The 12-Step Nonfiction Book Writing Process
Using a solid nonfiction book writing process will make the difference between creating a compelling product for your readers using clear best practices, and spinning your wheels with many frustrating false starts.
This article will show you a writing process that’s used by seasoned nonfiction writers to produce great book after great book.
The 12-Step Nonfiction Book Writing Process
This writing process will guide you through the 12 steps that you need to follow in order to produce a top-notch nonfiction book that you’ll be very proud of and that’ll help you take your business and your career to the next level.
Step 1: Read the Top Books in Your Niche
Most nonfiction books are written to provide readers with the solution to a problem that they (or their businesses) are experiencing.
The most popular problem-solving nonfiction titles are written by authors who are very skillful at creating a deep bond with their readers.
They achieve that by:
- Using language and stories that are relatable
- Making use of hooks in the right places to keep readers highly engaged
- Sharing their knowledge without pontificating or sounding condescending
- Using persuasion techniques to entice readers to take action
- Taking readers through an emotional journey, not an intellectual discourse
For all of the above reasons, it really pays for you to read their books cover to cover, armed with a highlighter. Why reinvent the wheel when the best practices are out there in the open ready for you to discover them?
Read the top 4 or 5 books in your niche and whenever you catch yourself getting hooked into the writing, stop, go back in the text and analyze the techniques the author used to hook you in.
Then make copious notes, because you’ll need to emulate the same techniques in your own book. Here are some examples of the type of devices you’ll discover:
Using Chapter-Opening Hooks
Seasoned authors use these devices to grab the reader’s attention at the beginning of each chapter.
Here Are Some Examples
- Using questions to address a challenge readers are experiencing – e.g. “How you ever noticed how working twice as hard doesn’t usually double your results?”
- Using facts that are unexpected – e.g. “Did you know that you could be consuming over 40 teaspoons of sugar every day without even knowing it?”
Using Advertising Copy Techniques
Authors use these techniques mainly to create their chapter headlines.
Here Are Some Examples
- Starting a headline with “How to”
- Making a controversial statement – e.g. “The wrong workout can make you gain weight”
- Using a controversial question – e.g. “What if meaning well is not good enough?”
- Using a comparison – e.g. “Improve your strengths not your weaknesses”
Using Effective Writing Techniques
Here Are Some Examples
- Using the power of story-telling to draw readers in
- Using heart-felt language to take readers through an emotional journey
- Using the element of surprise
Step 2: Always Write to an Audience of One
For nonfiction books to be effective, they must be addressed to an audience of one. Whenever a reader picks up a book to solve a problem they have, they’ll only be thinking about themselves.
They won’t care about the author or even others who like them are in the same predicament. They are in pain, so all they care about is how to make it go away. Also, problems are a very personal matter; for this reason, readers expect to be engaged at a personal level.
So, make use of the 2nd person throughout your book and avoid using language like “We,” “Our,” “They,” etc. Make sure that you use words that make each reader feel like they’re your only audience; almost as if your book were just written for them.
Before you begin writing your book you need to do thorough research on your target audience to learn about their hopes, dreams, challenges and fears.
When your writing is grounded in this knowledge, your readers will feel a deep connection with you (they’ll think to themselves: “I feel this author really knows me”).
Step 3: Write from a Stream of Consciousness
As a nonfiction writer, you have to consider that your book is already lying dormant inside of you. Its content is stored in your brain and made up of the sum total of your knowledge.
This includes your professional experience, the interactions with your clients, the skills you’ve developed over the years, and your personal experience.
Whenever you sit down to write, and provided that you’re armed with a good book outline to guide you, open yourself up so that you can write from a stream of consciousness. Don’t pre-judge or over-analyze what you’re going to say next.
Just let your fingers do the typing and write down the flow of thoughts that comes into your mind at that moment. You already know your stuff so you don’t need to censor yourself with thoughts such as “I don’t think this sounds good” or “this doesn’t flow well,” etc.
Writing is not a judgmental process, it’s a creative one: your aim is not to block your flow of ideas but to allow them free reign so they can come to the page. Just focus on writing as a vessel to download information from your brain.
You don’t need to worry about giving it any shape yet – that’ll come at a later stage. For now, allow your tap of thoughts to be fully open so that you can engage the creative right side of your brain while holding back the critical left side.
When you’re writing from a stream of consciousness, focus on quantity not quality. Only after you’ve completed an entire section should you bring the critical thinking left side of your brain into the picture so that you can begin to give shape to your message.
Step 4: Protect Your Writing Time
The creative writing process requires peace and quiet to sustain itself. Any type of break into this flow, from the disruption of a social media notification to someone coming into the room and starting to talk to you, will break your creative flow.
Creativity requires a certain inertia in order to achieve “cruising speed.” If you allow external circumstances to force you into a stop-and-go situation, you’ll never be able to get up to speed and your writing will suffer.
It’s for this reason that you must set aside daily writing blocks that are well-protected from interruptions. You must enlist the help of those around you to support you by eliminating any type of disturbance when you’re writing your book.
Unless there’s an emergency, your family, friends, or business associates must ensure that you’re not bothered when you sit down to write. Also, this level of “protection” involves not just external but also internal disruptions.
For example, you must refrain from reading or sending emails during this time, going on the Internet for any reason or engaging in any other type of communications. In short, outside of your writing app, you should really go “off the grid.”
When you do manage to achieve this level of peace and quiet, you’ll notice how your writing, as well as your time, flies by. After your two hours pass, you’ll be surprised to find that you’ve written upwards of 1,000 words of original text.
On the other hand, if you allow yourself to be interrupted you’ll find that, at most, you’ll be able to write a third of that amount and it won’t even flow that well.
Step 5: Choose the Right Writing Tool
Depending on the publishing stage of your book, technology can play an important role as a productivity booster. For example, the process of laying out your book would be intensely laborious without desktop publishing software (like it used to be back in the day).
But there’s one area where the use of technology can actually become a hindrance if used in excess: writing.
When you’re going through the creative process of drafting your manuscript, anything beyond the most basic of word processor features will slow you down.
The reason is that for this process to be effective, it requires a path of least resistance to be established between your brain and the written page.
Any other technology or features other than a keyboard and the most basic word-processing functions will become stones on your path.
Here’s an example of advanced word-processing features may slow you down:
It’s rather pointless to pre-format a book in your word-processor so that it takes shape as you write it, because this job must be done by a professional layout artist after your manuscript is fully edited and proofread.
Some software programs have sophisticated outlining tools that allow you to set up your book structure in advance.
While this can be perceived as useful in principle, the reality is that they aren’t the easiest to set up and some have steep learning curves.
Besides, any initial outline that you do set up may become irrelevant after your manuscript goes through the hands of an editor, forcing you to re-do a lot of the work.
An overabundance of features may temp you to spend time playing with fonts sizes, kerning, line spacing, fiddling with the look of chapter headings and subheadings, and so on.
All of these activities are unnecessary distractions at the manuscript level. All that’s required is text in a single font and minimal formatting.
The best scenario you want to achieve is to just type what comes to your mind without having to play with any of the menus in your word processor. Exceptions would be to create a page break whenever you start a new chapter, plus some bolding and italics, but that’s about it.
Now, some writers will disagree with me and claim that using outlining features are necessary so that you can rearrange chapters easily should you need to at a later stage.
But I’ll argue that this will become more of a distraction because you first need to spend time learning how the software app works and then take even more time setting the features up, which will come in the way of your writing.
Now, I’m not a Luddite. I’ll grant you that a word processor is miles ahead of an old typewriter. But what I’m suggesting is that it’s very inefficient to spend time figuring out complex feature sets that will add very little value to your manuscript.
In the end, the only thing that adds true value to your manuscript is your words, your thoughts, your ideas, your conclusions, your analysis, your stories and so on – none of which can be enhanced by the use of software features.
Just let your creativity and your inspiration take over and make it as easy as possible for them to run the show.
Step 6: Choose the Right Writing Place
When you sit down to write your book, make sure that you choose a place that’ll enhance your creative flow. Whether this place is indoors or outdoors, private or public, it needs to bring a feeling of comfort.
You have to find a writing place that has the right energy, a place that “fills your bucket.” The true act of creation inspires an inner state of joy, so you want to find a place that reflects that.
Some writers have a favorite spot in their house, some have a favorite coffee shop and some others feel inspired when surrounded by nature, so they’ll write from a bench at the city’s botanical gardens.
Just make sure that whatever place you choose is devoid of interruptions. In fact, if you’re using an offline word processor to write your manuscript, you don’t even need a place with a Wi-Fi signal.
Step 7: Choose the Right Writing Time
Different people get their creative juices flowing at different times. You may be an early bird, or perhaps a night owl. What’s important is that you sit down to write at the same time every day.
When it comes to writing a book, consistency is a key for success. If you always write at the same time, you’re conditioning your writing muscle to perform and then recover for 24 hours.
If you write in the evening one day and then in the morning the next, then you skip a day and you write two mornings in a row, you’re giving your mind confusing signals that aren’t conducive to creating good writing habits.
This is no different that developing your muscles. An uneven physical workout routine similar to the one mentioned above would result little if any progress – assuming you don’t give up first.
Your writing muscle requires consistency and a clear cycle – it’s also counter-productive to write for two hours one day and then for five hours the next, even if your starting time is the same.
So, to be productive and creative on your book-writing journey, choose a daily writing block no longer than two hours and make sure you begin and end writing at the same time.
Step 8: Choose the Right Daily Word Count
If you’re writing from a stream of consciousness and without any distractions during your writing block, you’ll be able to average between 400 and 500 words per hour for a maximum of 1,000 per day.
Now this doesn’t include any rewriting or self-editing.
So, say you’re aiming for a final word-count of 50,000 for your book (approximately 200 pages, depending on trim size, graphic elements, etc.) and you’re writing 6 days a week, then you’re looking at between 50 and 60 days of raw writing.
Next, double this time to allow for rewrites and for stoppages due to illness, holidays, etc. and you’re looking at a maximum of 120 days, or about 5 months, in order to produce the first draft of your manuscript.
Step 9: Don’t Self-Edit Prematurely
Once your book writing is on a roll, you want to keep it going by writing as much content as you can using the guidelines from Step 3.
The more writing you produce in this fashion, the more material that you’ll have to work with when you begin to edit and polish your manuscript. If you self-edit too soon you may end up sending content to the cutting floor prematurely.
For example, if you leave the edits towards the end, you may find that some sentences or even entire paragraphs that you feel need to depart from Chapter 2 may be a perfect fit for Chapter 11.
But if you cut too soon, before you even write Chapter 11, then you might delete that text forever before you discover that it’s valuable somewhere else.
Step 10: Write Like You’re Being Paid
When it comes to writing, quality requires practice, and practice requires discipline. Like in all creative fields, there’s no workaround to accelerate time spent developing your craft.
Now, this task is more motivating for professional authors because they get paid an advance in order to write their books. But this advantage is only temporary since eventually you’ll receive payment too.
The mere act of publishing a nonfiction book will turn you into an expert overnight. This will happen the moment a prospect, a client, a potential strategic partner, a committee that selects bids on contracts, and so on, gets a copy of your book.
Eventually, you’ll be able to leverage this new status into new revenue for your business. The end result of landing new clients, signing off on a new strategic partnership that will drive new leads into your funnel, getting a lucrative contract, etc. will be as real as getting an advance on royalties.
So, you have every motivation to write as if you’re being paid because instead of receiving cash in advance of your writing, your writing will become an advance on your ability to generate future revenues.
Step 11: Never Write to Fill Space
Now, for your nonfiction book to be successful, it has to be chock full of value for your target audience. Don’t make it a goal to write an “X” number of words for your book (say 50,000).
Once you have a book outline that shows all the topics that you need to cover in order to deliver your solution to your target audience in a clear and effective way, don’t take this number and divide it by your number of chapters to arrive at a chapter word-count.
Write to fulfill a need, not to fill up empty space. If there’s anything that turns off readers, it’s the subconscious feeling that they’re wasting their time. This could happen if you’re using 10-15 words to say something that could be said more elegantly in 6-8 words.
Make this your writing mission: keep it simple. Now, you may not achieve this goal during your initial pass since simplicity is not your main focus the first time around – stream of consciousness is.
However, when you get into the rewrite phase, make it your mission to use an economy of words in everything that you edit. When you re-write, focus on delivering value not volume.
Each paragraph must be able to stand on its own and be as short as necessary to deliver its message in a clear and effective way.
Step 12: Hire an Editor When You’re Done
Last but not least, as a self-published nonfiction author, you’ll be competing head-to-head with traditionally published books in your niche.
The good news is, the often insurmountable gatekeeping role played in the past by bookstore buyers has been replaced by Amazon’s product-ranking algorithm, which offers both traditional and self-publishers the same search optimization tools.
If you fine tune your title’s setup on Amazon in the right way, you’ll have a very good chance of ranking side by side on user searches with popular books in your niche, and you can rest assured they they’ll all be using the services of experienced editors.
This is an area where you can’t afford to cut corners, especially because your nonfiction book will act as a proxy for your professional reputation. A sub-standard editing job will reflect poorly not only on you as an author but also as an expert.
Therefore, you’ll need to hire a professional editor with experience in your nonfiction niche so that you can deliver Amazon with the absolute best book you can possibly produce.
Now it’s time to put “pen to paper” and embark on your book-writing journey.
Below I’ve compiled a list of articles that you’ll find quite useful as you navigate these waters.
- The 10 Must-Have Writing Skills for Nonfiction Authors
- The 7 Most Effective Writing Strategies for Entrepreneurial Authors
- 10 Tips for Writing a Nonfiction Book That Moves the Needle in Your Business
I wish you all the best!
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 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.
Thank you for the 12 Step article. I haven’t written in 25 years… your info stimulated productive writing skill memory.