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How to Write a Book: From a Failure Who Hasn’t (Non-Fiction)

What Makes Nonfiction Different?

We’ve laid out what paths to follow on the road to writing a fiction book, but what about nonfiction? The reasons for writing nonfiction are more varied, so each methodology for this type of novel highlights aspects that fiction writers may never consider.

For one thing, not all nonfiction writers have a “passion” for writing. While many do love to write, some people use writing a book as a business card, a moneymaker, or merely an extended journal. I must admit that such logic initially makes me want to turn my nose up in disapprobation, but no one should dictate another person’s why.

Is Nonfiction Easier?

I prefer writing fiction but find nonfiction easier to write, which is why I mostly edit nonfiction books. However, one of the biggest problems with authors I edit is that they seem to think nonfiction is so simple they don’t have to do anything. Just because someone may not be weaving a story doesn’t mean they can forget storytelling rules.

Like life, writing is suffering, and life is also stranger than fiction, so writing nonfiction should be the most excruciating trauma one can survive. And, when an author hasn’t come to terms with this reality, I’ve seen it stunt their catharsis. They just didn’t prepare for the amount of work it would take. So, their minds cannot rest after they’ve finished their piece.

Nonfiction Needs a Plan

Because when writing nonfiction, an obvious story won’t pop into your head, having a guide becomes crucial. When a fiction writer lets their story flow from beneath their fingertips without any planning, depending on their skill level, it can be unnoticeable.

With nonfiction, it becomes an indecipherable mess of hot fried word vomit.

This doesn’t mean you have to outline every paragraph, but knowing how you will write will help keep your train on the tracks. From five steps to thirty-three steps, I’ve outlined some ways to write nonfiction books below.

This guideline is a straightforward breakdown of getting your book from the first draft to the last. It has specific steps for what to look for while writing each one. If you want a more relaxed method, you can’t beat five steps. You could use this for a fiction book as well, but the creator of this approach writes nonfiction, so I put it in this section.

  1. The Junk Draft.

  2. The Structure Draft.

  3. The Rough Draft.

  4. The Surgery Draft.

  5. The Last Draft.

Honestly, no matter which “method” you pick, consider keeping this to perfect your draft. Personally, I plan to use the structure to write the first draft, then go through paragraph by paragraph and edit for content and style, perfecting my wording. Next, I’ll go through sentence by sentence looking for grammar. Then, I’ll let beta readers go through and pick out some suggestions I like. Do one more proofread, and then, and only then, will I send it to a round of editors (one for content, one for a line-by-line, and the last for proofreading.)

If you think that all sounds a bit nuts, well, you’ve never seen a team of editors leave in a major typo on a front cover.

Although the title says this outline is for first-time authors, it has aspects that can work for anyone. If you want to write a book but don’t yet have an idea, this method waits until step four to help you find one. It also deals with the psychology of writing a book and takes you from the writing compulsion stage to the printer’s press.

This website focuses on self-publishing, so if you want to go the traditional publishers’ route, you can skip several steps, taking what’s only applicable to you.

  1. Develop a writer’s mindset.

    1. Hold yourself accountable to writing your book.

    2. Give yourself permission to be a writer. (To expand on this, consider writing a dear fear letter.)

    3. Announce your intention to write a book.

  2. Create a book writing space.

    1. Coffee shops (classic).

    2. Library.

    3. Beautiful park or somewhere in nature.

    4. A dedicated writing nook at home.

  3. Choose a book writing software.

    1. Word Processor (Example: Google Docs).

    2. Grammar checker (Example: Grammarly).

    3. Automatic Syncing App (Example: Evernote).

    4. Notebook & Pen.

  4. Determine your book’s topic.

    1. Identify your target reader.

    2. Write about something that intrigues you.

    3. Research potential topics.

    4. Choose a topic you can write about quickly (disagree).

  5. Create a book outline.

    1. Create a mind map.

    2. Write a purpose statement.

    3. Create a working title.

    4. Write an elevator pitch for your book (65-70 words).

    5. Draft a working outline for your book.

    6. Fill in [your] gaps with more research.

    7. Choose a framework to write your book.

      1. Modular.

      2. Reference.

      3. Three-Act (Back again).

      4. Sequential.

      5. Compare & Contrast.

      6. Problem & Solution.

      7. Chronological.

      8. Combination.

  6. Finish writing your manuscript.

    1. Break your book writing into small chunks.

    2. Build/Continue the momentum to finish writing your book.

    3. Collaborate with others.

  7. Edit your book.

    1. Self-edit your book.

    2. Hire a professional book editor.

    3. Re-write sections of your book’s draft using your editor’s feedback.

      1. Read manuscript aloud.

      2. One chapter at a time.

      3. Edit the chapter for structure.

      4. Improve the book’s readability.

      5. Edit for grammar and word choice.

      6. Finalize your book title.

  8. Choose a compelling book cover.

    1. White space is your friend.

    2. Make it creative (non-fiction) or emotional (fiction).

    3. Consider a subtitle.

    4. Test two or three designs.

  9. Format your book.

    1. Learn how to do it yourself.

    2. Pay someone else to do it.

  10. Prepare to launch your book.

    1. Build your book’s launch team.

    2. Develop a marketing mindset.

    3. Create a book launch strategy.

  11. Publish your book.

    1. If self-publishing, pick a platform.

    2. If traditional, pick a publisher.

  12. Market your book.

    1. Paid advertisements.

    2. Free advertisement opportunities.

    3. Local or in-person events.

    4. Content marketing on Google and Amazon.

    5. Be a guest on podcasts and websites.

    6. Speaker opportunities.

I had a slight grievance with some of the advice on step four: determine your book’s topic. Yes, if you’re a person who has never been on a plane, maybe don’t make a book about engineering one. But, if you really are willing to take some years and research how to build one, then do it.

The obsession with rapid-fire writing has gotten out of hand. In our time-starved modern existence, find your passion and spend time on it, even if it is only ten minutes a day, even if it takes you ten years. Do it anyway.

Note: There’s also an extra step on the website of “Finish writing your manuscript,” but it wasn’t added to the table of contents and was placed in a strange place, so I didn’t include it in my outline.

If you want to write something that requires more research, Bryan Collins’ guide has some excellent examples to put you on the right path. Like the previous method, he will also allow you to plan from prewriting to publishing.

  1. Commit to Writing Your Book.

  2. What You Must Know About Writing a Book.

  3. Determine Why You Should Write a Book.

  4. Research Your Audience.

  5. Get New Ideas for Your Book.

  6. Establish What Your Book is About.

  7. Decide What Type of Writer You Are.

    1. Pantser

    2. Plotter

  8. Budget for Self-Publishing Your Book.

  9. Research Your Book.

  10. Break Writing into Small Chunks.

  11. Interview Experts for Your Book.

  12. Stop Researching, Start Book Writing.

  13. Outline Your Book.

  14. Establish Your Book’s Controlling Idea.

  15. Set a Deadline.

  16. Have a Dedicated Writing Space.

  17. Write That Messy First Draft.

  18. Accept You’ll Make Mistakes.

  19. Manage Your Book Writing Time.

  20. Fight Writer’s Block.

  21. Track Your Progress.

  22. Before Editing Your Book, Let It Sit.

  23. Write the Next Draft.

  24. Take a Break From Book Writing.

  25. Hire an Editor (Absolutely Necessary)!

  26. Hire a Proofreader (Or Beta Readers)!

  27. Format Your Book.

  28. Get Ready to Publish Your Book.

  29. Write an Engrossing Title.

  30. Get a Good Book Cover.

  31. Build a Launch Team.

  32. Market Your Book.

  33. Know When You’re at The End.

Collins’ guideline has more focus on deadlines and tracking your progress with word counters. However, he admits that it took him several years to write his first book, so I don’t think he intends for people to rush through their first draft.

If you like visual progress like me, try tracking the time spent on your book with the paperclip in a clear jar trick. When I’ve written for an hour, I put a paperclip into my glass jar. It looks nice and doesn’t force me to push out or limit the words I write.

If you want something that includes how to publish your book, you won’t find it in this approach. However, I consider that a plus. This method focuses entirely on the writing process, and it gives detailed examples for every step. It separates the steps into three chapters: creating a writing plan, writing the book (which is the longest section as it should be), and editing the book.

Chapter One: Create Your Writing Plan.

  1. Set Proper Expectations For Yourself.

    1. Expect it to be hard.

    2. Expect to get tired.

    3. Expect to get confused.

    4. Expect to feel overwhelmed at times.

    5. Expect to be emotionally uncomfortable (and maybe afraid).

  2. Schedule a Time and Place to Write Each Day.

    1. Pick a time.

    2. Be consistent.

    3. Pick a location.

    4. Pick Software.

  3. Set a Specific Writing Goal (250 Words Per Day).

  4. Create Your Deadlines.

  5. Announce Your Book.

  6. Give Yourself a New Identity: Author.

Chapter Two: Write Your Book.

  1. Figure Out Your Book Objectives: Why Are You Writing Your Book, and What Do You Want to Get?

    1. What Are Unrealistic Book Objectives?

  2. Figure Out Your Book Audience: Who Is Your Book for, and Why Will They Care?

    1. Who Is Your Primary Audience?

    2. Describe a typical person in your Primary Audience (an avatar). What are they like?

    3. What pain are they experiencing because they’ve not read your book?

    4. What benefit will they get because they read and implement your book?

  3. Lock In Your Book Idea.

    1. Describe Book in 200 words (or fewer).

  4. Outline Your Chapters.

  5. How to Start Your Book: Outlining the Introduction.

  6. How to Finish Your Book: Outlining the Conclusion.

  7. Get a Working Title.

  8. Write the Vomit Draft of Your Book.

  9. Find Your Voice.

  10. Use Good Writing Principles.

    1. Make it short.

    2. Make it simple.

    3. Make it direct.

    4. Make it about the reader.

  11. Beat Procrastination & Writer’s Block.

  12. Celebrate Finishing Your Vomit Draft.

Chapter Three: Editing Your Book.

  1. Before You Edit, Remember Who the Book Is For.

  2. Do the “Make It Right” Edit.

    1. All content is in the book.

    2. In the right order.

    3. The structure and positioning all make sense.

  3. Do the “Line-by-Line” Edit.

    1. What point am I making?

    2. Is it necessary?

    3. Is it as short as possible?

    4. Is it as simple as possible?

    5. Is it as direct as possible?

  4. Do the “Read Aloud” Edit.

  5. Stop Editing.

I particularly appreciated how this guideline explains how to find your audience instead of merely saying you have to do so. In many nonfiction books, the author gets lost trying to narrate or inform without considering whether their readers care. Where in fiction, being overly concerned with an audience might lead to unoriginal ideas, in nonfiction, having a concept of who you want to target will give your writing focus.

What’s the Consensus Among the Methods?

If you’ve followed me through the outlines of both the fiction and nonfiction methods for writing a book, you’ll have likely noticed some trends. Even if you choose to not pick any of the approaches covered, here are some precepts you can take with you.

  1. You should be able to write one-two lines about what your book is about.

  2. Make a goal to commit to writing your book.

  3. Set a time of day, time per day, or word count to implement your commitment.

  4. Pick a space to write.

  5. Writing sucks.

  6. Writing rocks.

  7. Your first draft will be awful.

  8. Your final draft won’t be perfect.

  9. So, write your first draft without editing.

“How far your eyes may pierce I cannot tell. Striving to better, oft we mar what’s well.” — Shakespeare

If you forget everything else in this article, remember seven, eight, nine. Let’s write our books without marring what we’ve already done well.

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