7 Book Planning Best Practices Used By Nonfiction Pro Authors

by Bennett R. Coles

Book Planning

If you’re planning to write a nonfiction book to support your business, you’re about to embark on one of the most rewarding journeys for entrepreneurs, consultants and professionals.

Well-written and designed nonfiction books have proven countless times to be a boon for businesses and careers, often providing a high return on a relatively low investment. Well-reviewed nonfiction books have turned their authors into experts overnight, and in some cases even celebrities.

But for your nonfiction book to shine, your execution has to shine too. More often than not, though, people start writing their books without a properly thought-out plan.

Unfortunately, poor planning leads to poor execution, and a poorly executed nonfiction book is not only destined to the dustbin but, worse, it can take your reputation down with it.

For your book to become a business and career booster it needs to be well executed from beginning to end, and for that you need a top-notch plan that’s conceived by professionals for professionals.

In this article, I’ll show you a nonfiction book planning methodology that’ll help you write and produce a book that can truly open doors to help take your business and your career to the next level.

Benefits of Book Planning

A proper book plan will help you focus your energies on what’s important, so you don’t end up spinning your wheels on non-value tasks. Your professional life is busy as it is, so writing your book has to be done with efficiency in mind.

For example, a plan will ensure that you don’t start writing too early in the process, only to realize later that you were using the wrong approach to target your audience.

To be successful on your book-writing journey you should follow a critical path of tasks. If you don’t do this in the right sequence you’ll either waste your time through rework, produce an inferior product, or both.

How to Plan a Nonfiction Book

A nonfiction book project like the one you’re about to embark on must follow a carefully planned strategy. In order to get all your ducks in a row, you’ll need to know in advance the following information:

  1. How long the entire process will take
  2. Who you’ll be targeting and why
  3. Who needs to be on your team
  4. How to come up with your book’s content
  5. What process you need to follow to write your book

Below, I’ll introduce you to a book planning process that’ll take you through the A-Z of nonfiction book writing following best practices from the pros.

Book Planning Steps

There are seven critical steps that you need to follow in sequence to produce a well-written and well-designed nonfiction book you’ll be proud of:

Step 1: Plan Your Timeline

Plan Your Timeline

Before you embark on this journey, you need to become familiar with the timeline for the entire process, from choosing your book’s main idea to receiving finished books at your doorstep (read my article entitled How to Come Up With Great Book Ideas For Business Owners to help you hone into your book’s main idea).

Once you’ve decided what you’re going to be writing about, it’ll take you 2-3 weeks to turn your main idea into a fully fleshed-out table of contents (you’ll be using the process outlined in Step 4).

Your table of contents will become the roadmap that you’re going to follow to write your book. The length of the writing process will depend on the size of your book, so I’ll use an approximation to establish a time frame.

Most nonfiction books have between 7 and 15 chapters. Let’s say your book has 10 chapters, averaging 18 pages per chapter, for a total of 180 pages. We’re going to add 20 more pages for front and back matter, bringing the total to 200 pages.

A 200-page book will have on average 50,000 words. If you write 1,000 words per day, six days a week (more on this in Step 5) it’ll take you between 8 and 9 weeks to produce a manuscript.

Now, this doesn’t take into account extra time necessary for rewrites, disruptions, illness and holidays, so let’s add a safety factor of 50% and bring the total from 9 to 14 weeks.

We are now at 14 + 3 = 17 weeks.

Next, you’ll need to have your manuscript professionally edited (more on this in Step 7) and this process will take between 4-6 weeks. So that brings the total to 17 + 6 = 23 weeks, or about 5 months.

Next comes book production. To have your book professionally typeset and designed, you’ll need to add another 2-3 months, bringing your total to 36 weeks.

Finally, to have your book printed, bound and shipped to you will add another 1-2 months depending on the size of your order, the order queue of the printer and seasonal factors.

So, your grand total will be 45 weeks, or 10 months.

Step 2: Plan Your Deadline

Now it’s time to create a hard deadline. Statistics from the book trade show that 97% of aspiring writers who start a book never get around to finishing and publishing it.

In order to be part of the remaining 3%, you’ll need to borrow from the same approach professional authors use to get paid: they have a contract with a publishing deadline in it. If they don’t fulfill their end of the bargain, they may be subject to financial penalties.

In your case, you don’t have a publishing contract so you’ll need to create another binding agreement of sorts to motivate you to complete your book in a timely fashion.

My recommendation is to book yourself into a paid speaking engagement 12 months from now, where you’ll be introducing your new book to professional colleagues, industry peers, clients, prospects, and so on.

Now you’ll have professional commitment a year away to deliver a book that’ll take you 10 months to produce, giving an additional 2 months to allow for advance promotion for your event.

Once you’ve set a hard deadline, I can assure you that your professionalism, reputation and work ethic will ensure that you’re part of the 3% of authors who succeed at book publishing!

Step 3: Plan Your Audience Avatar

Once you have a deadline, it’s time to focus on your audience. Since you’re writing your book as an extension of your business or career, I’m going to assume that your audience will be consist of people who fit the profile of your current clients.

Your book will be solving a problem that your audience has, no different than your business does now. But there’s one key difference – nonfiction readers will have the expectation that your book will be addressed to them individually.

In other words, all your readers will expect to be in an “audience of one.”

So, in order to create an optimal reading experience you’ll have to create the “avatar” of a fictional reader and then address your book just to them. This avatar will be a composite of all your clients that fit the profile of the audience you’re targeting.

Let’s get into the details. Your audience avatar will consist of a 1-3 page document that’ll contain the following information:

  • A made-up name for your avatar
  • A headshot from a free stock-photo site
  • Age
  • Profession
  • Marital status
  • Annual family income
  • Homeowner or renter
  • Children, with their ages and living arrangements (living at home, at school, moved away)
  • Pets
  • Hobbies
  • Fears and Challenges
  • Hopes and Dreams
  • The biggest 3 problems they want to overcome

If your audience is made of both women and men, then you’ll need to create two separate avatars (you won’t have to deal with gender-specific language in your book because you’ll always refer to them in the second person).

To ensure that you’re always targeting your book to an audience of one, everything in your book must directly address your avatars.

Step 4: Plan Your Content

Plan Your Content

Next, it’s time to plan your book’s content. There are four parts in this process:

Part 1: Mind Mapping

It is said that fiction writers have a book in them, but nonfiction writers like you are the book!

Your many years of professional experience, your business career, all the problems you’ve solved for your clients in the past, plus your lifetime of skills will become your book.

You need to use an efficient way to “download” this information from your brain onto the written page. This process is called Mind Mapping (click here to read my article on mind mapping).

In essence, a mind map is a chart where you place your book’s main idea in the center and then expand radially outward with all the relevant topics that your main idea spawns.

This process works well because mind mapping mimics the way our brains store and recall information.

Once your mind map is completed, you’ll have all that you need to begin organizing your book’s content.

Part 2: Chapters

You’ll now turn your mind map into a book outline (click here to read my article on how create your outline). Your outline will generate two key drivers for your book’s content:

  1. Your table of contents.
  2. The required writing prompts for each section so you can begin writing your book.

Basically, the role of your outline is to take the information radiating out from your main idea on your mind map into a sequential list.

This sequence represents the logical flow of your book. The main topics from your mind map will become precursors of your chapters, the subtopics will become subchapters, sub-subtopics will become sub-subchapters and so on.

Next, you’ll turn the structure of your outline into a table of contents by coming up with a catchy chapter title for each topic, subtopic, etc.

Part 3: Front Matter

Another part of your content is the front matter, which is made up of any text that needs to be placed ahead of the body of your book.

Examples of front matter required in the book trade are the title page and the copyright page.

Optional pages are the dedication page, the preface and the foreword.

Pages that are not mandatory but are demanded by the market are the table of contents and the introduction.

Part 4: Back Matter

The final element in your book content is the back matter. Typical pages include any indexes you might need, such as an index of terms, an index of figures, an index of exercises, etc.

Also you may wish to add a glossary, an afterword, a reference section and an author page containing a short bio plus contact information for people interested in your services.

Step 5: Plan Your Writing

Plan Your Writing

Now it’s time to make plans for your actual writing. The first thing you need to establish is your writing space. This has to be a place where you can write undisturbed.

If you like to write at home or in the office, you want to choose a room that’s comfortable and quiet. Some people like to write in public places so prefer coffee shops or public libraries. In all cases, your goal is not to be disturbed by anyone unless there’s an emergency.

Enlist the help of those around you so that they know not to call you or contact you during your scheduled writing time. Also, make sure you turn all electronic devices to mute or to do-not-disturb.

Finally, I recommend that you write for two hours daily for six days in a row, because writing with quality takes consistency and discipline. At this rate, you should be able to produce between 400 and 500 words per hour for a daily total output of about 1,000 words.

By sustaining this rate, you’ll be able to produce your book in the time frame outlined in Section 1.

Step 6: Plan Your Feedback

Next, you need to plan for an advance group of readers made up of members of your target audience. These people will receive each chapter as you complete it and give you their feedback.

You need to enlist this group early on because there’s nothing worse than completing your manuscript based on what you thought your audience needed only to discover when it’s too late that your book doesn’t resonate with them.

Receiving feedback as you write will allow you to create a much better end product through continuous improvement.

Step 7: Plan Your Team

The final step in the book planning process is to plan for the book-trade professionals that you need in order to create an outstanding product. There are two key players you’ll need to hire right after you complete your manuscript:

You don’t want to cut corners by asking a relative or a friend to perform these jobs (unless they’re already professionals) because your book will become a proxy for your reputation and you want to make sure that it’s always seen in the best possible light.

You want a top-notch designer because your book will be compared with the leading books in your space and you want a top-notch editor because otherwise your credibility will suffer.

Next Steps After Book Planning

Congratulations for making it this far! Now you have a great plan to create a nonfiction book following the best practices that pros use. Once you’re ready to get started on the actual writing, I recommend you read my article How to Write a Compelling Book in 12 Steps – A Must-Read Guide for Nonfiction Authors.

Good luck!

If you enjoyed this article and are in the process of writing a nonfiction book, be sure to check out my free nonfiction success guide, drawn from years of experience editing books for bestselling authors (including a New York Times bestseller) and ghostwriting for CEOs and politicians. Simply click here to get instant access.


Leave me a comment below if you have any questions or a specific need that I can help you address – I operate an author services firm that specializes in helping entrepreneurs, professionals and business owners who want to publish books as a calling card for prospects, to establish their status as an expert or to just to generate additional leads for their businesses.

Here are some related articles I highly recommend:

How to Find the Perfect Writing Coach for Your Nonfiction Book

The 10 Must-Have Writing Skills for Nonfiction Authors

Bennett R. Coles is an award-winning author of six books published through Harper Collins (New York) and Titan Publishing Group (London). He is also the publisher at Promontory Press, editor for multiple bestselling authors (including a NY Times bestseller), ghostwriter for CEOs and politicians and the founder of Cascadia Author Services, a boutique full-service firm that specializes in premium author services specifically designed for busy professionals. Our end-to-end services include writer coaching, ghostwriting, editing, proofing, cover design, book layout, eBook production, marketing, printing and distribution.

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