How To Write A Nonfiction Book: Your Step-By-Step Guide
You have a great idea for a nonfiction book, but you don’t know how to get started — and you’re not sure it would even sell.
How do you first verify that there’s a paying market for your book idea and then create the book those readers are looking for?
You already know more about your subject than most people you know, but how do you make this book bridge the gap between what you know and what your readers specifically want to learn?
How do you go beyond what you now know and your reasons for writing this book to create something that will change the lives of your readers for the better?
The secret is in the book-writing process outlined in this article.
Once you learn how to write a nonfiction book from start to finish, you can develop a routine that helps you write each book more quickly and easily than your first.
You’ll learn plenty just from having written that first nonfiction book.
Whatever worked well for you the first time, you can do again. And if some part of the process didn’t work as well as you’d hoped, you can try something else.
The more books you write, the better you’ll get at it, and the more you can help other writers do the same.
How To Write A Nonfiction Book: Your Step-By-Step Guide
By the time you finish reading this article, you’ll know how to write nonfiction books your ideal readers will eagerly snap up and share links to once you’ve published it.
And the more people find the answers they need in your books, the more they’ll want from you.
Before you get started writing a nonfiction book, though, there are a few questions you need to answer:
- Why do you want to write this book?
- What type of nonfiction book are you writing?
- For whom are you writing it — and what do they want?
- What will it take to write the book they want?
- Are you willing to invest the time and energy into writing that book?
Did you notice the transition from “this” to “that”? “This book” is the book as you’ve originally conceived it and is the product of your experience and your inclinations.
“That book” is what “this book” becomes after you’ve done your research into the kind of book your ideal readers really want and are willing to pay for.
And if you’re wanting to actually sell the books you write — and to earn positive reviews — you can’t afford to ignore what your reader wants.
Another part of “that book” is the stories you weave into your book that come from your own experience (or someone else’s) and that resonate with your readers.
To get closer to that book, we’ll start with a working definition of nonfiction.
Table of Contents
Definition of Nonfiction
Look up “nonfiction definition” on the internet, and you’ll most likely see it defined as writing that is based on facts, real events, and real people — which distinguishes it from fiction.
Most nonfiction authors write their books with the intention of helping their readers with something. This is more apparent when we look at the types and subtypes of nonfiction, which we’ll cover next.
Types of Nonfiction
Check out the categories for nonfiction on any bookseller’s website (we’ll use Amazon’s best-seller list), and you’ll see a long list of nonfiction options, including the following:
- Biographies and Memoirs
- Arts and Photography
- Crafts, Hobbies, and Home
- Foreign Languages
- Education and Teaching
- Health, Fitness, and Dieting
- Historical nonfiction
- Humor and Entertainment
- Religion and Spirituality
- Science and Math
There’s a subcategory called “Short Reads“ for short nonfiction books and novelettes or short stories.
So, if you’d like to keep your books short, sweet, and addictive, this category could become your favorite.
What Are Narrative Nonfiction Books?
This is a category of nonfiction that presents a true story in a style that feels more like fiction.
It’s also called creative nonfiction and is essentially storytelling based on what is known to be true.
Writers who excel at narrative nonfiction write storytelling articles for magazines and newspapers. Or they might write biographies or ghostwrite memoirs for clients.
They enjoy bringing out the most resonant aspects of a true story and presenting it in a way that keeps their readers hooked from start to finish.
If you write narrative nonfiction, you don’t have to make anything up; you just have to find a way to make a known story as compelling, emotionally affecting, and memorable as possible.
How to Write a Nonfiction Book Outline
When you’re writing a book — whatever the subject matter — it helps to start with at least a rough outline.
The outline helps you divide your book into parts and chapters, so, once your outline is written, you have at least the rough draft of your book’s table of contents.
And once you’ve got your book broken down into those components, you can flesh out each part to give yourself an idea of the points you want to make in each chapter and the overall message you want to send with each part of your book and with your book as a whole.
You can start with something as simple as a bulleted or numbered list of points you want to make with your book — or topics you want to cover.
Once you’ve got that list, you can turn each major point or sub-topic into a chapter heading (something to start with, anyway). And from there, you can add your book’s Introduction, a Conclusion, and other front and back matter pages.
Then, it’s time to start adding content.
How to Start Writing a Book
You can start by writing any of the following:
- Preface (if you have one) — explaining the inspiration behind your book
- Introduction — giving the reader a taste of what they can expect from your book
- Chapter 1 — diving right into your book’s content
Some authors like to start with the Introduction, while others prefer to dig in with Chapter 1 and write the Introduction (and Preface) last — after they’ve written the rest of the book and have a better idea of what’s in store for the reader.
Depending on how long your chapters will be, you can set up a writing schedule for the week and make it your goal to write a minimum number of words a day, whether that adds up to a chapter or not.
Your Introduction should give your reader a clear idea of what they’ll gain by reading your book. It should make them anxious to start reading Chapter 1, and it should smoothly and efficiently lead them right to it.
Writing Your Best-Selling Book Step-By-Step
Best-selling nonfiction books give readers more of what they want and as little as possible of what they don’t.
Ask yourself, “Would I really care about this information?” or “If I bought this book based on my sales pitch for it, would this be something I would be glad to have read if I only had five or ten minutes to read during the workday?”
Step 1: Gather Up Your (Relevant) Stories
There’s nothing wrong with illustrating your point with stories from real life.
In fact, if you can think of stories that make your points come to life, by all means, use them.
Looking at your outline, brainstorm some story ideas that draw from your experience or someone else’s to help illustrate the points you’ll be making.
Make sure each story helps you make each point more clearly, powerfully, and memorably.
Keep in mind, though, that your book on crafting the perfect Arts and Crafts bookcase doesn’t have room for your life story.
And readers of your self-help book on morning meditation don’t need a detailed history of every meditation practice developed over the centuries.
They just need what they were looking for when they bought your book and not someone else’s.
Don’t give them a reason to think, “Maybe that other book I was looking at will get to the point more quickly.”
You want your reader to keep reading because each sentence they read makes them want more. Each sentence is clear and easy to understand. Each sentence confirms their suspicion that your book was one of the best investments they could make.
Step 2: Do Your Research
To fill that gap I mentioned earlier — between what you know now and what your readers want to learn — your stories may not be enough.
It never hurts, anyway, to look up your subject and see if there’s anything you don’t know that could make your book even more helpful and interesting to your readers.
Use any or all of the following research tools:
- Google Scholar — a simple way to conduct a broad search of scholarly materials
- Incognito Google Search — Go “incognito” to use Google’s self-populating search field without the influence of your personal internet history
- DeepDyve — Look beyond the abstract (for a monthly fee) with “the largest online rental service for scholarly research.”
- KeywordsEverywhere — You’ll love this free browser extension for keyword research (thank you, Patrick Flynn).
- KWfinder — Register for free to search SEO stats for up to 5 keywords per day.
- SEM Rush — This keyword research tool also shows trends. Register to get ten free searches, which can lead you to sites with more information.
- BuzzSumo — This one also shows you where pertinent information is being shared, which tells you where to find more of your ideal readers (Facebook, Pinterest, etc.)
- Amazon Search — Use Amazon’s own self-populating search field, which is made even better with the KeywordsEverywhere extension.
- Publisher Rocket (fka KDP Rocket) — Find other books written on the subject, and research keywords and related terms.
- Zotero — This personal research tool integrates with your browser to capture and save research material.
- Evernote — You can use this tool to save and organize your research for each book project.
Step 3: Write the First Draft
Once you know how long it takes you to write 500 words — and you know how long you can realistically commit to writing each day (and how many days a week), you can calculate how long it will take you to write the first draft of a 30,000-page book.
If your book will be shorter or longer than that, adjust your calculations accordingly.
Then you can set a deadline on the calendar, giving yourself an extra few days’ cushion, in case something comes up that makes it impossible to write as much on one or more of your book-writing days.
Step 4: Revise and Edit Your Book
After that, set another deadline, giving yourself at least half the time you spent writing the first draft, so you can revise your book. This process is every bit as important as writing your first draft.
Pay close attention to each sentence as you reread it.
Eliminate clutter to make your sentences clearer, more elegant, and easier to read. Be brutal, so your reviewers don’t have to be.
Then it’s time to get someone else’s eyes on your work — preferably a professional editor — at least for copy-editing and proofreading.
You don’t want to give your readers any reason to leave a “Needs editing” review.
If your current book budget doesn’t allow for professional editing, you’ll have to do the best you can with the resources you have — though it’s still important to get someone else’s eyes on your book.
After the editing’s done — and especially if you’ve done the editing yourself — you’ll want to find some beta-readers to look over your book and offer their constructive feedback.
Good beta-readers are priceless and deserve to be recognized and rewarded, even if all you can currently afford to do is mention them in your book and return the favor when they need beta-readers.
Read to write your nonfiction book?
Now that you know how to write your nonfiction book, which one will you work on today — even if all you do is make a list of the ideas you have for it?
Take a few minutes to brainstorm the topics you’d want to cover or the questions you want to answer with your book.
Think of the book you wish had existed before you learned something that changed your life for the better. And find out what it will take to create that book for others.
Write down, for your benefit and for your readers, why you want to write this book.
Write about the life-changing difference made by something you learned.
Then do some keyword research to find the most popular questions and keyword combinations to give you a better idea of the information your readers want.
If you’ve got an idea for a book that thousands or even millions of people are searching for, it’s worth the investment of time and energy to make your book as clear and satisfying an answer to their questions as it can be.
May your creative energy and passion for helping others influence everything you do today.