Fiction editing

How to write a non-fiction book: 10 Tips


Do you want to write a non-fiction book?

Are you struggling to get started?


Many writers never finish their first draft, and one reason for this is that they do not know how to structure a non-fiction book. Using a non-fiction book template will not work!

I work with writers every day to help them structure their book logically before they start. As a result, the writing process is easier and quicker and the finished product is better than if they had skipped the planning process. In fact, authors who go through my planning process do not need a structural editor at all and can skip straight to the line-edit or proofread stage of publishing, saving them money and a lot of time on wasted drafts.

Here’s how.

1.Work out your Why

Before you start writing a non-fiction book, you need to think about what you want to achieve. Are you passionate about your subject? Do you want to become a leading authority in that area? Are you promoting yourself or your business? Do you want to inspire people to a certain way of life? Whether you want to educate, persuade or inspire, identify your goal now and keep coming back to it as you write. That way you will stay focussed on the purpose of your book and your writing will be tighter and more professional.

2.Work out your Who

Who is your reader? What problem do they want you to solve? Why are they picking up this book, and what do you want them to do once they have read it? Your reader’s gender, job, education, age and amount of leisure time will determine key elements of your book. Keep your reader in mind as you write. Remember: you are writing for somebody else, not yourself.

3.Work out your What

What kind of book are you writing? Is it a guide? A memoir? A case study? What category would it sit under in a bookshop? Now look at other books in this section. How many pages are they? What keywords do they use? What themes do they explore? Find three or four books that seem similar to what you want to write, then read the Amazon reviews. The five-star and one-star reviews will be the most helpful, as they will tell you exactly what readers did and didn’t like about that book. By conducting some market research into your genre you will learn a lot about what your reader wants and if there are any gaps in the market. What could be your book’s USP?

4.Read the work of others

It’s simple: the more you read, the more you will learn about writing. Read books in the same genre. How do these authors tackle the subject? What is the tone and style of their writing? If you read something particularly good, note it down. Never plagiarise another person’s work, but always learn from their own successes and failures. Do you find a certain style annoying? Avoid it in your own writing.

5.Write your recipe

This is the most important stage of writing a non-fiction book. Spend some time brainstorming your ideas by writing down everything you would like to include in the book. I use large pieces of paper and post-it notes to do this, but you can do whatever works for you. Now arrange your ideas into groups, and try to put them in a logical order. That may be chronological, or it may be themes that lead naturally on from one another. These groups of ideas will become your chapters. Once you have a detailed contents page, you have a structure that will act as a recipe for your writing. For more guidance on how to conduct this planning stage, contact me for a free book consultation.

6.Tell people you are writing

Accountability prevents procrastination. Tell your friends and family you are writing and when you will set aside time to do so. Ask them to hold you to account and check up on your progress. It will annoy the hell out of you, but you will be more likely to succeed. Writers who follow my coaching programmes are more likely to succeed than if they had gone it alone, and not all of that is down to the extra knowledge and feedback I give them. Just being held accountable to a certain word count helps enormously.

7.Don’t edit as you go along

Pausing to edit is the biggest reason most non-fiction writers fail. Self-editing disrupts momentum and causes despondency. Think about it: if you read your first chapter back and don’t think it’s very good, you will stop writing and try to fix it. But the reality is that your writing will improve with time. I encourage my authors to compare their first and last chapters when they have finished their draft manuscript, and the last chapter is always much better than the first. Remember: you can’t edit a blank page, so just keep going and take care of the edit later.

8.Use strong, simple language

Don’t try to be too clever with non-fiction writing. You are not writing a novel, but sharing ideas, and the best way to share ideas is with simple, concise language. Avoid lots of adjectives and long words, bin the jargon, and keep every sentence as simple as you can.

9.Share everything you’ve got

The worst thing for a reader is to get to the end of a non-fiction book and not find what was promised. So make sure you deliver to your readers. If you promised them the secret to growing their property portfolio in the blurb, make sure you give them that. Incorporate everything into your plan and stick to the recipe.

10.Rely on habits, not willpower

One of the reasons people fail to achieve any big goal is because they do not break it down into manageable chunks. You will not write your book through sheer willpower alone. Instead, build a habit of writing one page, five days a week. After a week or two you will have established a habit of writing and you will be much more likely to get to the end.

If you would like more information on writing a non-fiction book, or help with one you’ve already started, see my coaching and editing pages.

If you would like to work with me at a one-day, one-to-one workshop to plan your book, take a look at my Book-Building Workshop page. Good luck!

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