So you’ve decided to write a nonfiction book.
Now it’s my job to show you how to write your book as efficiently and effectively as possible, so you can get your message out to readers all over the world.
At first, writing a book can seem a little intimidating…
- Where do you start?
- How do you get all your thoughts lined up on the page?
- How do you know what to write in the book and which parts to leave out?
- How do you write a book that will make a difference in the lives of your readers?
We’ll answer all of these questions and more in this detailed guide to show you how to write a nonfiction book.
What Makes a Good Nonfiction Book?
Writing a great nonfiction book doesn’t have to be hard if you follow the writing system on this page.
If you take the time to do some research, organize your thoughts, and find a problem that you’re uniquely qualified to help people solve, you’re well on your way to writing a non fiction book that can land you at the top of the bestseller charts.
How to Write a Nonfiction Book
While writing a nonfiction book takes some time and energy, it really all comes down to following 11 simple steps (whether you’re writing about self-help, business, gardening, fitness, lifestyle, nutrition, or any other topic).
The first step is…
1. Brainstorm Nonfiction Book Ideas
You may already have a great book idea and feel like you’re ready to sit down and start writing, but I still suggest creating a list of as many nonfiction book ideas as you can think of.
Brainstorming book ideas and keeping them organized in a list is incredibly important because writers and creative people tend to fall prey to “shiny penny syndrome.”
When you’re halfway through writing your book, coming up with a new, more exciting book idea or project could throw you off track completely. We often chase shiny pennies or new opportunities because they feel more exciting and less challenging. By maintaining a list of all your best book ideas in one place, you won’t feel like you’re missing out on a new opportunity every time a new idea comes to you.
Instead, you’ll be able to put your new ideas into perspective as just one idea in an endless chain of ideas. This will allow you to stay more focused on your current project and help you avoid the trap of starting a book but never finishing it.
2. Market Research
In order to understand how to write a nonfiction book, you’ll first have to do some market research.
Once you’ve created your list of book ideas, ask yourself these questions to get clarity on which ideas you should consider top priority:
- Which book idea are you most passionate and excited about?
- Which book idea are you uniquely qualified to write?
- Which book will be the most valuable to readers?
- If you only had 90 days left to live and could only finish one book before you go, which one would it be?
After going through these questions, you should be able to narrow down your list of ideas to the top 1-3 book ideas that you’re most excited about.
Whether you’ve picked your best book idea or you’re still unsure at this point, it’s time to start with market research on your top book ideas to verify that the book you plan to write will actually be in demand.
Market research is crucial because it allows you to find out who your ideal readers are and what whey want.
We already posted a detailed guide to book market research, so make sure to follow that process before you sit down to write your book, or you may end up wasting your time by writing about something readers aren’t interested in.
3. Identify Your Book’s Target Audience
Once you’ve identified the topic you want to write about, you can start doing research on your target audience to learn how to write a nonfiction book readers will love. This will help you decide on your final topic and guide your approach to your writing.
Ask yourself some key questions about your ideal reader, the person you’d love to have find and buy your book:
Level of Expertise
Is your perfect reader already familiar with the subject and looking to gain more information?
Or are they a beginner who wants a straightforward introduction to your topic?
Is your reader someone who has lots of time to spend on a very in-depth, complicated book, or do they want quick tips and simple, useful points that will help them get started right away?
What specific topics are your ideal readers interested in?
Go online and check out some popular forums related to your topic. See what questions people are asking, as well as what they already seem comfortable with.
Check out Amazon reviews for other books that might be similar to yours, too. What did people love about those books? What did they hate? Take notes on what your readers mention in these book reviews—this is great background research for writing your own nonfiction book on the topic, because you’ll be able to see where the gaps are in the market.
How to Find Your Target Audience
Let’s take a look at how to find your target audience for a natural wellness book as an example.
If you’re interested in natural wellness, do you want to write for an audience that already takes herbal supplements, or one that has heard of them but has no idea how to get started?
Go online to read some forums and blogs about natural wellness and see what people are asking. Maybe they’re looking for quick, easily applied information on how to stop using prescription drugs for their problems.
They don’t seem to give good reviews to complicated books that get into the botany and biology of natural wellness therapies, but they give great reviews to easy-to-understand books that clearly outline what supplements to use for what problems.
Great! This gives you a clear idea of who your ideal target audience is: a person who’s got some physical ailments or issues that they want to be free of without using strong prescription medication, who’s short on time, and just wants to feel better quickly without having to plow through a dense medical text.
You now have a basic profile of your target audience. You know what their main concerns are and what type of book they’re looking for.
4. Identify the Problem You Want to Solve
Now that you know what you want to write about and what your ideal reader is looking for, you can get to the real core of writing a great nonfiction book: identifying the problem you want to solve.
People primarily read nonfiction books because they’re looking for answers to a particular problem.
Maybe they want to treat their back pain naturally. Maybe they want to lose weight. Maybe they want to earn more money, have a more organized house, or figure out how to raise a child.
Regardless of the specific topic, people read nonfiction in order to learn and grow. They want to gain new skills, solve problems, and improve their lives.
Your job as a nonfiction author is simply to help them do that!
What problem can you help solve better than anyone else?
In the case of our natural wellness book, maybe you were able to fix your back pain without using opioid medications or even over-the-counter pain pills by using a combination of herbal supplements and a stretching routine you created.
Because you did your research in Step 2, you already know that they’re looking for simple, straightforward information that they can put to use right away, presented in a friendly way that doesn’t make your book seem overwhelming or feel like a textbook.
By knowing this, you’re now able to provide the kind of value that your readers are looking for—and that means you’re already a step ahead of the competition
You’ll not only be able to provide a solution to the problem your readers want to solve, but you’ll be able to do it in the way that they’ll actually understand and act on!
Remember, providing value to your readers is one of the key foundations of success as a nonfiction author.
So you’ve identified your audience, tone, and the key problem you’re solving.
Now it’s time to…
5. Pick a Bestselling Book Title
Picking a great book title is a crucial step in the process of getting readers to actually read your book, take action, and benefit from your expertise.
The title comes out of all the market research you’ve done to this point. You’ve figured out who your potential readers are, what they’re looking for, what questions they’re asking, and what problems they want to solve.
Now your job is to turn all that information into a catchy, descriptive book title that will get them to say, “Hey, I NEED that book!”
For nonfiction, it’s best to use a catchy, memorable title and a descriptive subtitle that explains how your book solves their problem. If possible, make sure your title includes keywords that your readers might use to ask about their question or problem online.
For example, some potential titles for a back pain book might be:
- Beat Back Pain Naturally: Ditch the Painkillers and Free Yourself from Aches with Easy Stretching
- Stretch Your Pain Away: How to Beat Back Pain and Live Better without Drugs
- Back Pain Be Gone: Natural Remedies and Simple Stretches to Help You Beat Back Pain Forever
Tips for Choosing a Great Nonfiction Book Title
- Be specific: Make sure readers know what they’re going to get when they pick up your book
- Be descriptive: Use catchy adjectives and juicy words that appeal to your audience
- Use keywords: Use keyword tools like KDP Rocket or Google Adwords’ free Keyword Planner tool to see what the most popular searches are for your topic. Then see if you can fit some of the top keywords into your title or subtitle. You can also try simply searching Google for your topic and checking the “also searched for” suggestions at the bottom of the page. Search Amazon for your topic and see what words appear frequently in the titles of competing books, too.
For more help choosing the right title for your nonfiction book, check out this article that includes case studies and examples of finding the perfect book title.
6. Write a Book Outline
While there are plotters and pantsers in the world of fiction writing, very few nonfiction authors can get away with writing by the seat of their pants.
Because you’re writing specifically to help your target audience solve a problem, you need to be systematic in how you approach your book.
Nonfiction readers aren’t just paying for information; they’re paying for information organized in a way that is most useful, accessible, and helpful for them.
Your book must be organized and designed to provide maximum benefit to your readers. That’s why writing an outline is so important, because it ensures you have a structure to your book that is useful to your audience, instead of just a collection of random information.
Your outline should be as detailed as you can possibly make it. A few hours of outlining your book will save you hundreds of hours when it comes to writing the book.
You’ll want to include all the major points you plan to cover, as well as sub-points that help explain or clarify those areas. You’ll want to point out common mistakes or pitfalls that your readers might encounter on their journey to solving their problem, and you’ll probably want to include helpful resources they can use along the way.
Think of this as the “pre-writing” phase. The more you can outline, the easier and faster it will be to write the final book!
See our full detailed post on how to write a book outline.
11 Questions to Answer in Your Outline
Here are 11 key questions that will help you figure out what to include in your book outline:
1. What common questions, concerns or problems does your target customer have? Can you answer those questions in the book? (If you have an FAQ for customers already, that can be a great source of content to include in your book).
2. What actions should your reader take in order to solve their problem or get what they want?
3. What actions should your reader stop doing in order to solve their problem or get what they want?
4. Do you have a system, process or methodology that could help the reader? If so, consider including that in the book (for example, “7 steps to overcoming procrastination.”)
5. What common myths are out there that aren’t true or don’t work for many of your readers? Busting myths is a powerful tool for educating and helping people solve their problems.
6. What common attitudes and beliefs hold your readers back from the success they’re looking for?
7. What attitudes and beliefs should your reader adopt to help them get what they want?
8. What common mistakes do people make? How can they avoid making those mistakes?
9. What stories of success or inspiration can you share that would help your readers learn what to do?
10. What stories of failure or mistakes can you share that would help your readers learn what not to do?
11. What resources exist to help your reader solve their problems? Consider creating a list of helpful resources, tools or contacts (for example, “A list of helpful resources for overcoming alcoholism” or “A list of software, tools and gadgets that can help improve your productivity.”)
Sample Nonfiction Book Outline
Introduction to Back Pain
- What is back pain? What causes it for most people?
- What are the most common ways of treating back pain?
- Why might these not be the best ways? Why is the way outlined in this book better?
- Who are you (the author) and why are you qualified to help your readers solve their problem?
- How will this book help your reader? What result can they expect if they follow your instructions and insights?
How to Stop Using Painkillers
- Some painkillers, even over-the-counter ones, can be very addictive, if you’ve been taking them long enough. In this chapter, you’ll describe why painkillers might not be the best solution for back pain and how to safely reduce or even stop your use of painkillers.
Herbal Supplements for Back Pain
- In this chapter, you’ll discuss the best herbal supplements for helping to relieve back pain and give recommendations for what to use and how to use it.
- Note whether there are any issues to watch out for when using these supplements.
Stretching for Back Pain
- In this chapter, you’ll outline a simple stretching routine that people can use every day to help reduce their back pain and prevent future problems.
- You’ll walk your reader through the routine step-by-step, maybe even with helpful drawings or diagrams.
Other Alternative Therapies for Back Pain
Here, you can suggest additional ways your readers can help reduce their back pain.
- Chiropractic visits
In this final chapter, you review what you’ve discussed in the previous chapters and summarize everything for your reader so that they know exactly what they’re supposed to take away.
You can also lead in to the topic of your next book if you’ve already chosen it. In this case, maybe your next book will be on acupressure techniques you can use on yourself to help alleviate back and muscle pain, or perhaps on exercise techniques and suggestions for people with bad backs.
As you can see, this sample outline could be easily adapted for just about any nonfiction book you want to write! Just take out “back pain” as the topic and insert the problem you’re trying to solve.
Here’s the key:
Walk your reader through the steps in a logical order, taking the time to make sure you describe each step thoroughly and provide great suggestions, tips, and resources for taking that step.
7. Write the First Draft
Now that you’ve created your outline, all that remains is to fill it in! Let’s learn how to write a nonfiction book first draft.
You can download our free template for writing a nonfiction book to help you get started.
Note: The template is in .docx format so you can easily edit it for your own needs, instead of a PDF that you can’t easily edit.
While sitting down and writing your nonfiction book might seem hard, you’ve actually done the hardest part already: you’ve identified your audience and the key problem you’re going to help them solve and you’ve created a thorough, solid outline.
All you really have to do is flesh it out!
At this point, you’re still not trying to create a perfect, finished book. You’re just trying to get each step filled out and complete, in an approachable format that meets your readers’ needs and expectations.
Don’t worry about making everything perfect! Polishing everything up comes later. In this step, you’re simply focusing on delivering your message to your reader as thoroughly as you can, filling out every point on your outline clearly and completely.
Pretend you’re having a conversation with your reader. They’ve asked you about a problem they’re having and you’re chatting with them, sharing your insights and giving them suggestions for how they can fix it.
When you’re writing your first draft, don’t stop to fix typos, grammatical errors, fact check, or research. By focusing on simply writing new words on the page, you’ll be able to stay in flow longer and get the book fleshed out. You’ll have plenty of time for editing, research, fact checking, and revisions after the first draft is completed.
Keep on writing, following your outline and adding details to illustrate your points and make sense of everything. The more you treat writing your book like having a conversation with a friend who’s looking for advice, the easier it will be to write—and the more enjoyable it will be for your reader!
8. Include Examples and Case Studies
When you’re writing your nonfiction book, always be sure to add relevant, targeted personal examples at major steps along the way.
We all identify with stories. Hearing about other people who have been in our shoes, had similar problems, and overcame them gives us the feeling that we can also make changes and get better results. We love to hear how other people have come out ahead when dealing with problems like ours and it helps to know that the strategies and tips you’re suggesting have worked in the real world.
You don’t necessarily have to add these while you’re writing your first draft. Get through the book first, then go back and see where it would make the most sense to add supporting examples.
Personal examples, either from your own experience or taken from other people’s stories, can help your readers in a few different ways:
- They give examples of challenges readers might face and how others have overcome them
- They give motivation to keep going, sharing milestones and progress along the way
- They give personalized tips and tricks for dealing with specific situations or circumstances your readers might encounter
How to Get Personal Examples for a Nonfiction Book
To get personal examples from other people, consider starting a blog where you answer questions, participating in an online forum on your topic, or asking friends and family to help you by trying out your strategies and sharing their results.
You can use the feedback people give you when you share your insights to fill in personal examples in your book (with the person’s permission, of course!).
You can also use online services like Help a Reporter Out to find people to interview about how they’ve coped with problems similar to the one you’re tackling in your book. Most of the time, people are happy to be interviewed and to contribute quotes and ideas for your book!
Always be sure to attribute the person fully (such as saying, “Let’s look at how Jane Doe of California did it”) and make sure that the attribution is okay with them—some people might want to use a pseudonym or not have their profession or location identified, depending on the topic.
As you become more established as a nonfiction author, you’ll be able to draw on more and more personal examples as readers reach out to you to share their success stories!
Woohoo! You’ve completed your first draft!
Time to celebrate, right?
Absolutely. Enjoy a nice dinner and celebrate.
Then it’s time to get back to work and revise your book.
Don’t worry, though—it’s still very straightforward!
This next step is going to require some discipline and courage on your part, because it involves taking an objective look at your own writing.
When you self-edit, you re-read your book as though someone else wrote it, taking note of anything that doesn’t make sense, places that could use more details or support, places where you drone on needlessly, and errors like incorrect facts, typos, or other mistakes.
Basically, you’re becoming your own first reader, and your own harshest critic!
Self-editing is a hard skill to learn, but it’s worth making the effort, because the better your writing is when you start sending your draft manuscript to beta readers and to a professional editor, the better your finished book will be.
You’ll also spend significantly less money with a professional editor and less time overall, getting your book out into the market faster.
Tips for Self-Editing a Nonfiction Book
- Take a Break: Put your manuscript down, go do something else, and come back to it in a few days or even a few weeks. By giving yourself some space, you can come back with fresh eyes, reading what you actually put on the page instead of what you meant to write and getting some objective perspective on your work.
- Read Out Loud: It’s tough to edit your own work, because you’re always seeing what you intended instead of what’s there. Reading aloud can help you get over that hurdle by engaging a different part of your brain. Take notes as you go on any parts that seem clunky, too long, too short, or like they’re in the wrong place.
- Move to a New Location: Editing your manuscript somewhere other than where you wrote it can help put you in a different frame of mind. Even if you’re just moving from the desk to the couch, or the office to the dining room, giving yourself a change of pace can help you look at the book differently. Try heading to a coffee shop or coworking space and see what a difference it makes!
- Print It Out: Printing out your manuscript and editing it on paper with a pen will help you spot different mistakes you may not have caught on the computer or by reading out loud.
For more tips on self-editing your work at any stage of the writing process, check out this great post on how to edit your own book.
10. Get Feedback from Beta Readers
Getting feedback from other people is a key part of the writing process, especially for a nonfiction book. You need to know what’s working, what isn’t, what’s appealing to people, and what’s boring them or turning them off.
There are lots of different ways to find and work with early manuscript readers, often called beta readers. Check out our guide to working with beta readers for more on how you can improve your writing with helpful feedback.
When you’re first getting started as a writer, your best place to look for beta readers is in your personal circle. If you’re part of a writer’s group, great! These folks would probably be delighted to read your manuscript and critique it.
You could approach users in online forums on your topic and ask them if they’d be willing to read through your new book and provide their thoughts. You can also ask friends and family that you trust to be objective—you don’t want someone who’s simply going to tell you that your book is terrific and perfect; you want someone who will give you honest, clear feedback.
As you become more established, you can recruit some of your fans and audience to help you test out new manuscripts before they’re published—getting to read a favorite author’s work before it’s available to the public is a huge treat for most people, and most readers are happy to volunteer if asked!
Ask your beta readers to read your book thoroughly and to spend some time thinking about it. They should approach it like they’d just bought the book to help them deal with the problem you’re trying to help your target reader solve, and let you know their reactions based on that perspective.
It might help to give your beta readers a list of questions to answer, in addition to asking them to point out any typos, errors, or other glaring issues.
Here are some examples to get you started:
- Where can I add more details?
- What doesn’t make sense?
- What was your favorite part of the book and why?
- What was your least favorite part of the book and why?
- Did you see any errors or mistakes?
- Did you have any questions that didn’t get answered?
- What would you do next if you had purchased this book?
- What do you want to know more about?
Once you’ve gotten feedback from your beta readers, read through your book once more and examine where they pointed out issues. If several readers have pointed out problems in the same area, or agree on some point, then you can safely assume that lots of your eventual readers will have the same comments—it’s best to fix these now!
If only one or two people have an issue, then take a careful look at what they’re discussing and decide whether it makes sense to adapt, delete, or otherwise address the potential problem.
In the end, it’s your book and you’re the one who has to be happy with it!
Remember to use beta readers to get a perspective that’s impossible when you’re the one who wrote the book. In general, you’ll want to take criticism with a grain of salt, but it’s best to pay careful attention and address their comments as thoroughly as you can.
11. Hire an Editor to Revise Your Book
While enthusiastic beta readers are worth their weight in gold, nothing can replace a skilled professional editor. Pros are trained to probe deep into your writing, finding quirks and issues that even the most engaged amateur might not notice at first. They’re great at asking you questions to help draw out the best parts of your writing style and teach you to write better for next time.
Although it can be a little expensive to hire a professional editor, if you plan to become a full-time professional author, it’s worth it. Professional editors will help you make your book the very best it can be, indistinguishable from any Big Five published book out there.
Readers really do know the difference, and while they might not care whether your book has the Harper-Collins logo on it, they will care if it’s full of sentence fragments, misspellings, gaps in logic or sequence, and other issues that a dedicated pro could have helped you resolve.
Finding an Editor for Your Nonfiction Book
You can find professional editors by checking LinkedIn, writers’ forums, or using book editing services or agencies. You can also post your editing job with groups like the Editorial Freelancers Association or the Northwest Independent Editors Guild.
We also have a complete guide to finding an editor that walks you through each step of the process.
When looking for an editor, make sure that they have expertise in your subject area. While a good editor can work on any book, the best editor for your book will be one that understands exactly what you’re writing about and can offer insight into your topic.
For example, the perfect editor for that back pain book would be one who has experience with natural medicine or alternative therapies and who might even have some knowledge of anatomy, physiology, or physical therapy.
Ask the editor to provide a free sample edit of some of your work. This will let you see how they work—what kinds of comments they make, what errors they point out, what communication style they use—and decide whether it suits your own style and needs.
Most reputable professional editors are happy to provide a short (usually 2-5 page) sample edit for free, because it also gives them an opportunity to see exactly how much work your book will need and whether it’s worth it for them to take you on as a client.
Don’t just choose the cheapest editor. While price is always a concern for indie authors, the cheapest editor might not be the best one for your book. Ask exactly what services they provide: Developmental editing? Copy editing? Proofreading? Can you get a package deal?
An editor who charges a bit more, but who has expertise on your topic, can provide developmental guidance, and who will also proofread the final manuscript when you’re done revising may be a much better deal than the $200 editor who will just check your draft for typos.
When you’re ready to hire an editor, check out this helpful guide to getting the most out of your editor.
12. Get Your Book Published
You’ve made it this far—congratulations! You’re almost there!
The next step to becoming a published nonfiction author is to get your book published.
You can check out our submission guidelines to see if it would be a good fit for us to publish your book for you.
You can also review our list of nonfiction publishers to find another publisher that might be a good fit for you.
If you plan to work with a Big Five publisher, you may want to find a literary agent, but just realize it will take at least two years from the time you get a book deal until your book is actually published and available for sale. You’ll also have to write a book proposal for a nonfiction book, which is like writing a business plan for a startup company.
If you want to self-publish your book, you can check out our free course on self publishing.
How to Write a Nonfiction Book: Keep Writing!
Once you’ve finished writing your nonfiction book, I highly recommend you write another book!
That’s because the best way to sell more books is to write another one. As you start marketing your book, getting reviews, and winning new fans and followers, you want to have other offerings you can point them to. Most of the time, that’ll be another book—although it could also be a course, webinar, coaching, or another product that will help them make the most of what you have to teach.
By offering more than one book, you give your fans a way to keep connecting with you—and to deepen that connection, building a relationship of loyalty and trust. After all, your readers loved your first book; they’re sure to want more from you!
So once you’ve finished your first book, head back to the top of the list and start at Step 1 again, ready to write your next bestseller!
For more help on writing a non fiction book, read on:
- What It Actually Takes to Earn a Six Figure Income Writing Nonfiction Books
- How to Write a Book Proposal
- How to Write Book Titles That Sell: 5 SEO Tips for Creating a Nonfiction Book Title So You Can Sell More Copies
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- Freelance Business Tips: How To Start Your Year Right - January 3, 2018