Nonfiction books have the power to change people’s lives, but if your book structure isn’t optimal, your message will be obscured and it won’t be as effective.
Before delving into the subject of this article, let’s go back to first principles. Let’s say that you’re writing or considering writing a nonfiction book for one of the following reasons:
- You’re an entrepreneur, a small business owner or a professional with a practice who wants to write a book to increase the profile of your business in order to open new doors and new markets.
- You’re a counselor or therapist who wants to write a book to establish yourself as an expert in your field.
- You’re an executive, life, fitness, or personal coach who wants to write a book to expand your clientele.
- You’re a consultant who wants to write a book to use as a calling card in order to attract new business.
- You’re professional who wants to write a book in order to be recognized as an industry leader and attract the attention of media outlets looking for experts and event managers looking to book paid speaking events.
In all of the above cases you, and by extension your book, will first have to achieve the following three main goals:
- You’ll need to identify a painful personal or business problem that your target audience is afflicted by.
- You’ll need to create a deep connection with that audience where they feel that they can trust you.
- You’ll need to show them that you have a unique solution that’s different than what they might have tried in the past, and convince them that this time it’ll work for them.
Now that you know what you need to accomplish, let’s introduce the book structure you need to follow in order to write nonfiction that can really move the needle.
What’s Book Structure?
The structure of your nonfiction book is the logical flow that you’ll need to follow in order to achieve the three main goals listed above. I’m not talking about your table of contents here (which is just one part of a multi-pronged process).
I’m talking about the structure behind the entire creative process that you have to walk through so that you can deliver a product that truly connects with your audience.
I’ll show you this powerful structure with all its required steps, including a description of what you have to do in order to be successful each step of the way.
How to Write a Nonfiction Book
The following process is the “secret sauce” successful nonfiction writers use to create problem-solving books that deliver results for their audiences. They’ve learned from experience that you never begin a book project with a blank page; instead you must always begin with the end in mind.
Before you even attempt to write a book, you first need to know what “big hairy problem” you’re going to solve for your target audience. Then you’re going to come up with a unique solution that’ll solve that problem, which will effectively become your book’s main idea.
Here are some bestselling examples of main ideas from our recent and not so recent past: “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People”, “The 4-Hour Workweek”, “How to Win Friends and Influence People”.
Armed with your book’s main idea, you’ll begin to journey through the following six steps:
Step 1: Mind Map
In order to turn your main idea into an actual book, you’re going to use a technique called Mind Mapping.
This technique will allow you to access all the information relevant to your main idea that’s stored in your brain and “download it” onto a chart called a Mind Map.
The premise behind mind mapping is that all the information related to your main idea is derived from your many years developing skills, acquiring knowledge, creating experiences and putting it all to work for your business.
Therefore, all you have to do to create your book is to “map” the information already stored in your brain onto a chart that can be organized to follow a logical path.
I won’t get into the details of how to create a mind map in this article (read How to Use a Mind Map to Create a Great Book for Your Business) but, in essence, a mind map will begin with your book’s main idea in the middle of the chart and then branch out radially to list all the key topics that support it.
Next, the mind map goes one level down to show all the sub-topics that support each main topic, and then it goes lower if necessary.
Once your mind map is completed, you’ll be able to move on to the next step in the process.
Step 2: Book Outline
Your book outline is generated from your mind map by arranging your key topics, sub-topics, sub-subtopics, etc., into a logical flow.
This information will form the basis of your chapters and subchapters by providing you with not only the title of the topic behind each chapter, but also the writing prompt that you’ll need as a starting point to begin writing on that topic.
To find out how to turn your mind map into a book outline, read my article How to Create a Book Outline Step-By-Step – A Guide for Nonfiction Writers for detailed instructions.
Step 3: Chapters & Subchapters
Next, you’re going to use your completed outline to generate a listing of your chapters and subchapters, from which you’re going to create your table of contents.
Go over your chapters and subchapters several times to ensure that they flow in the most logical way to communicate your unique solution to your audience.
If you find that your chapters would flow better in a different way, then rearrange them until you feel that they’re best positioned to deliver the information in the way you want it to be delivered.
Step 4: First Chapter
Once your chapter order is settled, it’s time to give some serious thought to your first chapter.
Think when you pick up a book in the bookstore because it caught your eye. After reading the title and looking at the book cover, you’ll probably scan the table of contents and then read the introduction to see what the book is about.
If the introduction does a good selling job, then you’ll start reading the first few pages in the first chapter. This is where you need to hook your readers – in particular, the first two pages of your first chapter.
It goes without saying that you want to devote your most inspired writing to the beginning of your first chapter. Read the first chapters of several bestselling nonfiction books in your space to see how the pros do it, and then emulate the strategies they use in your own book.
Step 5: Body
Your first chapter will set the course for your book and the rest will flow out of your outline.
Your main body will take the bulk of your time to write, but fortunately you don’t have to write it in sequence. You simply have to tackle one section at a time in no particular order.
Whenever you sit down to write, choose a book section that you feel inspired to write about that day and go with it – this could be either a chapter or a sub-chapter.
Your outline will keep things in order and as you progress in your writing, and your book will slowly begin to take shape. Once an entire chapter is completed, do a top-to-bottom rewrite to smooth out the rough edges (click here if you want to learn how to develop good writing habits before you begin writing the body of your book).
Step 6: Introduction
Once you’ve completed the first draft of your book manuscript, you’re going to create your introduction. Even though this is the first section in your book’s body – placed right before your first chapter – you’re going to write it last.
The reason is that your introduction will be the first meaningful text that someone picking up your book will read to learn more about it, and people will expect to find out how your book will live up to its title.
As such, your introduction has to be a “sales letter” for your book. It has to show the reader what your book will help them accomplish (in their lives or their businesses) without revealing the secrets contained inside it.
Your introduction has to draw your reader in and it has to convince them that they must read the rest of your book in order to find the “magic pill,” that idea that they’ve been looking for and haven’t found yet, that will once-and-for-all solve their problem.
To learn how to craft your introduction, read my article How to Write a Compelling Book Introduction That Will Move the Needle, where you’ll see a detailed roadmap to creating an effective sales letter for your book.
It’s also a good idea to learn from the masters of the craft themselves. After reading the above article, read and dissect the introductions of books from bestselling nonfiction authors in your field to see how those strategies are put to work in the real world.
Finally, write your own introduction using some of the same strategies but tailored to your unique solution.
You’ve now learned how to use a powerful nonfiction book structure that will help you maximize your sales. Master this process and you’ll be surprised with the results, even as a first-time author. If you’d like to complement this knowledge with the set of writing skills used by the pros, read my companion article: The 10 Must-Have Writing Skills for Nonfiction Authors.
All the best on your journey!
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.
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Bennett R. Coles is an award-winning author of 6 books published through Harper Collins (NY) and Titan Publishing Group (UK). He is also the publisher at Promontory Press and the founder/CEO 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, printing, distribution and marketing.