The Ultimate Book Writing Checklist for Nonfiction Authors
By using a proven nonfiction book-writing checklist, you’ll be able to focus only on the aspects of book publishing that’ll increase your chances of success while saving you countless days, weeks and months spinning your wheels on strategies that don’t work.
In this article, I’ve compiled a checklist of specific questions that you need to answer in order to create a nonfiction book that gets traction in the marketplace.
Why Nonfiction Authors Need a Clear Book Writing Checklist
Professional nonfiction authors succeed because they follow a clear formula developed and refined over the years. These seasoned authors have developed a clear understanding of the power of nonfiction to affect change in people’s lives.
In fact, they’ve proven over time that this process is repeatable. Once you learn the basics of what makes nonfiction so effective as a change agent, you’ll be able to replicate these strategies for the benefit of your book and your business.
Book Writing Checklist
The following checklist will help ensure that you produce a nonfiction book that has what it takes to succeed in this exciting and transformational genre.
Have You Thoroughly Researched Top Nonfiction Titles in Your Niche?
The power of nonfiction books hinges on their ability to connect with readers. The most successful nonfiction titles use best practices to achieve this key outcome.
They make use of “hooks” to engage the reader’s attention and keep them engaged. They make use of the “power of story-telling” to draw readers in and take them through an emotional journey of discovery and learning.
Above all, these authors are very good at addressing their books to an audience of one. Whenever you read a good nonfiction book, you almost feel as if the author was talking directly to you.
These are the types of best practices that you must learn from the pros by reading their books. But you have to read them twice, first as a reader and then as an author.
As a reader, you want to note on the margins whenever a section really draws you in, whenever you feel an emotional pull, whenever you experience sadness, joy, excitement, anger, etc.
As an author, use color-coded highlighters to identify the use of effective nonfiction techniques. For example, you could use a different color to highlight hooks, metaphors, analogies, anecdotes, rhetorical questions, etc.
Have You Thoroughly Researched Your Target Audience?
For a nonfiction book to succeed, it must be able to truly connect with its target audience, and in order to do so you’ll have to develop a deep understanding of their state of mind.
You’ll need to research what makes your audience stay up at night, what challenges they face and what their fears are, but also what their dreams and aspirations are.
This information is critical to understanding how the problem that you’ll help them solve with your book affects their lives and what level of pain it triggers in them.
Also, your unique solution must be something that resonates with your audience – it has to make sense based on their viewpoint.
If your solution is effective but doesn’t jive with your audience, they’ll simply dismiss it. This is why you need to know your audience intimately.
For example, using meditation techniques for weight control (by learning how to use your mind to ignore the hunger signals sent to your brain) won’t work on a demographic that doesn’t believe in or practice meditation.
Have You Clearly Identified the Problem You’re Going to Solve?
People’s problems have varying degrees of urgency, and this urgency is linked to the level of pain they experience as a result.
A problem with a pain level of 9 or 10 will demand immediate action and the expenditure of more resources than say a problem that registers with a pain level of 3 or 4.
If you want your nonfiction book to succeed in the marketplace, you’ll need to focus on solving a problem that triggers a high pain level in your audience.
If your book addresses a low to mid-level pain, your audience’s motivation to find it and then buy it will be much more subdued.
A weight loss book premised on how to lose weight to fit into last year’s clothes will never carry the same gravitas of a book premised on losing weight to help reduce mounting health risks for diabetes sufferers.
So always make sure to use your expertise to solve the problem with the highest level of pain for the audience in your niche.
Have You Established a Hard Publication Deadline?
Now that you know your audience intimately, identified the most important problem that your book can solve and researched the nonfiction books in your niche, it’s time to write your book!
But first, you’ll have to overcome the statistic showing that 97% of writers who start a book don’t finish it, or they finish it but never get around to publishing it.
In order to do so, and therefore become part of the remaining 3% who do publish their books, you’ll have to set a hard publication deadline.
Traditionally published authors negotiate a publication deadline with their publishers and then formalize it through the signing or a publishing agreement.
Self-published authors like yourself don’t have a publishing agreement to fall back on, so you’ll have to create this urgency by making a public commitment that’s firm and immovable.
For example, you can get yourself scheduled to speak at an industry event, a convention or a professional association keynote a year from now, when you’ll be unveiling your new book to colleagues.
It is by having a hard publication deadline that you’ll find the necessary motivation to soldier on when the going gets tough, which is bound to happen from time to time when life gets in the way.
Have you Created a Solid Book Outline?
Once you have your audience and message dialed in, you’ll need to begin the writing process in earnest.
Now, one option is to start with a blank page on your computer screen waiting to inspiration to strike. Most times this approach will lead to failure because you can’t just will yourself to be inspired on command.
A much more effective approach, which is in fact the approach used by professional nonfiction authors, is to create a thorough outline of your book.
How do you do this? By considering the premise that your book is really inside of your mind already. Its contents are informed by years of professional practice and skill development. They’re also informed by your professional as well as your personal experience, and by your experiences with clients, prospects and business associates.
In short, you’ll have to figure out a way to extract all this information from your brain and put it on a piece of paper so that you can shape it into a book.
One of the most effective techniques for achieving this goal is Mind Mapping. This technique emulates the way that our brains store and retrieve information to create a “mind map” of your book.
This mind map is a pictorial representation of the content tree of your book, which can then be easily shaped into an outline.
Once you have a solid book outline, showing all the main ideas to be covered in your chapters and sub-chapters, then you’ll have planted the seeds of your book.
Armed with your outline, you’ll now be able to pick any section that inspires you and begin writing about it immediately.
Triggered by the section’s headline, your brain will simply fill in the blanks by flooding your mind with recollections and ideas that will get your fingertips busy for pages on end.
To help you expedite this process, the articles below will show you how to create a mind map and an outline for your nonfiction book:
- 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
Have You Set Up an Advance Reader Group?
Before you begin writing your book, you’ll need to enlist the help of people you trust who also happen to be members of your target audience to act as your Advance Reader Group.
As soon as you finish writing and revising each chapter, you’ll need to email them a pdf version of it so that they can read it and give you feedback before you get too deep into your book.
This powerful team will help you hone your message so that it continuously resonates with your audience. If something is off in a given chapter, they’ll let you know well before you start going down a rabbit hole.
Your book might be a compendium of your expertise, but it must written for your readers. If they can’t connect with your message, no matter how well-developed it might be in your eyes, your book is bound to fail.
The worst case scenario is that you finish writing your manuscript and then circulate it with a group of test readers, only two find out that you went off course in the middle of chapter 2 and that the only way to fix your manuscript is to do a complete do-over.
This is not only inefficient because you’ll almost be writing an entire new book as a result, but also very demoralizing. It may take you extra effort to set up an advance reader group, but it’ll be worth its weight in gold.
Have You Hired a Professional Nonfiction Editor?
Once your manuscript is completed, you’ll need to do what every seasoned nonfiction author does – hire a professional editor to polish it.
While you’re the content expert in your subject matter, you editor is the wordsmith who knows not only how words go together but also how certain combinations of words can affect your readers.
They’re part word artists, part marketing specialists and part students of human psychology, focused on understanding how readers interpret the written word.
This set of skills is very complementary with your subject-matter expertise, because while you may know your content inside and out, you may not know how to make your content compelling to your readers.
That’s where professional nonfiction editors come into the picture. They’ll help you shape your message to ensure that it really connects with your target audience. They’ll tell you what works and what doesn’t.
Then, they’ll make recommendations so that you can make the necessary fixes to make your manuscript shine.
Here’s another consideration. By the mere act of publishing a nonfiction book, you’ll be assumed to be an expert in the eyes of your readers. Therefore, your book will be expected to meet a high bar for content quality and execution excellence. There will be simply too much on the line for you to risk doing a low-quality editing job.
But this expectation will also work in the other direction: if you make an extra effort to produce a premium product, your cachet will increase.
For example, you’ll be able to attract media attention, you’ll be able to attract higher paid speaking gigs, you’ll be able to convert more prospects into clients and you’ll be able to take your business to a new level.
If you’re now itching to get started, here are additional articles that’ll help you develop good nonfiction writing habits:
- Learn 10 Powerful Writing Habits to Fast Track Your Nonfiction Book
- The Most Effective Writing Exercises for Busy Business People
- The 10 Must-Have Writing Skills for Nonfiction Authors
- The 7 Key Rules for Writers of Outstanding Nonfiction Books
- The 7 Most Effective Writing Strategies for Entrepreneurial Authors
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.
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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.