Writing a nonfiction book is much different than writing fiction. As a nonfiction writer, you don’t have to develop a plot, characters, or conflict. Many people assume that because of this, it is easier to write a nonfiction book. However, many writers will tell you that that’s not always the case.
This article will provide you will ideas on the best tips for writing a non-fiction book. Whether you’re writing a how-to guide, a cookbook, a self-help book, a biography, or a school textbook, you still have to develop and follow a writing process. This article will provide you with some of the best tips to help you write a nonfiction book.
Choose a Book Idea
When you decide to start nonfiction writing, you have to ask yourself, “What would I want to read about?” Think of topics that interest you, as both a writer and as a reader. Nonfiction authors succeed when they stick to what they know, are passionate about, or want to learn.
Writing About Your Interests
Maybe you always wanted to be a marine biologist, but you grew up in Nebraska and just never had the time or the resources to go to school for marine biology, much less live on or near a coastline where you could live your dream. Now, you have decided to try to write a nonfiction book, and you’re brainstorming, trying to figure out precisely what you want to write about. In this case, why not marine biology?
It makes sense to write about the things you already have an interest in. Perhaps marine biology is too broad a topic for the first nonfiction book. So then, you need to look for ways to narrow it down. What in particular interests you about marine biology? Thinking about it further, you decide that your primary drive for a career in marine biology was always dolphins; their behavior, intelligence, and life cycles. In this case, you could write a nonfiction book about dolphins.
Writing About A Skill You Have
Perhaps a skill of yours is photography. You could write about photography and narrow the topic down to the type of photography you enjoy, or even the type of camera. Say that you like doing landscape photography, and you have a Canon DSLR camera. Photography is something that a lot of people enjoy and would love to improve their skills on.
You could write a basic “how-to” book about getting started in photography or narrow it down even further to cater to professional photographers who already know more details than the average layperson when it comes to photography.
Whether it’s knitting, herding animals, playing an instrument, or something more career-driven and technical like strategic communications planning, you can be sure that there are people out there who want to know how to do it. You could be the nonfiction author to tell them how.
Writing About An Event
What events in history interest you? Are you a Civil War buff, a shipwreck junkie, a true crime aficionado? You could write a nonfiction book about an event that falls under one of these more broad topics. Perhaps the Battle of Gettysburg, the wreck of the ‘Edmund Fitzgerald’, or the murder of Laci Peterson. These are events that many people have an interest in. You could tell the stories of these events.
Writing About Your Experiences
Have you climbed Mount Everest, gone backpacking across the country, traveled abroad, or worked in media relations and covered a specific organization, group, or celebrity? A tell-all book might be the nonfiction story you should write. Giving readers an inside look into an experience that not many people get the chance to have can be a fascinating way to enjoy a nonfiction book.
Make and Keep a Topic List
Most writers already know what sort of things they find interesting. Narrowing it down from a broad topic is usually all it takes to develop an excellent idea for a book. Make a list of several possible topics or issues you might like to write about. Keeping a list of ideas can save you if you hit a wall in your writing or find that the market becomes saturated with the topic you have chosen. You can then go back to your list of ideas rather than having to start all over with the process of choosing a topic.
Continuing with the dolphin example from above, the next step would be doing some market research. Get online and look up books about dolphins. See how saturated the current market is.
Is there a gold standard book that marine biologists refer to when researching dolphins? Would it cut into your book sales if you were to publish your nonfiction book about dolphins? Have there already been a dozen nonfiction books written about dolphins this year? Are they well-reviewed or written by mostly award-winning authors?
Do this research and take notes. If the market is currently saturated, it doesn’t mean that it’s a dead end. You can keep that idea on the back burner until enough time has passed that dolphins are a less popular subject matter, or you’re happy to take the additional time or capital investment to write, publish and market your book.
For example, when Ronald Reagan was running the United States, there were a lot of books written about him and his ideas about the economy and other policies. It might have been difficult to sell books about the Reagan administration in 1983, but now, if you were to write a nonfiction book about him, yours might be the only new book to hit shelves about that particular person.
Doing market research before you start writing will give you an idea of whether or not your book would do well in the current literary climate. Some topics are currently hot, and adding another book to that sub-genre of nonfiction can either get you noticed or get your book buried if it’s up against several others that are published at roughly the same time.
Identify Your Target Audience
Once you have a book idea, you need to figure out who your target audience is. What demographic will most of your readers be? If you write about dolphins, is that a broad enough topic to interest many types of people, or is it a niche subgenre that will only be read by marine biologists, aquarium workers, and dolphin trainers?
Knowing which readers your book might attract can give you an idea of how well your book might sell. You may have a more difficult time of this than you would if you wrote fiction. In fiction, the genres tend to be broader, whereas nonfiction readers tend to zero in on precisely what they want in nonfiction.
Doing your due diligence and putting in the time and effort to find your reader demographic can go a long way in letting you know if you have chosen wisely when it comes to your subject matter.
Research Your Topic
No matter what topic you choose, you will need to do research. Even when writing something like a cookbook, you have to do some research to be sure that you have nutritional information correct, as well as any background or back story of the food or techniques you are featuring.
The following are different methods of research that you can use when writing nonfiction.
Be careful of the source of your information because the internet can be and often is wrong. However, there is excellent information to be found online, as long as you know where you look and only use reputable sources.
Don’t forget about books. Books are wonderful researching tools because the author has already done a lot of the work for you and done the research herself. Fact-checking may need to happen on some key facts that you find in a book, but for the most part, this is a great source to use.
If your book is about something like a foreign country, go there if you can. If it’s about an experience or a skill, try the experience for yourself and learn the skill if you can. Having first-hand experience of seeing something for yourself is a wonderful way to research your topic and makes for great talking points during the marketing phase of your book.
Talk to experts, contact witnesses, speak with the opposing side of a topic. Using direct quotes will make for a more robust and add validity to a piece of work and help the author understand the topic better if you hear it from the source itself. For example, if you are writing about a court case, contact the attorneys or police department involved and ask for an interview about the case.
Choose a Style Guide
After you have decided on your book idea, done your research, and decided who your reader is, it’s time to choose a style guide and get a first draft, also known as a rough draft, written.
What is a Style Guide?
There are three main writing styles in nonfiction writing. They mostly have to do with the format in which research and information found by the writer of the nonfiction book cite sources. They are APA, AP, and MLA.
APA writing style follows the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association. This is the format and writing style used in scholarly books and papers such as medical and psychological journals. Most academic papers and books follow this writing style. If your book is about science, APA is most likely the style you want to write in.
The AP, or Associated Press, style of writing is what most journalists and news writers use. If your nonfiction book qualifies as journalism, the AP style may be the right choice style guide to follow.
MLA, or Modern Language Association, is a writing style used most often in nonfiction when the book is about history or literature.
The Chicago Manual of Style
If you are unsure about which format or writing style you should use as a nonfiction writer, a great idea would be to consult the Chicago Manual of style. This manual, available in print and online, can give you more tips on knowing which writing style you should employ when you start writing your book.
Write a First Draft
Also known as a rough draft, this is where the writing process begins for your nonfiction book. This is where you think of your nonfiction book title, what information you want to give the reader, how long you want your book to be, and what content will be included.
Book writing is a different process for each writer, and you need to develop good writing habits if you are going to stick with it and produce even a first draft of a book—schedule time for yourself to write each day and set a word count goal.
Be realistic in what you are capable of completing each day. Don’t set the bar too high on word count because you have to fact-check, do research, cite sources, and manage your time as you write. Develop good writing habits so that you are:
- Become a master at tackling issues in your writing journey
- Manage your time well and stick to a timeline to complete your book.
- Do adequate research to present accurate facts in your book.
Active Vs Passive Voice
Before you write, decide which voice is best to use for your book. Active usually produces more simplistic sentences. The point is clear and concise and uses simpler words to tell the reader what is going on. Inactive writing, the subject of the sentence is doing something.
Alexander Hamilton was a member of Washington’s Cabinet.
In the above example, the meaning is clear. There are very few ways to say it more straightforward. This is considered an active voice.
In passive writing, the subject of the sentence is acted upon by someone or something else.
Alexander Hamilton was asked by George Washington to be a member of his Cabinet.
In the above example, passive voice is used, and the readers may be confused about exactly what happened. We know that Hamilton was offered a seat on the Cabinet, but we don’t know if Hamilton accepted. There are instances when the story demands a passive voice, but it’s not often and should typically be avoided when possible.
The Publishing Process
Once you have written your nonfiction book, it’s time to decide how you want to go about the publishing process. There are only two methods: self-publishing and traditional publishing. Both will be explained so that you can make the best decision for your work.
Going the traditional route with your book can get you a lot of help. You have to find an agent who will most likely ask to read the first chapter of your book. If the agent thinks the book is good or marketable, they will try to get you a deal with a traditional publishing house.
A traditional publisher will be of great help to a nonfiction author because the traditional route gets you more than just a published product. You will have access to a professional editor, who will tell you how to clean up your work, make things clearer for the readers, what grammatical errors or factual errors you might have made, and what needs to be changed or improved in your story.
You will also have access to artists to help you with cover design art, a marketing team that will help promote your book, and hopefully somewhere to go when you get your next book idea.
Self-publishing is a way to get your book out your way, on your time. You don’t have to mess with finding an agent, potentially having your book on a sludge pile at a publishing house, or sitting with your book on a waitlist for publication.
All that being said, when you go the self-publishing route, you don’t get the help that is at your disposal with a big-name publisher. Unless you hire a freelancer, you will have to self-edit, which can be long and tedious work, especially if you don’t have much editing experience.
You’re also in charge of securing rights to photos that you want to use if you are using historically or academically copyrighted images, as well as having to come up with a book cover on your own. If none of these issues pose a problem to you, then self-publishing may be a great way to go.
Once you write a book and get it published, you have to start marketing and promoting your book nonstop. There are many ways to do this, but this article will give you tips on how to do this to reach as many potential readers as possible.
Marketing is time-consuming, especially if you are self-published. Remember, though: Even if you are published traditionally, you still need to promote and market when and where you can. Give everyone you know a chance to read your book, and always keep a few copies with you. You will be sick of your book long before you can stop promoting, marketing, and plugging your book.
Increase Your Online Presence
Your online presence needs to be extensive when you are promoting your book or story. If you wrote a “how-to,” get online and link your author’s website and book link in the comments of every “how-to” thread or post on Pinterest, Facebook, Twitter or other social media platform you possibly can.
Get all the details such as your name, what you’ve written, and where to purchase your book to as many people as possible. The same applies to a self-help book or any other topic you write about.
There is a group for almost everything imaginable on Facebook. Find and join as many groups as you can find that correspond or complement your book topic, and plug your book as often as possible. Try to build a following or fan base.
Create a Blog Post
If you don’t have a blog, you should start one. A blog post, and links to it, should be readily available to any reader you are trying to attract to your book. You should also consider plugging your book in the blog posts of other bloggers who have relatable or similar subject matter to the book you have written.
For example, if you wrote a self-help manual for new parents, post your own blog giving advice but teasing your book, and include links to your website so that people who visit or subscribe to your blog can purchase your book. Then, find other blogs about parenting, babies, raising families, etc., and comment plugs for your new book with links.
Work with Influencers and Seek Endorsements
Another great tip is to offer a free copy to bloggers and influencers and offer an exchange of services. Offer to promote their book, blog, podcast, or social media links if they endorse your book in the similar manner.
Book Appearances and Seminars
If your book is academic, scientific, or historical, be sure to contact colleges, schools, libraries, and organizations and ask if you may make a guest appearance with your book. Ask if you can attend seminars that deal with the subject matter. Let the organization or institution know that you have published a book over a similar subject matter and would like to offer it for purchase to those in attendance. You may be offered or can ask for a guest speaker role at conventions, as well.
Networking and Collaborating
These are ways not only to sell more of your work, but you can also rub elbows and make connections with people who have similar interests. This opens up the possibility that a professor, teacher, professional, or expert may want to collaborate on future books together, which can lend you not only the income of another book but the credibility needed to find significant success.
Sometimes, having a professional relationship or endorsement from a well-known expert or voice in the field can give you a leg up and get you noticed. For example, suppose you write a book about climate change and give a free copy, as well as a business card or contact information to Bill Nye or Leonardo DiCaprio. In that case, there is a chance that they could Tweet about it, post about it, speak about it, contact you, endorse your book, dispute your book, or even ask to work with you on the next book.
Other Tips for Writing Nonfiction
Below are a couple of parting tips for the creation of a good nonfiction book. Keep these in mind throughout the entire process of writing your book.
Don’t Get Too Wordy
Keeping your sentences short, clear, and concise will be of great aid in your nonfiction book. No one wants to read overly long descriptions or needlessly wordy setups to events or instructions. If you write a book explaining how to sew, the reader doesn’t necessarily need a history of sewing. Often, the person bought your book to learn how to sew, not to know the whole story behind the craft.
Don’t Bore Your Audience
Nonfiction does not have to be boring. It is entirely possible to captivate and entertain through nonfiction. Keeping the words, story, or instructions moving and provocative will help engage your audience and keep them coming back for more. When you entertain via nonfiction, the reader will remember you the next time they are looking for nonfiction.