We’ve all heard the saying “Everyone has one good book in them” or some variation. In fact, the original quote was by journalist Christopher Hitchens, who stated, “Everyone has a book in them and that, in most cases, is where it should stay.”
Hitchens was presumably talking about novels. Indeed, many people struggle to envisage writing a novel, and not everyone writes good novels (50 Shades of Grey anyone?).
But a book is not just a novel and, most of us have some useful information that we could share with others in a nonfiction book. If you have knowledge or skills that would help others, why not write a nonfiction book? If it adds to the knowledge in the world and helps even one person, isn’t it worth it?
You might be wondering “but how do I write a book?” Indeed, it can seem daunting at first! However, there’s a simple step-by-step process you can follow to write a nonfiction book. As a book editor of nonfiction books, I’ll share that process and some tips with you here.
- Pick your topic
The topic of your book is the information, knowledge, or skills you want to share with the reader. Nonfiction covers a wide range of books, from autobiographies to reference books, but the easiest kind of nonfiction to write is practical how-to books.
The great thing about how-to books is that they’re compelling for readers and anyone can write one if they know how to do something. (Remember writing a book on how to make a cup of tea in school?)
It could be:
- Something physical, such as how to improve your fitness at home
- Something tech-related such as how to program in C#
- Something intangible such as how to increase your well-being
This how-to topic will become your title.
- Plan your book
Perhaps the most important step is writing your book plan! Many nonfiction authors overlook this step, and that’s the first step to failure. If you don’t write a plan, your book will end up unfocused, inconsistent, and lacking flow. It won’t follow a clear path, and your reader will most likely give up—or give you a bad review.
Luckily, writing a book plan is easy. Simply write down a list of topics you want to cover in the book. If you do this using a brainstorm or mind map, you can cover everything the reader needs to know within each topic too. Then arrange the chapters into the order that your reader needs to know the information.
This will become your Table of Contents.
- Check out your competition
Next, look on Amazon to see which other books are available on the subject. Usually you can “look inside” to read their Table of Contents and see what they cover.
The important thing here isn’t to become disheartened by the competition, but to ensure that your book offers something different or a new approach compared to other books on the topic.
This could be:
- Looking at it from a different angle
- Providing a “quick guide” or a more in-depth look
- Taking a different approach, such as making it fun!
This will become your unique selling point (USP).
- Know your audience
To ensure your book is as helpful as possible for readers, you need to decide on your audience beforehand, and be specific about who they are. Although it’s tempting to “write for everyone”, doing so is practically impossible since readers have different requirements.
Think about the type of person who is likely to need and read your book, and then match your tone and approach to them. For example:
- If you’re writing self-help books, you need to break the information down into small manageable chunks so you don’t overwhelm the reader.
- If you’re writing for young people, don’t use overly formal language that is likely to be off-putting to them.
- Think length
There’s a long-held myth that every book should be 80,000 words long, and this can put potential authors off. However, this 80k figure isn’t representative of all books. Nonfiction books can be much shorter or longer, and self-published e-books can be as little as 10,000 words.The important thing is to pick a length that suits the topic and audience, for example:
- If it’s a quick guide, it should be a short book, under 20k.
- If it’s a reasonably detailed how-to guide, aim for around 30-40,000 words.
In my next blog post, I’ll look at book word counts and length in more detail, so stay tuned!
- Don’t forget the additional information
Authors often forget the important parts of a book that direct the reader, such as:
- The introduction
- About the author/why I wrote this book
- What you need to get started
- Who the book is for
- How to read the book
- References (vital to avoid plagiarism!)
It often helps to start writing these elements before starting your chapters so you can direct your writing and be clear on your purpose and audience.
- Structure the book and the chapters
Now you need to decide on a structure for the book to guide the reader’s journey. This should be a logical progression, where each chapter forms the next step on the path to the book’s conclusion. Think about the order that the reader needs to know the information.
You then need to structure each chapter to ensure consistency and flow across the whole book. The easiest way to do this is to formulate each chapter as follows:
- Brief introduction to the subject and how it links to the main point of the book (a few paragraphs).
- What this chapter will cover (simple bullet points).
- Main evidence or point of chapter (theoretical information).
- How to do this task (practical information).
- Further information if required (other resources the reader can refer to).
- Brief summary of key points to remember (simple bullet points).
Remember that the whole book should form a journey for the reader.
8. Write for fun
When authors start writing a book, they often force themselves to write without enjoying it. There’s little point writing a book if you hate the process of doing it and it makes you miserable. Try to make it enjoyable by:
- Writing about things that inspire you
- Write little and often
- Write when you’re bored, such as on the train to work
If it feels overwhelming to suddenly jump into writing a book, start small by writing blog posts to practise writing. You can post them for free on a WordPress site and you might even build a following who will want to buy your book. Aim for 500-1000 words for these posts. Then you can pad the information out into longer chapters for the book. That way, the reader is getting value from the book even if they’ve read the posts.
- Get an editor
When you’ve finished the book, it’s best to hire a book editor who can help you structure the content, ensure your meaning is clear, and improve your writing style—among many other things.
A book editor will ensure the book is as good as possible and that it will help your intended audience. A good editor can be the difference between a bestseller and a flop! It’s also ideal to hire a proofreader to check there are no errors before the book goes to print.
Need an editor or proofreader for your nonfiction book? Get in touch!
- Make it pretty
While we all like to think we don’t judge a book by its cover, in reality, readers often judge books by their image—both the cover and the book design inside. So once you’ve put all that effort into writing a great book, don’t ruin your chances by publishing something that looks less than great.
Hire a book designer to make your book and cover look polished and professional. You can find them through freelancing websites, and it’s well worth the cost. You might also want to hire a marketer to help you promote the book.
If you need help writing your book or have any more tips on writing a nonfiction book, get in touch…