ideas into smaller lists:
- good idea for this book,
- good idea for another book,
- not sure.
Once you have all your ideas for this book in your list, then you can organize them again, put them into an order that makes sense and will help guide your audience along with you, and bam. Your outline is done.
Go ahead and plug this into your favorite word processor so that it's ready for you once it's time to start writing.
Deciding on Who will be Writing the Book
Plan and outline in place, next it's time to figure out who is the best person to write this book for you.
This sounds like a silly question, and a lot of people raise their eyebrows at this, but trust me when I say this is not just a play by a ghostwriter to try to get you to hire me to write your book for you.
Writing a book requires discipline and focus. And if you can't commit to that, then you'll need to do one of three things:
- Hold off on writing your book until you can make it a priority.
- Reprioritize your list of responsibilities now so you book can be near the top.
- Find someone else to write your book for you.
This is also one of the reasons why you just spent so much time working on the idea and outline of your book: on the off-chance that you will need to hire someone to write the book for you. All your notes and ideas will help make sure that whoever writes the book for you will be able to follow along with your train of thought.
Set up Your Writing Plan
I can't stress this enough: yes you need a writing plan.
Even if you prefer freestyle writing. There are other things to plan out than just your book.
When the writing phase starts, you'll find that just about everything else in the world will need your attention at the same time you're trying to craft your sentences:
- Dishwasher is bound to break
So, part of setting up your writing plan includes putting together plans for handling these situations in case they arise.
Get Together your Research
Research is important, but it also has a nasty way of interrupting you and throwing you off track when you're trying to write.
So, one of the best ways to get around this is to set up your research and try to do as much as possible before you start writing. Gather it together and get it organized so you'll know when you need to use what.
I also like to put together a spreadsheet of quotes and references that include the author, quote, some context (so I know why I want to use that quote), and a link to the site where I found that quote, should I need to refer back to it later.
If you're writing the book yourself, you'll be glad most of your research is done before you sit down to write. This will allow you to write more consistently once it's time.
And if you're going to hire a ghostwriter to write for you, then I recommend you still gather up your research. The ghostwriter will likely do their own research, but this way you can be sure they will use the quotes and points that you want them to use and help keep them on your same page.
Write my Nonfiction Book: Writing
When you're all ready to go, then it's time to start writing.
For a lot of people, this is the fun part. And sometimes the hardest part.
Most of what makes writing hard isn't even the writing itself. Writing is easy, right? Sit down at a computer and start banging out words.
What makes the writing phase hard is all the stuff that happens around the writing.
Setting up Your Writing Routine
A lot of first-time authors make the mistake of thinking they can just write “whenever they have time” or “when inspiration strikes.” The problem with these statements is that you will never have enough time and inspiration will only strike at the wrong times.
The best way to make sure you have time to write and to help inspiration strike when you're writing and not when you're, say, knee deep in a staff meeting is to set up a writing routine. Your writing routine will train your writing muscles just like daily exercise will train your other muscles.
Your writing routine will overlap some with the writing plan you put together above, with solutions to some of the obstacles you wrote down.
Additionally, talk to your family and make sure they are in on your plan. It's not going to do you any good to set up your writing routine if your spouse and your kids keep coming in to get your attention.
Writing a book is hard work, but it doesn't have to be difficult. You shouldn't have to fight, plead, and beg for the time to write. And setting up your writing routine and sticking with it will help make sure you don't.
Turn off your Inner Editor
Editors are your friends, okay?
They are there to help polish and shape your words into the very best words. They make your book shine.
Just…not while you're writing.
Especially, if you're not used to writing everyday.
Imagine if I stood over your shoulder while you were at your business and questioned everything you did: no not like that. Did you really mean to publish that? Is this the best use of your time? Shouldn't you try it over there? Are you sure you want to meet with them? Are you really up for this?
With writing, it's the same thing. Those pesky interruptions mess everything up, slow you down, and play games with your mindset.
To quote Ernest Hemingway: “The first draft of anything is shit.”
And the sooner you make peace with that, the better.
So, how do you turn off that editor? It helps to turn off all the editors around you:
- Turn off your word processor's built-in spelling and grammar check.
- If you're writing in a web-based app, turn off any and all checkers, including Grammarly, ProWriting Aid, and Ginger.
There are other little tricks you can pick up as well, such as looking at the keyboard while you type instead of the monitor and using writing sprints, but we'll cover those once it's time to start writing. In the meantime, work on turning off that inner-editor.
It's time to start doing the thing!
Now, how you write is going to be up to you. Pick the tools and methods that work best for you, that you're comfortable with, and that you know will help you along the way. There are plenty of good apps and word processors out there that will help you get this done.
Don't worry about your speed or your writing. Now's the time to just get it written. You can always worry about getting it right later (during editing).
I like to use writing sprints to get the bulk of my writing done. A couple good sprints and I can bang out 10,000 words in a day.
- First, get a timer. Any timer will do, whether you use your phone, an app, or a kitchen timer. I like the R2D2 Kitchen Timer, myself, over my phone (you'll understand why in a minute).
- Second, clear all distractions. Eat a snack, drink some go-go juice, go to the bathroom, grab a notebook and a pencil or some post-it notes, research, kiss your kids and your spouse — anything that might cause a distraction while you're writing, try to take care of it now before you sit down. And you want to make sure that once you do sit down, you have everything you will possibly need so you won't have to get up in the middle of a sprint to get it.
- If you're using your phone as your timer, put it into airplane mode and place it face down on your desk so other notifications don't get in your way. If you're not using your phone as your timer (like me), put it into another room.
- Take a couple minutes to review your notes so you know exactly what you're going to be writing about during this session.
- Set your timer for 5-30 minutes. If you're not used to sprints, go for the 5 minutes, but try not to go over the 30 minutes. 20 minutes is usually the sweet spot once you get the hang of sprinting.
- And go! Write, write, write, write, write and don't stop writing until that timer goes off. Don't stop to think for more than 10 seconds about anything. If you have a problem that can't be solved in under 10 seconds, make a note of it in your notebook or on your post-it notes or use [brackets] to put in a placeholder so you can come back to it later.
- Once the timer goes off, stop and see how many words you got in. Make sure you're keeping track of your sprints.
- Take a break, you've earned it. Get up, stretch, walk around, grab a drink, check on the other people in your house, let the dog outside… then get ready for the next sprint.
I typically do 20 minutes sprints followed by 10 minute breaks. And using this method, I can usually get close to 2,500-3,000 words done in an hour.
They're not always pretty words, but they're words that weren't there before and we can always make them pretty during editing.
Fill in the Gaps and Reflection
In between your sprints, you'll take care of added research, anything you had to make note of, or going back to fix those placeholders.
Do not start editing your writing just because you're not in a sprint. But do go back and add in more writing: checking your stories and segues, your hooks, and anything else that you might have had to leave out.
Take some time for self-reflection on what you wrote as well. A lot of times, during reflection we will think up another point we wanted to make or another lesson we wanted to include but didn't. Make note of these tidbits so you can include them in the next sprint.
Write my Nonfiction Book: Editing
Your first draft is done and it is awful.
But the good news is, now we get to dig in and fix it! Polish it up, refine it, and get it ready for publishing.
Take a Break
Seriously, get away from your book for a bit. Exactly how long of a break is up to you. You want the break to be long enough that you are coming back to your manuscript with fresh eyes.
On average, 1-2 days per writing week tends to be a decent break.
So, if you spent 8 weeks writing your rough draft, a break anywhere between 8 and 16 days ought to suffice, though you may want to adjust this depending on your deadlines and work schedule (or make it longer if your writing session was intense or lasted several hours a day).
Do not skip this break.
This break does more than just give you fresh eyes. It also allows you to get ready for editing, which requires a different mindset. If you skip this break, you go into editing mode with a writing-mode brain, and you will end up taking longer to edit than you need to.
Fun fact: editing is all about problem-solving.
So, if you're a good problem solver (and I'm better you are, seeing as how you're writing a nonfiction book), then chances are you will take to self-editing pretty well. At least enough to cover the basics.
Now, here's a hard truth: book editing is expensive. And it's not an expense you should skimp on. Skimp on just about anything else – but not editing.
That said, and you can do some things to help save some money on the editing. And one of those things is a thorough self-editing job on your book yourself.
- Run your book through your word processor's spelling and grammar check at least twice to catch as many superficial errors as you can.
- Run your book through the Hemingway App for feedback on structure and voice. (You don't need to buy the desktop app, but if you plan on writing more than one book, I can't think of a better $19.99 for you to spend).
- Read your book out loud, sentence by sentence, and catch any errors that sound wrong to your ear. Trust me, you will find them.
- Change the font size and type and read through your book again, line by line. Make sure every sentence serves your goal and cut out all the fluff.
Send it to an Editor
I of course mean send it to a professional editor, not to that one friend you have who did some editing once upon a time in high school or your super-smart sibling who aced all of their English classes.
A professional editor knows the ins and outs of what publishers are looking for and will dig deep into your book to really make it shine. They look for mistakes and nuances that spell checkers and apps just can't catch. They know how to tighten your writing to make it compelling and effective.
As I've said before: do not skimp on the editor. I'm not saying you have to spend a huge amount, but make sure you are getting a good editor who has experience editing books in your niche.
And if you can't find someone who has edited books in your niche, at least find someone who has edited nonfiction books. You'll be glad to have someone well-versed in how nonfiction is structured and delivered.
Revise. Revise. Revise.
If your book is good and your editor is good, then expect to get your book back with a whole lot of red.
I mean it. I always warn people about the red, and yet seeing all the red marks, comments, and changes always freaks them out and makes them think the book was no good.
It's not true – in the case of editing, the better your book, the more the editor gets into it, the more they pay attention and want it to shine, and the more they will mark it up and give you feedback.
So think of all those red marks as tiny congratulatory statements: you did good – here's how we make it next level.
Give yourself enough time to go through all the feedback from your editor and apply any changes you like (you don't have to accept every suggestion made by the editor, though I highly recommend that you go through each piece carefully).
Get some More Feedback
If you are going to get any feedback from other people, now is the time.
But be discerning – you don't need everyone's feedback. You need feedback from two people:
- Another professional editor or writer. Not necessarily another author, but definitely someone who understands book structure, sentence structure, and storytelling for nonfiction books.
- Your target reader.
No one else's opinion matters and, truth be told, going to anyone else can be detrimental to your book.
In fact, I wouldn't even let anyone else read your book. When you let someone read your book, they feel obligated to give you an opinion on it. And they try really hard to make that opinion worthy of your time, but the truth is their opinion is no good to you.
Their opinion is based on their own experience and where they are. And if where they are is not working as a professional writer or editor (to be able to comment on the writing) or your target reader (to be able to comment on whether or not your book helps solve a problem) then their opinion won't serve you.
All they will do is distract you and make you second guess-yourself. With the best of intentions, they kill your book.
Write my Nonfiction Book: Get Ready to Publish
Now that your book has gone through the ringer, literally, you can finally work on getting it published.
First, pick your launch date. The average launch date is three months after the book is finished editing, but you can move this up or back depending on your situation and needs.
Formatting the Interior
How the interior of your book gets formatted is going to depend on how you want the book to get distributed later. Are you wanting it to be available on Kindle? Nook? or some other eBook reader? How about paperback? Hard cover?
There is no right or wrong answer here, just a matter of preference on your part. I typically choose at least Kindle and paperback, but may choose other formats depending on the market. Kindle covers most of Amazon's eBooks, especially since there are Kindle apps available for other phones and tablets. And paperback is a nice option to have for those people who prefer turning pages.
Formatting your book may seem intimidating, but don't let it scare you. It's actually not as hard as you might think it is. Thankfully, there are a lot of templates available for you for both paperback and eBook.
And, it only takes a few minutes to format your book for Kindle with Microsoft Word once you have everything cleaned up and set.
Designing the Book Cover
Your book cover is going to be one of the first pieces of information a reader receives about your book, so it's got a big job ahead of itself.
It needs to, almost single-handedly, compel the reader to want to learn more about the book – what is it about, can it help them, does it contain the answer to their problem?
If a reader can't find the answers to any of these questions on the cover, they won't read the description, check the table of contents, read your bio, or any other number of things that might convince them to buy the book.
Here are a few tips to help get you started with designing a good book cover:
- Stick with genre or niche expectations. Have you noticed book covers for books on SEO tend to follow certain trends? And even without reading the title, you can almost always spot a book about Facebook Marketing from a book about either general social media strategy or Twitter Marketing. Go to your favorite book store and take a look at some of the different books in your niche and put together a list of expectations based on what's selling and what's not.
- Know where your book is going to be distributed and check the dimensions for each store. Amazon has different dimension requirements than most other distributors, including Barnes & Noble and Smashwords.
- Check what your book will look like as a thumbnail. Most people will see the thumbnail image of your book cover before they see anything else, no matter where they shop for books. So that thumbnail needs to look good enough to make them click and view the larger image.
- Your book cover doesn't have to be elaborate. And in many cases, simpler is better.
- Make sure to leave room on the back for your ISBN.
Choose your Publishing Platform
When most people think of self-publishing, they almost immediately think Amazon. And why wouldn't they? Amazon has streamlined the publishing process, making it easier than ever before to get published and sell your books.
However, there are other platforms that you should consider before making up your mind:
You may even end up using a combination just to make sure your book will be available to anyone. Each publisher has different formatting requirements, so be sure to read them all.
Set Up your Author Profiles
Just about every publishing platform and store out there is going to have some place for you to set up your author profile so people can begin following you.
Gather together your headshot, a short bio, social media links, website URL, and anything else you might want to share and set up your profile everywhere your book may be listed:
- Barnes & Noble
- Your website
- Anywhere else your book might be available for sale
Put Together your Launch Team
Your launch team is going to help you get the word out about your book. You may want to include influencers within your industry, book reviewers, book bloggers, raving fans from your existing audience, friends, and family.
Joining a launch team usually comes with some perks, such as receiving a free copy of the book, behind the scenes glimpses into the writing and making of the book, and any other little tidbits you might want to share with them.
This is also going to be the team that receives free Advanced Review Copies (ARC) of your book, usually in PDF format, so they can read and review your book before it actually goes lives. They help get the word out that your book is going to be getting published, driving their audience to your landing page, email list, or pre-order forms.
Write my Nonfiction Book: The Book Launch
Publishing your book is only half the battle. You also need to approach your launch strategy carefully to help make sure nothing gets missed and that your book gets into as many hands as possible.
And, for nonfiction books, that's really the key right there – gets into as many hands as possible. Remember, it's not necessarily about sales when it comes to nonfiction. It's about how many people can (and will) say that you had an impact on their life or on their business.
Planning your Launch Content
What posts do you want to make where? Which channels do you want to post on and what do you want them to say?
Come launch day, and several weeks after launch day, you're going to be a frenzy of book-related posts:
- Available now / sale
- Asking for reviews
- Blog tours
- Public signings
Having a plan ahead of time will help you make sure nothing gets lost in the fray and that your content is formatted the best way for each piece of your platform. Additionally, it will keep your content spread out, rather than hitting every channel all at once, which will help expand your reach and engagement.
Sharing your Launch Content with Others
If you plan on doing Story Takeovers, blog tours, interviews, and any other appearances on others' channels, it would be a good idea to send them some of the launch content you create, especially graphics and photographs. This way, they can help promote your appearance on their channels and your book before and during launch.
Buy Some Copies Yourself
Exactly how many copies of your book you buy is up to you, but 50 is a pretty good start. This will give you plenty of copies for photos, giveaways, and signed copies.
Set Everything to Live
Make sure your book is live and available for purchase, make sure your bios are published, and make sure your launch team is reading and leaving reviews on various sites.
Any other pages or profiles that aren't live before release day should be live now and should be accessible to the public at large.
Don't forget to spend some time with your book launch team, maybe even visit the group (if you have one) or go Live with a Q&A or some promotion tips and thank them for their time and effort in helping you launch.
Your book is out there for all the world to see. And there is no better feeling in this world than to know it's helping people and making an impact.
And, better yet, you now have a new angle to help you leverage more speaking gigs, hosting events, and other opportunities than ever before.
Did you enjoy this article? Here are some more tips on writing your nonfiction book you may like:
- 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 Target Reader (and why you need to)
- How to Format your Book for Kindle with Microsoft Word
Grab Your Free Book Outline Template Here:
How do you write a nonfiction book?
Start with the set up:
1) Define success parameters
2) Define your target reader
3) Choose your topic
4) Define your book positioning
Plan your book:
6) Set up your writing plan
7) Gather your research
Writing your book:
8) Put together your writing routine and stick with it
9) Self-edit several rounds
10) Send to an editor
11) Apply feedback and revisions from the editor
What does a nonfiction book have?
A nonfiction book has its foundations rooted in the truth; often based on facts, experiences, knowledge, and expertise and designed to help its reader grow or transform in some way, expand his or her knowledge in a particular area, or gather new insights about a topic.
How long does it take to write a nonfiction book?
There are a lot of factors that will affect how long it takes to write a nonfiction book. But, on average, if you put together a strong plan and can stick with a consistent writing routine, you can write a complete nonfiction book in as little as one month, to up to 3-5 months.
How many pages should a nonfiction book be?
Nonfiction books vary in length anywhere from 10 pages long to as many as several hundred pages. Rather than focusing on page count, first write the complete book as detailed as possible. Then edit and revise for brevity and succinctness to ensure readability.