How to Write Your Nonfiction Book

Studies show that as many as 80% of people want to write a book. I hear this goal all of the time from people I meet in the business world. Countless numbers of people over the years have proclaimed their desire to write a book, but only a small percentage will actually make their book a reality.

For most people, writing a book feels like a monumental task, and many can’t quite get past the fear and overwhelm to even get started. Others get stuck mid-way. When I inquire about this, the problem is almost always due to fear (which can also be masked under excuses like, “I just don’t have the time.”). It is a vulnerable experience to write and share your book with the world. It can feel as if it puts you, the author, under the microscope and opens you up to criticism and feedback that you may not want to hear.

But here’s the flipside of that fear: accomplishment. There is nothing as rewarding as seeing your book in print. Ask any author—I bet 99.9% will agree. It is a powerful experience to set such a big goal and follow it through. Yes, you may feel as though you are standing before the public in your underwear. But there are lessons to be learned in vulnerability. When you embrace it, you will find that people are much kinder than you expect them to be. There will always be critics, no matter what you do in life, but does that mean you should let them keep you from realizing a dream?

And don’t forget that a book can bring all kinds of benefits. There is a reason the word “Authority” begins with “Author.” Nothing establishes you as an authority in your field like a book. It can help you get booked for speaking engagements, attract media attention (media pros love to cite quotes from authors!), impress clients, and so much more.

Following is a guideline to help you write your next book.

1. Know Your Audience

It is incredibly important to understand who your target audience is before you write the book. Many writers skip this step and regret it later.

Your book should speak to the reader, and it can’t do that if you don’t understand the needs, challenges, and interests of your readers. I find it helpful to think of a muse while writing. I often think of people I know who would benefit from whatever it is I’m covering at that time. Then it’s as if I am writing specifically for the benefit of that person.

We have a tendency to want to include everyone, but the reality is that you will capture more readers by narrowing your focus and claiming a niche.

For example, which do you think would stand out more?

  1. A general financial guide about how to save for retirement.
  2. A guide to saving for retirement for single parents.

Once you identify your audience and the focus of your book, all of your writing efforts, and all of your marketing efforts, should speak directly to that audience.

If you’re worried that there is not enough room in the world for another book like yours, know that the marketplace will always welcome new titles. The key is to establish how your book will be different or better than the competition.

Also important is your purpose for writing the book. If you view your book is a tool for promoting your business, the amount of competition will be less relevant. But if you aspire to hit the bestseller lists or you want to attract a traditional publisher, then it is essential to know the competition and be able to differentiate it from the rest.

2. Choose Your Writing Process

You don’t have to be professionally trained writer to develop a book. Here are several options:

  • Write it yourself.
  • Hire a ghostwriter.
  • Enlist a co-author.
  • Dictate your book using software such as Professionally Speaking to convert it to text or have recordings transcribed and edited.
  • Get your thoughts on paper and hire a good editor to turn it into a manuscript.
  • Work with a book coach who can help you work through the process and keep you accountable.
  • Assemble an anthology of contributions from others.

3. Create an Outline

I personally use the old storyboard method where I take a stack of sticky notes or 3×5 cards and write down every single topic or detail that I want to cover in my book. These get laid out before me, and I move them around until I have created a logic flow of chapters with a balanced number of topics. This process can take a few hours or a few weeks, but the end result becomes your outline for writing your book.

4. Leverage Content You Already Have

Your book may already be further along than you realize. If you have created content for your business, you may be able to use it for your book. Here are some places to look:

  • Articles and blog posts you have written
  • Handouts you have developed
  • Surveys you have conducted
  • Case studies, whitepapers, and client success stories
  • Seminars, videos, and recordings you have made that can be transcribed
  • Contributions from others (articles, interviews, case studies, etc., with their permission, of course)

5. Write the Jacket Copy

The jacket copy is the description that goes on the back of the book, and it’s what entices readers to buy. While you might think this should be your final step, it can be beneficial to do this first. Being able to describe the book concisely can help you focus your writing efforts. Look to books on your own shelf or on Amazon for examples and ideas.

6. Begin the Writing Process

Once you know what topics to cover, you are ready to begin writing. The idea of writing a book can seem overwhelming, but if you tackle it in small pieces, it can begin to come together quickly. Here are some ways to manage the writing process:

  • Approach each topic as if you were writing a short article. This will help you stay focused on the topic at hand while making it easy for your readers to enjoy.
  • Write Your Introduction Last. While it may be tempting to write this first, and you can certainly do so if it helps you focus, I can almost guarantee that you’ll want to rewrite it after you’ve completed the rest of the book. Your ideas will evolve as your write, and the introduction should reflect what the reader will experience as the final product.
  • Break up the text with plenty of subheadings and bullets for easier reading.
  • Share stories (real-world or fiction examples) and use metaphors to illustrate important points.
  • If you get stuck on a topic, move on to something else and return to it later.
  • Avoid editing while you write—this can slow you down. Write first and edit later!
  • Beware of getting sidetracked. If you stop the writing process to research something online, it can be easy to lose track of time. Make a note about the added work you need to do and keep writing.
  • Develop a system for jotting down notes when you need to add more information; look up a resource or any other kind of follow-up. You might mark a spot in the manuscript with “xxx” so that you can easily search and follow up later.
  • Include quotes from people you have interviewed, provide resources for additional information, and compile brief sidebar tips to enhance the reader’s experience.
  • Don’t obsess about the length of your manuscript, as it could affect the quality of the content you write. Focus on writing for the reader and getting the most important points across. If you need to expand your manuscript later, you can always add case studies, sidebars, statistics, or other data if it makes sense.
  • Don’t Be Afraid to Change Course. While you will start with an outline, your manuscript will evolve. That means that topics will change, new ideas will be added, and it may not end up looking exactly like your original plan. That is totally okay and part of the creative process. Go with it, as long as your work doesn’t lose its core focus.

7. Make Time to Write

One of the biggest excuses that aspiring authors have is a lack of time to get a book written. Like anything else in life, if you want it badly enough, you have to find a way to make it happen.

You may want to plan your writing time around when you are most creative. Are you a morning person or a night owl? Perhaps you need to get up an hour earlier or stay up an hour later. It is important to discover your own unique process. Some writers are disciplined and write during a set time each day. Some schedule one or two days each week for writing. With my busy schedule, I actually check into a hotel for a weekend and write, write, write! It’s all about what works best for you.

8. Embrace the Editing Process

I personally dread the final stage of the manuscript, where you’ve read it for the 50th time and it all starts running together. However, this is where a manuscript becomes a book. You’ve got to invest the time to re-read, make adjustments, and get it to a point where you can feel confident that it is as complete as can be.

9. Know When to Put a Fork in it and Proclaim it DONE

There is an old saying in the publishing world: “You will never have a final draft, only a last draft.” Don’t edit yourself into a stupor, which can be easier said than done. At some point, you must have faith that you’ve made as many improvements as you can and that it’s as complete as it can be.

You may also struggle with some fear at this stage because it can feel like you’re about to take a leap off a giant cliff. Talk yourself through it or reach out to your community for support. It’s a vulnerable thing to put a book out into the world and it is completely normal to feel some anxiety before you finish (and after your book is done, too).

10. Cross the Finish Line

The average book manuscript is around 60,000 words. Two typed pages are the equivalent of around 1,000 words. So if you wrote just two pages per day, your book would be done in 60 days! And as mentioned previously, manuscript length is not a deal-breaker, especially when publishing a book yourself. If yours comes in shorter than average, a good book designer can still create an effective finished project.

Once your manuscript is complete, you will begin the editing process. Editing is essential to every book, as typos and other errors can be distracting to the reader. A good editor can clean up basic grammar and punctuation issues or provide a more in-depth examination of your manuscript and suggest changes for improvement.

Writing a book is a big achievement and can have a tremendous impact on your business. Set a goal to finally write that book this year and you will embark on a fantastic journey.

Action Item: Just do it! Get started on your book, following the process detailed here. You will be glad you did!

If you like this blog post, you’ll love our Author Toolkit with templates, worksheets and checklists for writing nonfiction. Check it out!