Writing a nonfiction book in support of your business or career can easily become a game changer if done right. It can open new doors and take your business to the next level, and by that I mean increasing your reputation, your reach, and your revenue.
So, why should you consider writing a book right now? If you’ve reached a plateau in your business growth, there’s no better way to break it than by establishing yourself as an expert in your industry – and there’s no better way to achieve that goal than by publishing a book that captures and shares your knowledge and skills.
But writing this type of book is very different than writing other types of nonfiction. A book writing project for business people requires a completely different approach than most of the advice available online for “how to write a book.”
That’s why I decided to create a thorough online guide to specifically help entrepreneurs, small business owners, professionals, practitioners, coaches and others navigate their book-writing projects.
It’s designed to help you take advantage of a lifetime of experience in your field to write a compelling book that will truly move the needle in your business.
So, without further ado, here are The 12 Steps to Writing a Compelling Nonfiction Book that will take your business and your career to the next level!
STEP 1: Define Your Book’s Main Idea
The main premise for your book is to openly share your knowledge with your readers, to give of yourself and your knowledge to improve their lives or to improve their businesses.
Yet, many entrepreneurial authors make the mistake of thinking that they have to guard their intellectual property like Fort Knox, so they write sub-standard books that only show a glimpse of what they’re truly capable of (or they simply refuse to write books in the first place!).
What they don’t know is that if you generously share your personal knowledge with your audience, you’ll get a lot more back from them. This will come in the form of new clients, new opportunities for paid public speaking, new strategic partnerships that will open up new markets and free media coverage, among many other benefits.
But first, you need to clearly establish your book’s main idea – an idea that will establish a strong connection between you and your audience.
How Do You Define the Main Idea in a Book?
When it comes to defining your main idea, your goal is to put yourself in the shoes of your audience, and think:
What’s the thing, technique, skill, approach, etc. that I know in-depth that would benefit them the most in their lives?
What’s the thing, technique, skill, approach, etc. that I know in-depth that will help them take their businesses to a new level?
Then, make “that” your main idea. This idea should encompass the unique set of skills that you possess, but it should be worded from the point of view of the needs of your audience.
The Best Main Ideas Solve Problems or Challenges People or Businesses Have
Main ideas that work in the marketplace are always a marriage between what you bring to the table and the deep needs of your audience. You are in the problem-solving business, and your main idea has to address your audiences’ challenges head on.
The more you share with them, the more profound the impact you’ll make in their lives, and more importantly, the most motivated you’ll be to write.
This is how your book will open new doors: your readers will benefit from the wealth of knowledge that you’re sharing with them, but they’ll still require your expertise to help them bring about change. They’ll appreciate your generosity, trust you and reward you with their business.
Writing Down Your Main Idea
So, to come up with your main idea, simply think about the biggest problem that you can help your audience solve with the knowledge and skills you’ve developed over the years, and then make your main idea the solution to that problem.
At the beginning of the writing process, use your main idea as your working title, even if it sounds a bit long or clunky. When you’re done writing your book – and only then – you’ll be turning your main idea into a formal book title.
STEP 2: Set a Hard Deadline to Publish Your Book
Here’s a scary statistic for new writers: 97% of aspiring authors never complete their books, even after several years of effort.
Now, there are multiple reasons why this happens, but the most salient reason is that they never bothered to set a hard deadline.
And when I say a hard deadline, I mean a deadline that is immovable, a deadline that is cast in stone.
When you’re a professional writer on contract with a publisher, your publishing contract is a legally binding document that sets the hard deadlines for you, and often come accompanied with financial penalties.
But, when you’re not bound to a legal contract, if you don’t set an actual immovable deadline, you run the risk of working on an open-ended project, and we know what happens when life gets in the way, especially when you’re running a business that constantly demands your attention.
In order to succeed, you have to create the circumstances for yourself that are equivalent to the types of contractual deadlines contained in publishing agreements.
How to Choose a Hard Deadline for Your Book?
One of the most common hard deadlines for entrepreneurial authors is a big speaking engagement. Use your connections to book yourself into a speaking gig in the future (say, 12 months from now) where you’ll be introducing your book to an audience of potential prospects or colleagues.
Your professionalism and reputation alone will force you to stay on track after making such a public commitment, especially since your book will be promoted weeks and sometimes months in advance of the event.
Depending on your business model, seasonality might do the trick for you. If the biggest selling season for your business kicks in the day after Labor Day, then that’s your deadline for having books on hand.
Examples of Hard Deadlines
Here are some ideas to consider (beginning with the above two):
- Speaking engagements (keynotes and panels)
- Seasonal industry timelines
- Industry trade shows
- Conferences you’ll be attending
- Annual professional gatherings
- Scheduling a course or seminar for prospects, clients or colleagues
STEP 3: Dump Your Knowledge onto a Mind Map
Now that you’ve made an immovable public commitment to releasing your book, it’s time to begin the process of gathering information.
Remember: you are the book!
The content of your still-unwritten book actually already exists – in the many years you’ve spent developing and fine-tuning your skills. In your many years of interacting with clients and getting to know their concerns, challenges, pain points, desires and goals. In your many years of developing and delivering products or services to the marketplace.
Or perhaps, you already have experience speaking at industry events, doing webinars or podcasts or emailing newsletters regularly.
Your book has always been inside you.
All you have to do is to dump your knowledge on the written page in a way that’s structured to be readable – I’ll show you next a simple technique to do so – and in a way that’s enjoyable to read – you’ll eventually be using the help of a professional editor to do so (like all professional writers do).
Introducing Mind Mapping
The goal of mind mapping is to dump onto the page all those loose “knowledge bits” that are swirling around your head in a way that’s structured and that makes sense for your book.
You’ll use this outline to create your table of contents in Step 4.
Why Mind Mapping is So Effective in Writing Books from Scratch
Mind mapping is much more powerful than the common practice of taking notes in a notebook or typing them up, because it more closely resembles the way our brains process information.
The following short video will describe how mind maps work from the mouth of their creator, Tony Buzan:
How to Make a Mind Map
At the center of your mind map you’ll place the main idea of your book from Step 1.
Then branches will then expand this idea into main topics, the main takeaways that you want clients to absorb from reading your book. We’re not looking for long sentences here, but super-short phrases of 1-5 words.
Each branch will then split into sub-branches that will expand each topic into sub-topics. Finally, each sub-topic will expand into sub-sub-topics, and so on.
Even though this methodology may sound a bit simplistic when you hear about it for the first time, mind mapping is extremely powerful when put to use.
Now, there are many software tools out there to help you create mind maps, but I find them to be limiting (especially free tools) or expensive.
I personally prefer a good old-fashioned large piece of paper and color pencils.
STEP 4: Create Your Book’s Table of Contents
Armed with your completed mind map, your next task is to use it to structure your book – that is, to write the first draft of your table of contents.
Each main branch off your main idea will become a chapter.
As I mentioned earlier, your book’s main idea will eventually turn into the title of your book, but you don’t need to worry about this for now. Your final book title will be the last thing you create after your manuscript is completed.
How Many Chapters Are There on Average in a Typical Nonfiction Book?
Nonfiction books typically have between 7 and 15 chapters, each with multiple sub-chapters.
If you don’t have enough branches for your main topics, you’ll likely be able to find “meaty” sub-branches to complete your chapter list.
The remaining sub-branches will be become your sub-chapters. The sub-sub-branches will be your sub-sub-chapters and so on.
Mind Maps Allow You to Avoid Writer’s Block
When you’re done transcribing your mind map into a fully fleshed-out table of contents, you’ll be thrilled to discover that the book will write itself!
You just organized all the information swirling in your head into a logical structure that can be easily communicated to others and in doing so, as the subject matter expert of your life experiences and knowledge, you’ll find that you’ll never experience writer’s block as you embark on the writing stage. You’ll find that you always have words flooding to your mind as you write.
Don’t worry about making your book highly readable and enjoyable at this early stage. When you finish each section, you’ll likely do several self-editing passes to clean it up, choose better words, correct grammar, etc. This iterative process will happen quite naturally even if you’re not a trained writer.
Finding Your Writing Voice
To find your writing voice, the main thing to keep in mind is to write as honestly and authentically as you can, even if this is the first time you’ve ever written a book. Never try to be someone you’re not – authenticity sells!
In any event, when your manuscript is completed, your editor will take care of readability and flow for you.
STEP 5: Set a Clear Book Writing Schedule
One of the trickiest aspects of becoming an entrepreneurial author is finding the time to write a book on a deadline while you’re already busy running a business (which must always remain your top priority).
The answer lies in compartmentalizing your time. For example, you should never attempt to write your book during business hours. Your time in the office should be strictly focused on running your business. The last thing you want is for your business to be impacted because you’re writing a book – that’ll make writing a very unhappy experience.
How to Develop a Writing Routine
What you need to do instead is to carve out a set block of time every weekday, either in the evening or early in the morning outside of business hours, plus some blocks of time on weekends (or non-business days if you work on weekends).
The idea is to write with focus and discipline for a dedicated few hours, say two hours a day, and then stop at the end of the writing block even if you’re tempted to go on.
Just make sure that your book-writing schedule doesn’t impinge on your business, your family life, your wind-down time or your sleep.
Remember, having a fully fleshed-out table of contents from your mind map will ensure that you always know what to write about whenever you sit down to work on your book.
Don’t Worry About Getting Stuck – You Won’t!
Inspiration will never be a problem because you’re not creating anything new from a clean canvas (like fiction writers often do). You’re simply “transcribing” onto the page fully processed information that has been sitting in your brain for years. This will be second nature for you.
All you need is a clear table of contents (your roadmap) and specific blocks of writing time (the stages of your trip). You’re not improvising here.
You know the purpose of your book (the main idea), you know the lay of the land (your mind map) you have the route planned (your table of contents), and you’re already a seasoned traveler (your many years of life experience in your field).
Trust me when I tell you that putting words down on the page at this stage will be quite easy. Once you sit down to write about a specific topic, your mind will be flooded with recollections of business conversations with prospects, clients and associates and your book will almost write itself.
Do I Need to Hire a Ghostwriter?
If carving out book-writing time is simply not an option at this time in your life because:
- You’re experiencing rapid growth in your business with the attendant daily fires to deal with,
- Your family is growing and demand every non-business hour from you,
- Or you just don’t enjoy the process of writing,
Then hiring a ghostwriter is certainly a good option.
Or maybe you’re in a situation where hiring a ghostwriter would make financial sense. If your first book has expanded your business significantly and your growing audience is clamoring for follow-up books, but you’re just too busy managing your existing clientele, then a ghostwriter will allow you to grow your sphere of influence without you having to commit the time to writing a book.
Even in the world of fiction, well-known authors will often hire ghostwriters (rather, their publishers will) to increase their book publishing frequency.
How Much Do Ghostwriters Charge?
Ghostwriters typically have two separate charges:
- A project charge that covers the time and effort to research your book; this includes time to interview you and go over all the source materials that you submit (for example a mind map)
- A per-word charge for the actual writing
The total ghostwriting fee will vary based on the scope of your project, so it would be impossible to quote a total range here, however, typical per-word fees can range between $0.50 on the low end and as high as $3 per word, depending on the ghostwriter skill and demand, with most jobs falling in the $1.20-$1.50 range per word.
Now, if you’re confident enough to complete the first draft of your manuscript on your own but want an experienced writer to turn it into a polished product, a less expensive option is hiring a professional writer instead. Professional writers will do a complete top-to-bottom rewrite of your manuscript, but without the need to conduct research or author interviews. As a result, they’ll only charge the per-word fee.
STEP 6: Set a Daily Writing Word Count for Your Book
Now that you’ve set a clear writing schedule, you might be asking yourself the following questions:
What Is The Average Word Count of a Book?
The word-count of a nonfiction book will vary according to the subject and the type of audience it’s addressed to, but as a general guideline:
- A short nonfiction book (120 pages) will have approximately 30,000 words (250 words average per page, depending on font size and graphic elements)
- A standard size nonfiction book (200-pages) will have approximately 50,000 words
- A long nonfiction book (300-350 pages) will have between 75,000-90,000 words
How Many Words Should I Write a Day?
You want to aim for an average of 400-500 words per hour – you should be able to do this fairly comfortably.
So, for example, if you’ve scheduled a two-hour writing block per day six days a week, then you’ll be able to produce 1,000 words per day (or 6,000 words per week).
To achieve this goal, you’ll need to eliminate external distractions as much as possible (make sure your family knows that you’re not to be disturbed during your writing blocks) as well as internal distractions (I’ll expand on them in Section 7 below).
If you’re targeting a 200-page 50,000-word book, you’re looking at 9 weeks of straight writing on average. Now, accounting for self-editing rewrites, holidays and unavoidable disruptions, add a safety factor of 50% to bring that to about 14 weeks.
Of course, this just accounts for the manuscript-writing stage only. Add to that 2-3 weeks to produce a mind map and to transcribe it into a table of contents and you are now at 17 weeks.
Next, you’ll have to allocate approximately 4-6 weeks to the editing process and your running total is now 23 weeks.
It’s a good idea to add another 2 months for post-production, including creating and securing other creative components, such as charts, diagrams, photographs and illustrations, cover design, book layout and pagination plus any remaining front and back matter, ISBN, barcodes and other technical items.
So far you’re looking at 36 weeks.
Actual book production (printing) can take anywhere from 1-2 months depending on the time of the year and the size of your print run – typically author in business would opt for on-demand printing – and so the total project time is reasonably 45 weeks or approximately 10 months from initial concept to your printed book arriving at your doorstep (additional copies at this point can be reproduced very quickly).
Now, you have a full 2 months left to coordinate and promote the event you originally booked as your hard deadline!
STEP 7: Choose Your Writing Tools Carefully
When it comes to what book-writing software to use, there are many options out there, from the bare bones with minimal or no learning curve to the feature-rich with steep learning curves required.
But here’s the thing to keep in mind when choosing what software to use: the highly creative task of writing a book requires an environment without distractions, and yet the most dangerous source of distractions is not external but rather internal.
Avoid Non-Productive Work at All Cost!
This is what I call “shadow” or non-productive work. For example, taking hours to figure out how a new, complex piece of writing software works is shadow work.
Spending hours upon hours to create a beautifully-rendered chart or diagram for your book using PowerPoint where a rough paper drawing done in 15-20 minutes would do, is shadow work – in any event, this is work that should be left in the hands of a professional graphic designer later on in the publishing cycle.
The same goes for spending long stretches of your valuable time on illustrations (unless you’re a professional illustrator and you’re writing a book about your craft), or on photographs (unless you’re a professional photographer).
Always Focus Your Time Primarily on Writing
The idea here is that your creative job is to write just the text, to create a book version of what’s inside your head. Everything else that’s required to support or embellish your book should be outsourced to someone who does that for a living.
The point is not to make you spend extra money (we’ll talk more about that in Step 12), but to prevent you from sabotaging your creative process – and your hard deadline – by focussing on anything that isn’t actually writing however tempting it may be.
What Book-Writing Software Should I Use?
So, to make a long story short, my recommendation is to use the most basic writing tool available to you with the least bells and whistles, which allows you to get the book-writing job done without time-consuming distractions.
My two favorite tools are Word and Google Docs, although I prefer the latter because it automatically saves all changes to the cloud as soon as you enter them (I’ve had my share of lost or corrupted Word files that have cost me hours of work). If you do use Word, make sure you hit the save key at the end of every sentence and that you keep multiple backups of your files on your drive or an external USB stick.
STEP 8: Learn a Sure-Fire Way to Stay Motivated to Write
One of the hardest tasks for any writer is finding the way to stay motivated throughout the entire book writing process – but this is particularly difficult for busy business people.
The typical modus operandi for entrepreneurial writers is to be super excited at the beginning (especially when the table of contents is done and you see the potential of your book to help your business grow or your career expand). Also, you’ll be eager with anticipation to get to the end the book, for which you’ve already thought about a masterful close!
But then, as the pages begin to mount and you approach the dreaded middle of the book, you rapidly begin to lose steam and allow yourself to be side-tracked by “life.” After all, you’re already busy working on your business or professional career and the book is adding to the complexity.
You’ve already set a hard deadline for your book (Step 2), but that’s a full year away. You need a better strategy to stay motivated on a daily basis.
So, how do you stay committed to writing your book, day in and day out?
The Trick to Staying Motivated
Here’s how you do it: the minute you set your hard deadline, you tell family, friends, business colleagues and associates that you’re writing a book that you’ll be presenting at event X, Y or Z in a year’s time, and then you enlist some of them to be in your “advance” reading group (more on this group on Step 10 below).
This approach of making your book project public in your own circle of influence and sharing your journey with close acquaintances and business associates will make you commit to the project on a daily basis because:
- a) You’ll not want to let them and yourself down
- b) You’ll not want to damage your credibility or professional reputation in their eyes
- c) They’ll now expect to receive a regular drip of your writing for feedback as part of your reading group.
Don’t underestimate the power of social pressure: it works like a charm, especially in professional circles!
STEP 9: “Divide and Conquer” Your Book-Writing Process
Now, we come down to the actual process of writing your book.
We’ve already established that the very nature of dumping your brain onto the written page using the mind mapping technique will prevent you from experiencing the dreaded writer’s block. You’ll simply know what you’re going to be writing about every step of the way.
However, some days you’ll feel more drained than others, and tiredness can be a blocking mechanism for your creative flow.
In order to prevent writing from ever becoming drudgery, when you sit down to write first scan your entire table of contents and then choose those sections or sub-topics that “speak” to you first.
This is the divide-and-conquer strategy. Nonfiction books don’t need to be written linearly, because their flow is already defined by the table of contents.
So, if you ever feel stuck when starting a new section, say you feel tired or your memory recall isn’t as sharp that day, then skip that section and go for the section of “least resistance.”
It doesn’t matter if you are skipping 5 chapters and then going back 3.
All that matters is that you’re shooting for your 400-500 word per hour quota. This is primary. Chapter flow is secondary.
The table of contents will take care of your book’s continuity. When you finish your manuscript, you’ll likely do a couple of passes of the entire book anyway to tidy up transitions between chapters and sections.
And, if you keep finding that a certain section is troublesome and it just never gets easy to write, that might be a good opportunity to step back and look at whether that section really fits into your main idea. Maybe you’re constantly struggling with it because it isn’t really part of your solution. It’s perfectly okay to make adjustments like this one mid-stream.
A Change of Writing Environment Might Help You in Your “Down” Days
A bonus tip for those days when you feel drained: if you’re having a hard time concentrating in your usual writing spot (say, your home office), then move to a place that’s more stimulating to your senses.
For example, you might want to try writing in a coffee shop that’s surrounded by nature and beauty (botanical gardens? near a city park? a top hotel in beautiful surroundings?). If the weather permits, you might even want to sit on a park bench or a sidewalk café.
Just make sure that when you get to the end of your writing time you actually stop before you get creatively spent. You want to write from a place of joy as much as possible.
If you find that you’re beginning to resent the writing process, then you’re probably overtired and need to stop writing for that day.
STEP 10: Get Regular Feedback as You Write Your Book
I briefly brought this up in Section 8. The key to writing a great nonfiction book lies in seeking constant feedback from people whose opinion you respect.
It’s critical that you engage them from the very beginning by inviting them to be a member of your advance reading group.
As part of this group, they’ll receive from you advanced copies of completed chapters as soon as they become available.
These people should be a mix of trusted business clients who’ve known you for many years, business associates and strategic partners and finally family members, friends and good acquaintances.
The wider the net of advance readers, the better the feedback you’ll receive, because different parts of your book will resonate more with different people.
The main reason this technique works so well is that by nature we’re always too close to our writing, and we always need a fresh pairs of eyes to gain perspective.
You don’t want to wait for your book to be completed before receiving feedback, because often the advance feedback you receive will spur new ideas that will help you rearrange chapters as you build your book, or perhaps even write a new chapter that wasn’t part of the original outline.
Also, this process will allow you to receive early market validation for your content so you don’t spend too much time expanding on subjects that your readers don’t value as much as you think they do.
STEP 11: Leave Your Book’s Introduction, Conclusion and Title for Last
You’re now in the home stretch! The last pieces of writing in your book are your introduction, your conclusion or ending, and your book title and sub-title.
The reason you want to leave these items for last is that your book will be very fluid during your writing process, and what you might have thought was a good introduction early on will likely change dramatically toward the end of the writing process.
Why leave the book title to the end as well? Because as you write your book, you’ll gain a lot more clarity about your business than you currently have.
Writing a book that captures what you know in-depth makes you think your business through in a brand-new way. When your manuscript is finished, you’ll discover new directions where your business could take you next.
Basically, the act of writing your book will define a new framework that you’ll use to take your business to the next level, and it’s this new framework that will open new doors for you. So, you want to wait until you have this realization before you create your title.
How Do You Come up With a Title of a Book?
With this in mind, you’ll now begin to see a clear path between your original main idea from Step 1 and your book title and sub-title.
In short, your title and sub-title must capture the solution to your audience’s problem that your main idea addresses, informed by the content of your book (but don’t sweat this step too much, your experienced editor will be able to help you here too – see Step 12 below).
STEP 12: Last But Not Least: Hire a Top-Notch Book Editor and Book Designer
Congratulations! Your manuscript is done!
Now comes the most important task, second only to writing your book.
Your book will become your legacy and a natural extension of you, your business, and your professional reputation, so it’s imperative that you get this final part done right.
In order to establish you as an expert in your field or industry, your book has to be a top-notch product, and as such, it must be professionally edited and designed. This is simply not an option for entrepreneurial authors.
You just cannot afford to cut corners at this stage and have your book edited by a spouse or friend and have the book cover and interior designed by your nephew (unless, of course, they happen to be professional editors and book designers).
Why Do I Need to Hire Professionals to Work on My Book?
Your book will be your calling card, and the way the book looks and reads will become an instant reflection on who you are and your professional reputation.
Your book will also be used to establish strategic relationships and potential partnerships with influencers in your industry, and given the kinds of doors that these people may open for you, you can’t afford to present yourself in anything but the best possible light.
Your book will also be requested by event managers, whose job is to book you for paid speaking engagements, panels and keynotes. Once again, they’ll judge you by how your book presents. Most of them won’t even have time to read your book; they’ll just skim through it so it must always cause a good first impression.
Finally, your book will be requested by journalists who want to interview you as an expert in your field or industry. Once again, production quality is absolutely key here.
You simply can’t afford to have a book that looks or reads less than professional. This is where a seasoned editor and an experienced book designer will make the biggest difference.
Professional editors are wordsmiths that will take your writing to the next level by making it clean, coherent and engaging for readers – that’s all they do, day in and day out. And book designers will give your book the eye-candy treatment that is required to make it stand out from the crowd.
Now It’s Time to Write Your Book!
There you have it. Follow the above 12 Steps and before you know it, you’ll have in your hands a professionally produced compendium of your knowledge and skills that will set you apart in your industry as an expert.
(Hint: very few business people take the time to learn how to write a book, so right there you’ll have a huge competitive advantage!).
The magic will begin to happen when your book goes into the wild and new doors begin to open that you never thought possible before, like landing lucrative contracts simply because you happen to have a book and your competitors don’t.
But enough said, it’s now time to get started…
I wish you the best on your book writing 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 generate additional leads for their businesses.
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Bennett R. Coles is the 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.