how to write a nonfiction book

How to Write a Nonfiction Book: A Beginner’s Guide

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Are you an aspiring author wondering how to write a nonfiction book?  

Nonfiction books cover a diverse range of subjects and genres. From biography, behavioral science, and self-help to health and wellness, cookbooks and food writing. The primary goal of nonfiction books is to convey accurate information, engage readers with real-world content, and contribute to the expansion of information and understanding.

As dietitians, we possess a wealth of knowledge waiting to be shared beyond consultations and clinic rooms. This guide will unlock the strategies to translate your practical expertise into your own nonfiction book. 

In this article we’ll cover: 

  • defining your niche and book’s purpose
  • tips to conduct market research on your topic
  • how to write a nonfiction book in 7 steps

Throughout the article we’ll also provide plenty of strategies to overcome common barriers new and aspiring authors face when it comes to writing a book.

Let’s get started!

Finding Your Niche and Purpose

As you embark on your journey to become an author, it’s essential to identify your niche and purpose. These are the cornerstones that will shape your nonfiction book and make it resonate with your target reader. 

Identifying your niche

Your path as a dietitian has provided you with experiences and insight that set you apart. Reflect on your passion. Those topics that you find yourself constantly researching or discussing with enthusiasm. 

Additionally, consider your professional experience. What recurring themes or challenges do you notice with existing clients or your target audience?

By focusing your book on a specific niche, you create a space where your voice can stand out and your guidance can address the needs of your target reader. 

Defining the purpose of your nonfiction book for your target audience

Evey nonfiction book carries a purpose – a driving force that compels the reader to engage, learn and perhaps change. As an aspiring author, you may have more than one purpose. 

Are you determined to debunk myths and misconceptions about a certain diet? Do you aim to provide a practical tool for fellow dietitians to improve patient communication? Or do you envision your book as a source of inspiration, motivating your target audience to push their boundaries? 

Clarifying your purpose helps infuse your writing with intent. Which ultimately helps to speak directly to the reader, making your book an indispensable tool for them.

Identifying gaps in the market 

Market research is another crucial way to ensure you’re not only creating a book that you the author are excited about, but one that offers unique value to your target audience and that they are also interested in. 

Market research is helpful for those who already have a niche and purpose in mind and want to further validate their ideas and the need for their book. Conducting this research is also a great way to help those who have a very broad idea of what they want to write about and need to further clarify and narrow down their area of focus and target group.  

Here are tips and questions to ask yourself when analyzing the market:   

  • Research Existing Content: Explore books, articles, blogs and resources on the topic you are considering. What is frequently covered? Are there any subjects that seem limited or outdated? Where can you offer a fresh perspective? 
  • Analyze Popular Trends: Are there new diets, health concerns, or lifestyle trends gaining popularity? Research whether there is a lack of in-depth, well researched content on these trending topics.
  • Check Online Forums and Social Media: Participate in online forums, Facebook groups, social media platforms where individuals discuss your area of interest. What questions are people in these spaces asking? Are there topics that are not well addressed?
  • Seek Feedback from Colleagues: Discuss your ideas with other dietitians or professionals in the field in regards to what they see as areas lacking comprehensive resources.
  • Study Book Reviews and Ratings: Examine the reviews and ratings of existing books found on Amazon or Goodreads. Look for comments from readers dissatisfied with the content and mentions of missing information. 

How to Write a Nonfiction Book – Seven Steps to Take

Once you’ve established your niche and purpose for the book, it’s time to get started with the first step. 

Step 1: Plan your book

Before writing the first chapter, the first step in the how to write a nonfiction book journey involves laying the foundation. Taking the time to clarify your niche, purpose, and target audience, as well as conduct market research all contribute to strengthening this foundation. Additional contributing factors to building a solid plan for your nonfiction book are discussed below.

Establish clear goals and objectives: Define what you want to achieve writing your nonfiction book. 

Decide on a realistic word count or chapter completion targets for each writing session. Consistency is key to ensuring steady progress toward completing your book. 

Consider writing out SMART goals. This way each achievement becomes a steppingstone towards your finished nonfiction book. 

Let’s look at an example, using the goal in the image above “write 500 words per day for 90 days.” See below for how this goal meets SMART goal standards in our sample scenario.  

  • Specific: write 500 words per day for 90 days
  • Measurable: use a word tracking tool to record daily progress, aiming to achieve a total word count of 45,000 words within the 90-day period
  • Achievable: dedicate one hour of focused writing time each morning to meet the daily word count target
  • Relevant: this goal aligns with the objective of completing the first draft of the nonfiction book within three months
  • Time-bound: start on (specific date) and conclude on (specific end date), creating a clear 90-day timeframe within three months

Develop a writing schedule: Dedicate specific times for writing in your daily or weekly routine to help allocate focused time to your book.

Utilize a mind map: Brainstorm and organize your ideas before creating an outline. Start with your central idea in the center of the map and branch out with related concepts. This visual tool is helpful to explore connections between different concepts and discover potential subtopics, relationships, and creative angles. 

Create a style guide: A style guide is critical to maintaining a cohesive, professional presentation of content throughout the book. Included in a style guide are rules you establish for grammar, punctuation, spelling, fonts, citations, and usage of specialized terminology. Here you’ll also define the desired tone (e.g., authoritative, approachable). 

Step 2: Conduct research

Conducting thorough research for your nonfiction book is key to providing accurate and up-to-date information. At the same time, you’ll want to avoid the pitfall of endlessly researching to where you ultimately never end up starting the actual writing of the book. 

To avoid this common issue, keep the following tips in mind when it comes to researching strategically. 

  1. Develop a research plan. Identify topics you need to explore and a timeline with deadlines for each phase of research. 
  2. BEFORE starting your research, identify reliable sources related to your topic such as credible articles, websites, and books written by experts.
  3. Prioritize analyzing works from these reliable sources over less credible ones.
  4. Search efficiently with curated content platforms like PubMed, JSTOR, Science Direct, and ResearchGate. Utilize advanced search features to access targeted resources.
  5. Take advantage of note taking apps to better organize and manage research findings. For instance, the app Evernote includes features such as: 
  • organize research notes into notebooks
  • clip articles from online journals and archives
  • capture images and scan documents using your phone
  • mark-up images and PDFs with text/arrows/shapes
  • built-in recorder to record interviews

Step 3: How to write a nonfiction book outline

An effective book outline not only organizes your content but helps maintain a clear and logical flow once you start writing. If you created a mind map from step 1, use it to help put together a well-structured outline.

TIPS to create your nonfiction book outline 

  • Divide the book into sections or chapters that each focus on a subtopic related to the purpose. This will essentially be used for the table of contents for your book.
  • Consider the most logical order for presenting your ideas. 
  • Under each chapter title, create brief summaries that include the main purpose, key points, takeaways and subheadings that dive deeper into the topic.
  • Include supporting material you plan to use for each chapter such as references, sources, anecdotes, case studies, and real-life examples.
  • Keep your outline consistent in terms of formatting. Consider using outline templates to enable easier rearrangement and reorganization of chapters and sections as needed.
    • Free outline templates are available online that you can download and then edit in Word. Look for templates specific to nonfiction books.
    • Writing software that has been designed with authors in mind, is another way to go. Scrivener is a popular software that offers outline templates specific for nonfiction books along with other features ideal for non-fiction writers. This particular software is not free but does offer a free 30-day free trial.

As you create the outline, it is important to keep in mind the book’s purpose and target audience that you’ve already established. You’ll want to make sure that each chapter and subsection align with these two key elements of your book’s foundation. 

Step 4: Write the first draft

Now that you’ve put in the time and effort to craft an outline, it’s time to get started writing your nonfiction book. Depending on your writing style, you may find writing in order from the introduction through to the final chapter is what works best for you as opposed to jumping around to different chapters. 

There are advantages and drawbacks with each approach. The key is to find a workflow that keeps you motivated and productive while ensuring the final product is cohesive. 

Regardless of the order you choose to write, here are 5 tips to keep in mind when it comes to crafting engaging content for your nonfiction book. 

  1. Write for your target audience. Appeal to readers’ emotions when appropriate. Connect with their concerns, aspirations or challenges.
  2. Start with an attention-grabbing hook, anecdote, or thought-provoking question to draw readers in. This will typically be the introduction of your book where you’ll set the stage for what’s to come and establish a connection with your reader. 
  3. Include elements like real-life stories, case studies, quotes, and dialogue to help make the content more interesting, relatable and add credibility. 
  4. Balance technical language with accessibility. If using technical jargon, make sure to include a glossary section in your book for the reader. 
  5. Descriptive language and visuals (i.e., graphs, photos, highlight statistics) help engage the senses, break up long sections and allow the reader to experience the concepts discussed. 

The road leading to completing the first draft can be quite challenging. Here are 10 strategies to help you overcome these challenges and accomplish the major milestone of completing your first draft of your nonfiction book.

  1. Establish those SMART goals for daily or weekly word count that we previously discussed. 
  2. Celebrate milestones and achievements. Especially on those particularly challenging writing days, look for small wins to keep you motivated. 
  3. Join a writing group to share progress and gain motivation from others.
  4. Write freely and accept that your first daft will be imperfect. 
  5. Start each writing session with warm-up exercises related to your book’s topic. For instance, look at images related to your book’s topic. Then describe what you see and how it connects to your content. Visual stimuli can trigger creative thinking and provide fresh perspectives.
  6. Try writing in short, focused bursts of 25 minutes, followed by breaks. For example, the Pomodoro Technique.
  7. Free “focus apps” help to minimize distractions by blocking internet access during designated writing times. 
  8. If one chapter is challenging, move on to a different part of the book that feels more manageable. 
  9. Don’t let self-doubt hold you back! Incorporate positive affirmations into your daily routine.
  10. Take care of yourself. Recharge, stay hydrated, and get physical activity.

Note: In addition to writing the main body content for your nonfiction book, make note of the parts of a book that are found in the front matter and back matter. Keep in mind which of these other parts you plan to include (i.e., table of contents, acknowledgements, about the author, glossary). Depending on the publishing route you choose, certain parts of a book may be required by the publisher. Remember to take the time to write up a draft of these parts too. 

Step 5: Refine your first draft

After completing your first draft, consider setting it aside for awhile before editing and proofreading. Once you begin the editing step, you’ll check for things like overall flow, sentence structure, readability, and adherence to the style guide that you established in step 1. 

Later in the proofreading stage is when you’ll check for things like grammar, spelling, punctuation and formatting errors. Reading the content backwards and reading slowly and aloud are just a couple of proofreading strategies to ensure all the errors in your draft are addressed before publishing. 

While you can choose to conduct all the editing and proofreading yourself, it is worth exploring the option of hiring a professional editor. These professionals can help with: 

  • providing an objective assessment
  • identifying grammatical and spelling errors
  • ensuring writing is clear and concise
  • addressing vague (or complex) sentences, making suggestions for rewording
  • checking for logical progression, transitions between chapters, and other structural elements that contribute to the flow of your book
  • verifying accuracy of facts presented
  • ensuring details like font consistency, heading style, and citation formats are correct

Note: Typically, you’ll want to conduct your own editing and utilize editing assistance from some of the other trusted reviewers that we’ll discuss next, BEFORE sending your manuscript to a professional. Sending a more polished draft compared to your first draft, is the best way to get the most out of the professional services, especially if you’re on a tight budget. 

In addition to professional editors, consider seeking feedback from trusted reviewers such as colleagues, mentors, and experts in the field. For these select reviewers it is a good idea to provide guidance about what kind of feedback you are seeking. Whether it is specific content areas, fact checking, or overall structure, be clear on your expectations.

Can I use a beta reader to help with editing my nonfiction book? 

Yes! And, it is not uncommon to have more than one beta reader look over your manuscript. 

While they can be friends or family, it is best to find beta readers outside of your close circle. It is also a good idea to find beta readers who represent your book’s target audience. These readers can help ensure the book meets the needs of the people it’s meant to serve.

Beta readers differ from professional editors in that they are generally volunteers (however, some may require payment). Additionally, beta readers usually do not focus on looking for errors related to spelling, grammar, etc. 

Beta readers are used to provide constructive feedback on clarity, organization, and effectiveness of the content. For example, pointing out areas where explanations are unclear or additional information is needed. With beta readers you can also make requests to have them focus on specific content areas.

Remember, when it comes to refining your first draft, this step may require multiple rounds of revisions. Know that each revision brings you one step closer to a manuscript ready to be published.

Step 6: Design a professional book cover

Creating an eye-catching book cover is essential for attracting readers and making a strong first impression. Your book cover is a vital marketing tool, so investing time and resources in the design is worth it!

It doesn’t hurt to research book covers in your genre to get a sense of common themes, styles, and design elements. While you want to make sure and stand out from the competition, this research helps to provide insight into the expectations of your target audience and what appeals to them. 

Should I hire a professional to design the book cover? 

Depending on your budget, hiring a professional book cover designer can be a great way to get a quality cover without having to invest the time yourself. Professionals can also help ensure the cover follows specific guidelines and specifications established by the publisher or self-publishing platform.  

For those that choose to take on this task themselves, take advantage of graphic design platforms like Canva. These sites offer book cover templates, high-quality images, and a variety of fonts that are ideal for creating a professional looking cover, efficiently.

As with the other elements of your book, make sure to get feedback from others before finalizing your cover. This includes checking for legibility as well as making sure images, colors, and typography reflect the message of your book.

Step 7: Publishing options and marketing strategies

This final step in our exploration of how to write a nonfiction book involves deciding on a publishing route. Traditional and self-publishing are just two of the options available. Each with its own set of advantages and challenges.

Traditional publishing may be a good fit for authors who prefer not to handle the publishing process and are willing to invest time in finding a literary agent or publisher. Self-publishing may be a viable option if you value having more control over your work, a quicker publication timeline, higher potential royalties and are up for the challenge of managing the publishing and marketing process.

What is hybrid publishing? 

This is another publishing route. Some companies offer services that bridge the gap between traditional and self-publishing. They may assist with editing, cover design, and distribution while allowing you to retain creative control.

You’ve successfully published your book. What’s next? 

In order to ensure that this book, which you’ve spent countless hours researching, writing, editing, and designing actually reaches your target audience, there are a number of marketing strategies you’ll want to employ. These include: 

  • book launch events
  • author speaking engagements
  • seek reviews from early readers, influencers, book bloggers
  • write articles or guest posts related to your book’s topic
  • utilize your own social media platforms to build and engage with our audience
  • if self-publishing with Amazon KDP, take advantage of the features Amazon offers like your Author Central page and book reviews to help maximize your presence 
  • submit your book for relevant book awards and competitions to gain recognition

Remember that the success of your nonfiction book depends not only on your writing but also on the publishing strategy and marketing efforts. Make sure to tailor your strategies accordingly to your target readers.

Final Thoughts

Now that we’ve covered the 7 steps of how to write a nonfiction book, are you ready to get started? 

Writing and publishing a nonfiction book is a rewarding endeavor that offers both challenges and opportunities. The key lies in thoughtful planning, commitment, and a great understanding of your purpose and target reader. This process is not just about the book itself; it’s a journey that can boost an author’s credibility, personal growth and contribute to the broader understanding of dietetics and health. Embark on this adventure with purpose and let your words make a lasting impact.

Looking for additional reading? Check out more about self-publishing on Amazon, Canva, and Writing Tips here as well as these articles below. 

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