Nine Things You Need to Know Before You Write Your Non-Fiction Book

I started with writing non-fiction and it really did change my life. I’m actually working on rewriting my first book at the moment and I also devour non-fiction books so it definitely remains important to me. In this guest post Nina Amir, author of ‘How to Blog a Book’ poses some provoking questions that anyone embarking on writing a non-fiction book should ask themselves. 

Inspiration hits. The light bulb goes on. You’ve got a passion, and you pursue it. You see a need, and you fill it. There’s a question, and you answer it. You have a purpose, and you fulfill it.

These are all great reasons to begin writing a nonfiction book. And most writers, when struck by a good idea and the desire to write, simply begin writing. However, an even better reason exists to take a bit of time before you beginning writing to evaluate your idea—at least if you want your book to be successful.

Evaluate? I can hear you groaning. No one wants to evaluate anything, especially that book idea you are so psyched about.

If you simply want to write the book of your heart and you don’t care how many copies you sell, great. Go for it.

If you want to write a successful book, meaning one that sells to lots of readers or to a traditional publisher and to lots of readers, however, it behooves you to take the time to consider if your idea is a good one by industry standards.

To do this, I suggest you discover nine things about your book idea. Once you have this information, you’ll know if your book has a chance of success.

1. What Your Book Will be About and Why Would Someone Would Want to Read (Buy) It

You’d be amazed at how many writers cannot tell you in 50 words or less, or in 30 seconds or less, what their book is about. They also may not be able to list the benefits their book will provide to readers. Before beginning to write your nonfiction book, hone your topic and its angle. Figure out why someone would want to read your book rather than someone else’s book on the same topic. Write a pitch or elevator speech, a short statement that describes the essence of your book, and follow it with some bulleted points—the added value readers will take away from its pages. Think of this exercise like writing back cover copy. What might you say or write about your book that would make someone carry it to the register?

2. Who Wants to Read Your Book

Make sure you know your average reader—that one person you are writing for—as well as the size of your book’s market. Who wants to read your book, and where do you find them? How many of these people exist in the world? Are there enough of them to justify writing your book? This market research tells you if anyone is out there to read (buy) your book and helps you know for whom who you are writing.

3. Whether Your Book Will be Unique and Necessary

Make sure the book you plan on adding to the mix is not only unique compared to the other books in your niche or category but also necessary before you add one more title to the staggering number of books in print. Take a good hard look at what other authors have already written and published. Is what you want to write different—different enough to make someone purchase your book rather than an established title or a book by an established author? And is there a need for another book on the subject? If no books have been written on the subject, why? Is there a need for even one book on the topic?

4. If You Have Enough Content to Fill a Book

Sometimes writers think they have enough material for a book when really they only have enough for an article, or a couple of articles. Or they think they know what content they are going to include in the book, but when they finish the first draft, they discover they produced a manuscript that is scattered, rambling, misses the point, or leaves out essential information. Avoid these problems by mapping out your content first. Actually do a mind mapping exercise, which entails brainstorming while creating a large diagram of all your possible content and then organizing all these ideas into a table of contents or an outline. When you are done with this process you’ll know if you have enough content to fill a book, and you’ll know what content you plan to include in the pages of that book.

5. How You Would Describe Your Book’s Content

Bring your book to life with a short synopsis for each chapter. This accomplishes two things. First, when you couple this chapter-by-chapter synopsis with your table of contents, your pitch and list of benefits, you will have the best writing guide possible. Second, when you have finished the synopsis of all your chapters, and you have completed the previous four steps, you will suddenly have a clear picture of your book and feel ready to write your book. Why? Because it will seem real to you. If you can see it and it seems real, if your idea stood up to all the prior steps, it’s likely a viable book.

6. How You Will Ensure You and Your Book Succeed

Whether you self-publish or land a traditional publishing deal, you will need to promote your book. And promotion does not begin after the book lands in your hands as a finished product. It begins the moment that light bulb goes off in your head. Spend some time considering all the options you have to build awareness for yourself and your book as you begin the writing process as well as after you launch the book.

7. Why You Are the Best Person to Write This Book

Most nonfiction books are written by experts. Decide if you are the expert on your topic, how you will become the expert, or if you might need to bring in other experts (maybe a co-author, contributors or experts to interview). Also, does writing this book fulfill a sense of mission for you? If so, you might want to consider how to get that message across in the book and in your promotional efforts. Plus, in this step, it’s important to ask yourself if you have what’s called an “author’s platform.” Do you have a fan base or a large, loyal following of people who know you in relationship to the topic about which you plan to write? If not, you need to consider how you will begin building that built-in readership for your book.

8. If This is the Only Book You Will Write on This Topic

The more books you write, the more books you sell. That’s why it’s a good idea to spend a moment brainstorming other “spin-off” books on your topic. This is especially important if you want to create a business around your book or attract a traditional publisher. As an expert author, if you have more books, you can create more products and services to sell to readers. And publishers like to take on multiple-book authors.

9. How You Want to Publish Your Book

At this point, if you decided your book is marketable and has a chance of succeeding, you can begin writing your book—with one caveat. You need to know what publishing route you plan to take. If you plan on self-publishing, you can go ahead and write the whole book. If you plan on approaching traditional publishers, you only need to write 25-30 pages, or about two chapters, but you also need to write a book proposal, which includes all the information you just compiled. You then will submit the proposal to agents and publishers

Armed with this information, and assuming you discovered your idea is a viable one, you’re ready to take action on your inspiration. Turn your idea into a successful book.

Do you write non-fiction? What are some of the lessons you’ve learned along the way? Please do share in the comments below. 

About the Author

Nina Amir, Inspiration-to-Creation Coach, inspires people to combine their purpose and passion so they Achieve More Inspired Results. She motivates both writers and non-writers to create publishable and published products, careers as authors and to achieve their goals and fulfill their purpose.

Nina is the author of How to Blog a Book, Write, Publish and Promote Your Work One Post at a Time (Writer’s Digest Books) as well as 10 more short books.

A sought after editor, proposal consultant, book and author coach, and blog-to-book coach, Nina’s clients’ books have sold upwards of 230,000 copies and landed deals with top publishers.


 Photo: Flickr CC / Leo Reynolds

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  1. says

    Hello Nina. Thank you for sharing your advice, wisdom and knowledge. This is the first thing I have come across in all of my searches that gives me a little guideline on where to start. It truly helps. Thank you again!!! Hope to see you on shelves next to me someday :-)

  2. Nausherwan says

    Thank you so much for compiling this list! It was so helpful to bring clarity around the ideas I had!!

  3. Beth says

    Thanks for this :)! I was just wondering… is it okay to write a non fiction book if you aren’t an expert?

    • Dana M Joyner says

      I think if you have enough passion about a subject to write a book then you will become an expert. Research is the fun part! Be objective and dont be afraid to question the sources, good luck!

  4. says

    Very informative – I’m planning to write a book soon which would help smokers quit their addiction to nicotine. Being a long time smoker myself, I’ll be able to share with my readers the real experience in quitting.

  5. says

    Thanks Nina (and Joanna for hosting this). I’m just about to embark on writing my second narrative nonfiction work and I’m like a horse at the start of a race champing at the bit to get that word count rolling when I came across your sound advice so now I’m trying to stand back a bit and think things through first. Before we build a house we need a foundation.’ Look before you leap!’ as the saying goes. I would love it if you ave any more posts about the writing process.

  6. bridie says

    hi, I can see really good sound advice here, and will definitely put some to practice. i’m new to writing and love putting my imagination to work with the trusty aid of my keypad, but I don’t by no means think i’m an expert on anything that comes to my mind, if i’m unsure ill do research, most things can be easily found on the www these days, im sure like most writers, what comes out of our imagination is a mixture of what ifs and could that happen? the only thing I may be an expert of is my collective thoughts and even then I may have to look up a thing or two, I just think that if you love writing then go for it, enjoy the process and if by some miracle you get published and are loved by all then all well and good, but just in case have a back up plan…. or maybe another idea for the best book in the world! x :)

  7. says

    Thank you for your advice. Two questions, If one is writing a book based on facts, do they need permission or acknowledgements? Secondly, is it best to use first narrative if the subject matter is the authors own experience? Thanks for any feed back.

  8. Kathleen says

    Thanks for the WONDERFUL information. But, I need to know if I need permission to REWRITE a children’s book, (to retell it the way I wish). Looking to hear from you. THANKS AGAIN!

    • Joanna Penn says

      If you own the rights to the story, then why would there be an issue?
      If it’s someone else’s story and and it’s not public domain, then it probably is a problem. You’d better ask an intellectual property lawyer in that case.

  9. says

    Hi Joanna,

    I am writing a non-fiction self-help book that is movie related. I am aware of quote permissions and have been working on them. Am I within my rights using a movie stars real name in relation to a movie they starred in, or do I need to use the fictional name of the character they played in the movie? Also, am I safe using the names of famous movies in my book, or is this copyright protected? I have read extensively and this is a big grey area.

  10. Ola says

    Thank you so much. This is really helpful. Not knowing how and where to begin my Non fiction book has kept me procrastinating for years. I appreciate this!!!

  11. Susan says

    These days, how much does correct grammar matter when writing a book? I am a 65 year old who studied grammar for years, but, nowadays it seems the things I learned have been thrown out the editing window! For example, we were taught never to begin a page with “I” and using too many “I”‘s in a paragraph is taboo. However, this basic concept seems to have been archived along with correct placement of punctuation, etc. What’s up?


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