“I have a book in me.”
This is what 81 percent of people in America feel. Like you, many people long to write a non-fiction book, share an idea, or capture a moment in history. Every year, many of these people express their desire by writing a book. In 2013 alone, more than 1.5 million books were published.
That sounds like a lot of books—and it is. But if you do the math, the number of books published every year is only a fraction of the people who’ve expressed an interest in writing a book—which makes perfect sense.
Writing a book isn’t for the faint of heart.
It requires more than a good idea.
Inspiration will only carry you so far.
And endlessly banging away on your keyboard may lead you nowhere fast.
Depending upon your schedule, experience, and abilities, it can take several months or more to write a non-fiction book. Not only is the work demanding. But if you’ve never written a book before, then you’re probably struggling with self-doubt.
My goal in sharing this with you isn’t to dash your dreams against the rocks. Far from it. Instead, I desire to let you know what you’re getting into so that you can get ready to overcome the challenges you’ll face.
If you want to write a non-fiction book, then hear me loud and clear: You can.
Since you’re reading this post, there’s a good chance you’re thinking about writing a book or you’re looking for a few tips to help you cross the finish line.
In light of embarking on several book projects soon, I decided to review my notes, and share with you the process I use to turn an idea into a manuscript.
Below are the four steps you need to take to write a non-fiction book and 24 writing tips you can use to sharpen your craft.
Step 1: Prepare to write
“Failing to prepare is preparing to fail.”
I can’t recall where I first heard this pithy advice. But it has stuck with me over the years, and it bears a tremendous level of relevancy for writing.
Preparing to write is like creating a blueprint for a new home. The time you invest in this step will clarify what you need to write. What points you need to make. What illustrations you need to share. And what change you desire your readers to experience.
By skipping this step or not taking it as seriously as you should, you run the risk of your manuscript running off track or completely derailing.
Do yourself a favor, take the time to review the tips below, and create a plan.
You can thank me later.
1. Choose one big idea
What’s the one big idea you want to write about? Make a conscious choice to thoroughly cover only one big idea. Deciding ahead of time what your book is about will help you focus your writing, fight the temptation of pursuing rabbit trails, and help you research your topic.
2. Test your topic
Test your book idea before writing your book. You can write blog posts, share ideas on social media, speak on your topic, record podcasts and videos, and survey your audience. These tactics will help you know how well your book idea resonates with people.
3. Identify your target audience
Who are you writing for? Knowing who your target audience is will help you answer their questions, focus your writing, and ensure your writing style best connects with your reader.
4. Create an outline
Organize your book by identifying the major topics you need to cover to make your point. Now, look at your topics and determine what you need to cover within each topic. Use this material to create an initial chapter outline of your book.
5. Prepare your writing place
Before you start writing, prepare the place you’re going to write your book. Identify a place not only practical but inspirational.
6. Create a backup system
Make preparations to regularly save your writing. There are a ton of options to choose from, but some of the most popular are Evernote, Dropbox, Google Docs, or an external hard drive.
7. Prepare your notes
Create a file system to help you collect ideas, notes, and research. You can use a Moleskin journal, Evernote, or your computer’s desktop. Regardless of what you choose, prepare a system that best works for your life’s rhythms.
Step 2: Research your topic
You want to share something new, original, or fresh, right?
Then don’t start writing too much—yet.
Before you dig into writing your non-fiction book, it’s best to take plenty of time to research. Reading broadly will make your opinions well-rounded, provide you with plenty of material, and place you on the path of adding new value through your words.
Know what else?
During this time, you’ll discover how you can best position your book in the marketplace, as well as fill any gaps you identified in similar book titles.
Follow these seven tips to uncover everything you need to write your book.
8. Read, read, and read
Before writing your book, it’s important to read, read, and read on your topic. In the words of New York Times bestselling author, Tim Keller, “You should read 20 or 30 good books on the subject carefully and skim another 20 or 30.” This depth of reading will help you best grasp your subject matter, add new insight, and avoid repeating what others have said.
9. Determine your research needs
Your book topic, outline, and initial reading will show you how much research you’ll need to conduct to complete your manuscript. Use the outline you previously created to identify specific areas you’ll need to research.
10. Create a research to-do list
Determine the articles, books, and illustrations to research. Identify the priorities based on what you need to know to complete your manuscript. One of the best places to identify research material is to check the resources authors in your field refer to.
11. Examine best sellers in your niche
Read the best sellers on your topic to see what it is about these books that resonate with readers. Is it the author’s writing style that connected with readers? Did the author shed new light on the topic? Was the story engaging? These questions and more will help you understand how to craft your book to best connect with your reader.
12. Review similar titles for marketability
What books in circulation are similar to yours? Identifying what’s available will help you differentiate your book. You can also examine reviews of comparable books and look for questions left unanswered, topics not explored, or weak points. What’s more, examining comparable titles will also give you a good idea of what to expect in terms of sales. Observing the sales rank of comparable books is a good litmus test to see how well your book will or will not sell.
13. Interview experts
Interviewing experts on your subject matter is a great way to add primary research, additional examples, and credibility to your book. If conducting interviews is a tactic you want to employ, schedule these far in advance before the completion of your manuscript so that you avoid having to wait for a key interview just to finish your book.
14. Review your notes and outline
Your topic, outline, and individual subpoints may need to be adapted after your reading, research, and interviews. You may discover your one big idea is not supported by research, your outline needs to be rearranged, or you need to conduct additional research to fill in gaps.
Step 3: Write your book
Now it’s time to get to work.
After you review the tips below, there’s one essential point I want to highlight:
It takes a long time to write an average size non-fiction book. As I mentioned above, it can take several months or more to complete your manuscript.
During this step, take a realistic look at your schedule (e.g., work, family, friends, children, school) to make an accurate estimate of how many words you can realistically write.
15. Determine your due date
It’s been said before, “Failing to prepare is preparing to fail.” The same holds true for writing a book. Determine ahead of time when you would like to complete your manuscript. This will help you make time in your schedule to write your book.
16. Set a writing schedule
First, estimate how many total words you need to write to explain your topic. Then, determine how many words you need to write every month, week, and day to finish your book manuscript and hit your due date.
17. Make time to implement your writing schedule
Create time in your weekly schedule to write. How much time you need to set aside to complete your book will depend on how quickly you want to complete your manuscript. It’s important to be realistic in what you can accomplish. Be creative. Identify activities in your life you can replace with writing—e.g., watching TV, playing video games, or extended lunch breaks. Also, consider staying up later or getting up earlier to squeeze in extra writing time.
18. Write—don’t edit
Your goal at first is to write, write, and write. Don’t worry about editing … at all. If you stop to edit, you’ll lose your train of thought and waste time. Pour yourself out. Don’t hold back. Your first draft is for you and you alone. You can worry about editing your writing later.
19. Crush writer’s block
Writer’s block is a common challenge faced by many—if not all—writers. But the primary way to overcome writer’s block is to write … anything.
You can also consider doing something physically active, spending time with family or friends, reading a book, listening to music, or watching an inspirational movie.
The idea here is to take a break, step away from your writing, and come back refreshed.
Step 4: Review your book
This step can be the most challenging for many writers.
This is when you or a professional edit your manuscript, which can be an uncomfortable experience.
Regardless of what you think about editing your manuscript or having someone else review your work, punch whatever fear you’re feeling in the face, take time to review your book, and highly-consider working with a professional editor.
For this final step, you may not have to wait until your manuscript is complete to have it edited. Depending upon the style of your non-fiction book, you may be able to submit one or more chapters at a time versus waiting until the end.
20. Read your book out loud
Reading your book out loud places you in the seat of your reader. It enables you to get a feel for how your book will be read by someone else. This is also a great way to improve your writing style, identify typos, and check the structure of your book.
21. Write another draft
Write a second, third, and even fourth draft of your book. The goal is not to rewrite your book, but to make your writing better. Review your outline. Make sure your chapters support one another. Look to see if your paragraphs are clearly connected. And take a look at your sentence structure, grammar, and style.
22. Solicit feedback
Get the feedback of family, friends, or an editor after you have written and rewritten your manuscript. Generally, avoid receiving feedback on your manuscript before it’s ready for the public, aside from having a quality editor or writing coach help you shape the content.
23. Two free tools to help you self-edit your book
There are two free tools you can use to help your writing: Grammarly and the Hemingway App. Grammarly will help you discover overlooked errors, enhance your writing, and make you feel like a world-class wordsmith. The Hemingway App will help your writing to be clear, crisp, and clean.
24. Have your book edited and proofread
Every book is made better by a great editor. A professionally trained editor can ensure your book’s topic is focused, your structure is well-organized, and your writing style is clear, smooth, and engaging. To ensure your book is ready for publication, consider having your book content-edited, copy-edited, and proofread. These checks and balances will best prepare your book for publication
Over to you
Writing a book is difficult.
What I shared above are simple steps you can take and writing tips you can use to guide your writing.
In the end, you have to do the work, and I believe you can.
To write a non-fiction book, you’ll need to make it a priority.
You’ll need to …
- make a plan
- adjust your schedule
- get up earlier
- go to bed late
- reduce your social media consumption
- refuse to binge-watchT.V.
- and write, write, and write
Writing a non-fiction book is challenging. But trust me, it’ll be rewarding in the end for you and your readers.