Tips for writing your nonfiction book

Posted By on April 27, 2011

Last week, I wrote about organizing your nonfiction book; today’s post will address the actual writing process.

After you’ve got your book organized, I suggest you develop a mission statement just like businesses do. This is some twenty to forty words that capture the essence of your message. Who is this for? How will it assist them? What is its main thrust? Creating this now—and referring to it frequently during the writing process—will help you stay focused.

Determine who your audience is. Otherwise you’ll be like a blindfolded fool with a dart. You can shoot, but the chances of hitting the target, not to mention the bull’s-eye, are slim to none. How old are your typical readers? Which gender? Where do they rank educationally and financially? What special interests, or problems, do they have? Get a firm picture of your readers, and write your book to them.

Next, write the introduction. This sets the stage for the whole book. A good introduction tells the scope of the work and details the different ways people will benefit from reading it. It further helps you think through the project and keeps you on target. You’ll want to rework it after the book is written. Then work on the chapter you’re most jazzed about. It doesn’t matter if it’s chapter three or chapter nine. Nonfiction books don’t necessarily need to be written in chronological order; chapters are typically stand-alone units. By starting on the one that excites you the most, you get into the swing of writing. If you think of the chapters as a series of steps, each piece contributing to the whole, you’ll have a finished book before you know it.

Now think about what you can provide to embellish or clarify your message. Should you include sidebars of relevant information? Checklists? Samples? Dos and don’ts? Also strive to have examples that are demographically correct. Include singles/couples, personal/professional, old/young, male/female. Don’t favor or ignore any one group.

Some people already have the guts of a book and don’t realize it. Have you written several articles on a similar subject? Do you do a regular column? How about a blog? Repackage that data and guess what? You have a book! Find the common denominators, write transitions, link the material, refresh obsolete facts or information, and you’re in business. Be sure you deliver value.

I work with a lot of speakers who have a real advantage because they can simply use an audiotape or video they already have produced for sale and transcribe it into a double-spaced document. (Or simply tape a speech and have it transcribed.) By reviewing and reworking this material, the shape of their books quickly emerges. To beef up their messages, they can simply hire virtual assistants to find relevant articles and new statistics.

What length constitutes a book? It varies widely depending on who you ask. The U.S. Postal Service says you must have at least eight pages to qualify. International postal standards dictate that forty-nine pages is the magic number, not counting the cover. Anything under that is deemed a pamphlet or periodical. The Library of Congress requires fifty to get an LCCN. We usually encourage at least sixty-four pages, depending on the subject matter.

The bottom line is to give your readers genuine value.

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3 Responses to “Tips for writing your nonfiction book”

  1. Your pages have helped a lot! I plan on writing about a really bad accident I was in. I’m only 18, but I do plan on publlishing my book.. Someday. Thanks for all the helpful tips. I had no idea where to start until I found this page! Thank you!

  2. Hi Sue,
    thank you for this information. I am getting ready to write my first book from my experiences working with children and youth in the justice system. You have surely helped me in getting started! I already have some of the information!
    Do you write any other articles related to developing and publishing a book?
    Norma Nicholson

  3. Hi Norma–Thanks so much for commenting! And indeed I do write a lot about developing and publishing a book…just check my categories on the main page. Do you have any specific questions I could address?

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