How to Write Your First Non-Fiction Book: Part One
This is the first of a series of articles I plan on writing about publishing your first non-fiction book. So, where to start? I recommend beginning with the title. The title is the driver of your book. It provides direction to the chapters that ultimately answer the question your title poses.
It's also something that should be compelling to potential readers. This doesn't mean that it must be clever. In fact, clever is often misunderstood. Rather, your title should be something that solves a problem that your readers are struggling with. Another consideration is its length. Fewer words are more impactful. They catch attention and appear bolder and more confident than a wordy title.
So before getting into any actual writing, spend time crafting the perfect title. It may take days or weeks but it pays to get it right. Your book will sell better and be more focused and helpful to the reader by first nailing down the right title. I like to have several potential book topics I'm considering with dozens of possible titles for each. I look through them day after day - adding, cutting, and adjusting - until one jumps out at me. Only when I know it's the right combination of topic and title will I commit to the next step - which is to build the frame of your book by constructing chapter titles.
Once you're settled on your book title, you'll find that the chapter names become fairly obvious. Again, shorter is better. Just be sure that together they fulfill the promise of your book title entirely but no more. You also want to consider how long you want them to be, or should be, based on how best you're able to solve that portion of the question posed by your book title. This could mean more but shorter chapters or fewer but longer chapters, which is a decision only you can make. I've done both. Shorter chapters tend to be easier to write because they help you stay focused on a smaller number of points. However, some books lend themselves better to lengthy, more story-focused chapters.
Because you're writing non-fiction, I think it's a huge mistake to jump in and begin writing at this point. Yes, a small number of writers do this - particularly fiction writers - but doing so, while easier in the beginning, makes delivering a finished product that stays on message much more difficult. It also risks more negative reviews from readers.
You're better off first building out your chapters with the specific sections, stories, examples, and strategies you want to cover. A simple outline with topic names followed by supporting points is a good way to go. Reference the exact story you want to tell or study you want to cite and where to find it. This way, when you do finally sit down to write, you can focus on writing. During this stage, you may be doing a lot of thinking and research to fill your topics with the most digestible, helpful, persuasive, and interesting information for your reader. Your book will naturally begin to come to life in your mind's eye.
It's both exciting and confidence-boosting to have a mental picture of your book and what it's going to be essentially finished before opening your laptop. Your vision of it, along with your detailed outline, will inform your writing. It may even produce a clear idea of what your cover and interior design will look like. The more real it is to you, the more you can imagine what it will be and look like sitting on shelves or for sale on Amazon the easier it will be to write.
So fill out your outline like branches and leaves on a tree. Read it over again and again like studying for a test. Visualize the whole shebang and when you sit down to write you'll flow from one chapter to the next until you're finished.
In part two of this series we'll get into the actual writing, including how to work on your book and keep up with your blog at the same time. Until then, please check out the tools Scott and I recommend and, if you haven't done so already, please join us. Click here and receive articles like this one in your email box.