The Ultimate Blueprint For Writing Your First Nonfiction Book
A solid book writing blueprint is essential for authors of nonfiction books, because this genre demands a high degree of execution. After all, nonfiction books are deemed to be written by experts, which means that they need to be produced using the best practices available.
In this article, you’ll learn a seven-step book writing process specifically developed for nonfiction authors.
The 7-Step Book Writing Blueprint
The blueprint below will help you navigate the steps you’ll need, to go from a blank page to a completed nonfiction manuscript that’s ready to be produced and published.
More specifically, this book writing blueprint will help you come up with your book’s main idea to turn it onto a completed manuscript, it’ll help you develop a writing routine that works for you and it’ll help you stay motivated through it all.
Step 1: Set a Hard Deadline
When it comes to the book writing process, traditionally published authors are paid an advance to write their books and are contractually bound to deliver results through the signing of a publishing agreement.
Since self-publishing authors like yourself aren’t subject to a formal deadline that carries with it consequences for noncompliance, you’ll need to create one for yourself.
One of the best ways for you to create a hard publishing deadline is to schedule a public speaking engagement, say a year from now, with a professional association in your field or other organizations that cater to audiences composed of colleagues, clients or prospects.
A 12-month period will allow you sufficient time to write and produce your nonfiction book (between 8-10 months) plus a couple more months to work on book promotion ahead of the event.
Here are some other practical approaches that’ll result in a hard deadline:
- Industry events
- Seasonal deadlines in your market
- Trade shows
- Annual professional gatherings
- Courses, seminars or workshops
Step 2: Carve Out Your Writing Time
Now that you’ve set a clear deadline, you’ll need to create a writing schedule to make sure that you produce content with consistency. The best practice for creating a nonfiction book is to write for a set amount of time every day.
This is the practice followed by professional authors and it ensures that their writing muscle is constantly being trained.
How much time do you need to set aside each day? You’re looking for a 2-hour time block of dedicated, uninterrupted writing. Less time won’t be sufficient to get you going, and more time may impinge on your day’s responsibilities.
The key is consistency. Even if you have more time available, what you don’t want to do is to write for 2 hours one day, then 5 hours the next, then skip a day and go back to 2 hours the next day.
To become proficient, you need to work your writing muscle for a set amount of time every day and then let it “rest” until the next day. It’s also important that you begin and end your writing blocks at the same time.
Finally, creative writing requires intense focus, so you’ll have to enlist the help of those around you to make sure that you’re not disturbed during your writing time. Also, you’ll need to mute your electronic devices to eliminate distractions.
Step 3: Define Your Book’s Main Idea
Now you’re ready to begin the writing process. Your first task is to define what your book’s main idea is going to be. This is the main thesis of your book and it needs to revolve around solving a problem for your target audience.
In order to arrive at your main idea, you’ll need to develop a deep understanding of your audience.
You’ll need to learn what keeps them up at night. You need to understand what their hopes, dreams, challenges and fears are.
The closer you get to knowing your target audience, the deeper you’ll understand how their problems affect them.
The aim of your book’s main idea is to address a key audience problem that your expertise will help them solve.
For example, the bestseller “The 4-Hour Workweek: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich” by Tim Ferriss addresses a key problem for its target audience: their deep frustration with living in a rat race.
Note that the book title doesn’t mention what the specific solution is. Instead, it focuses on how to overcome a deep frustration by conveying an aspirational outcome for its target audience.
This book’s main idea is then to help people escape the rate race by developing an alternative lifestyle that still achieves their financial goals.
Step 4: Create Your Book Outline
Your goal now is to take your main idea and develop a book around it. Although this may sound overwhelming at first, as you’ll technically be starting from scratch, the reality is quite different.
The solution that underpins your main idea is grounded on your expertise. When you think about it, all the strategies and tactics that your readers will have to implement in order to overcome their problem already exist in your mind.
You could even argue that the contents of your entire book are already stored in your brain, or in other words: your book is inside you.
All you need to do now is figure out how to extract this information from your mind and then structure it as a nonfiction book.
The best process to achieve this goal is to use a technique called Mind Mapping to download the contents of your book from your brain onto the page, and then to turn your mind map into a book outline.
Your book’s mind map will start with the main idea at its center and then it’ll break it down into its main components, sub-components, sub-sub-components, etc.
Your book outline will be the precursor of your table of contents and it’ll provide you with the structure and the writing prompts that are necessary to begin writing your book.
Here are two articles to help get you started in the right direction:
- How to Use a Mind Map to Create a Great Book for Your Business
- How to Create a Book Outline Step-By-Step: A Guide for Nonfiction Writers
Step 5: Write a Set Daily Word Count
You should begin every writing block with a specific goal in mind: to accomplish a minimum word count. If you don’t set a writing goal, it’ll become very difficult to assess your progress over time.
This writing goal has to be achievable for a first-time author, so I recommend that you set an initial target of between 400-500 words per hour. This is for raw text, without any self-edits or rewriting.
If you make sure you have no distractions and are therefore able to focus for two hours solid, you should comfortably be able to achieve this hourly word-count.
Remember that as a nonfiction author you’re not starting from a blank page. You’ll be working off the writing prompts contained in your fully developed book outline.
Once you set off those triggers your brain will do the rest and you’ll notice how the text will begin to flow effortlessly to your fingertips.
Over time you’ll get faster as you gain more practice, and towards the end of your first book you’ll likely be able to write between 500-700 words per hour (as a point of reference, seasoned professional authors are able to consistently write in the 1,000 words per hour range).
Now, let’s do a back of the envelope calculation to figure out how long it’ll approximately take you to write an average-sized nonfiction book. Say you’re aiming for a 200-page book (250 words per page, including images).
If you write between 400-500 words per hour, and assuming that you’re writing a minimum of 6 days per week, you’ll then be writing between 4,800-6,000 words per week.
At this rate, you’ll be able to complete your manuscript in raw text form between 8.3 and 10.4 weeks.
Now double this range to factor in self-edits, rewrites and time off for illness, holidays, etc. and you’ll should able to complete the first draft of your manuscript between 17 and 21 weeks, or approximately 4-5 months.
Step 6: Staying Motivated
The beginning of your writing process will be very motivating. There’s nothing more exciting than having a detailed mind map of your book and a thorough book outline with writing prompts created for each section.
However, once you get to the dreaded “middle” of the book, with 100 pages done and another 100 pages to go, you may find yourself in need of motivation. After all, your hard deadline is still far, far away.
Your best antidote to a potential writing slowdown is twofold. First, you need to tell everyone in your close circle of family, friends, colleagues and clients that you’re writing a book that you’ll unveil at the event you scheduled earlier.
This psychological peer pressure will be sufficient to keep you grounded so that you soldier on through thick and thin. Second, there’s a practical way to keep you motivated that nicely aligns with the writing process itself.
Once your book outline is completed and before you begin writing your book, assemble an advance reading group.
This group is made up of between 5 and 10 people whom you know and trust and who also happen to be members of your target audience. Every time you complete a full chapter, you’ll email them a pdf version of it so that they can provide you with timely feedback.
Why not wait until your manuscript is completed to get their feedback? Because if you do you run the risk of having missed the boat when it comes to audience connection and engagement.
If the plurality of your advance reading group tells you that a given chapter or a section doesn’t resonate with them soon after they read it, you can then alter your course right away.
But if you implement a flow of ideas throughout your book that turns out to be sub-optimal for your audience, and you only find out about it at the end, then you’ll have to contend with a massive rewrite that’ll set you back significantly.
In short, by having both peer pressure and on-going feedback from an advance reading group, you’ll never suffer from a lack of motivation.
Step 7: Find A Professional Nonfiction Editor
Finally, make sure that you find a good professional editor for your manuscript. Your nonfiction book will become an extension of your professionalism and your credibility as a subject matter expert.
If your book is self-edited or if you farm out the editing to an English student, a friend who’s a teacher or a family member, you’ll be producing a sub-standard book in the eyes of the book trade.
Every single traditionally published work of nonfiction is professionally edited and so should yours be. Since you’ll be automatically deemed to be an expert as soon as you publish your book, you’re expected to create a premium product.
The risk of cutting corners in this key area of the publishing process is just too great and never worth the savings.
Once your manuscript is completed and professionally edited, you’ll be entering the next publishing stage: book production. In short, your book will now need to be laid out by an expert and a professional book cover will need to be created.
When your book comes up on an online search, it’ll often appear side by side with traditionally published titles in your niche, and unless you can match their production quality you risk being labelled as “amateurish,” even if your content is better.
It’s really worth it to hire book-design professionals, and not just for the above reason. By creating a premium product, you’ll also be putting out a book that’ll generate new leads, new clients and new business opportunities for years to come.
I wish you the best in your book-publishing journey!
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 posts I highly recommend:
How to Write a Compelling Book in 12 Steps: A Must-Read Guide for Nonfiction Authors
How Long Does it Take to Write a Book to Help Grow Your Business?
The 10 Must-Have Writing Skills for Entrepreneurial Authors
The 7 Key Rules for Writers of Outstanding Nonfiction Books
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.
2 responses to “The Ultimate Blueprint For Writing Your First Nonfiction Book”
How to do it self published and marketingprenure?
Your blog is highly useful and easy to follow
Thanks for your guidance.
I enjoy your articles! (Your book brought me here). However you should consider those wanna be writers that are going to write about some more meaningful topics, like programming and engineering.
In such cases you cannot ask for a minimum daily word count; that only work for silly topics that do not need nor follow the scientific method. As programmer and engineer I cannot write about something that doesn’t work or can’t be replicated, and that tooks a lot of time (research, coding, testing, etc), so it’s not possible to set a certain ammount of writing words or writing hours per day. I’ve got a blog about Electronics and C programming advance topics and I know what I’m saying.
Silly topics (loose weight, be happier, make it rich from one day to another, write a book in 7 days, etc) don’t need any kind of proofs, and if the buyer doesn’t get the results that were promised, then it’s buyer’s fault. But in higher levels of knowledge that isn’t allowed: your readers MUST get the results that one has promised.
I’ll be waiting for the next topic!
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