Writing your nonfiction book!
If you’re thinking about writing nonfiction—whether your subject is self-help, inspirational, political, or how-to— as a professional nonfiction writing coach, I’d like to clarify a few points that will be helpful for you to keep in mind.
According to goodreads, nonfiction “is an account of a subject which is presented as fact.” See if your project falls within one of these common categories of general nonfiction:
- History, biography, autobiography
- Travel guides and travelogues
- Academic texts
- Philosophy and religion
- Self-help, how-to, and inspiration
- Humor and social commentary
- Memoir: Although memoir is, strictly speaking, nonfiction, because it is conveyed in a literary, story-telling way, it is commonly considered distinct from general nonfiction and tucked into the “narrative nonfiction” category.
My best tips
As a writing coach, I’ve worked with many nonfiction authors. Here are some tips that can help you with your nonfiction project.
How do you get started writing your nonfiction book?
Facts first: Now’s the time to check your subject knowledge. As you do some fact-finding to support your work, you might research details of an era or the history of a location. You could also interview experts or thought leaders on your topic.
The more you understand your subject and the deeper you dive into the fascinating facts about it the more confidant you’ll feel when it comes to getting pen (or pixels) to paper.
Caveat: I’ve known nonfiction writers to get caught up in their research and neglect the work of getting their materials organized and starting to write. It’s a tricky balance—but do be wary of being seduced away from writing by the intricacies of research.
Your audience: Who will be reading your book? The general public? A corporate or academic audience? How do you connect with your audience? What tone is appropriate for your readers?
Create an outline: Start by making a list of your main topics. These can become your chapter titles. Then, make bullet points beneath your main topics. These points will help you flesh out further ideas about your subject.
Write a first draft: Follow your outline as you write your first draft. You might find new material to include as you write—or different subpoints to support your main topics.
Beta readers: Once you have a draft, first, or “beta” readers tell you what’s working and what isn’t. You’ll find readers in critique groups, book groups, or even at library discussion groups. In addition to other writers, keep an eye out for folks who always have a book or two going and who talk intelligently about what they’ve read. (At this writing, goodreads has a beta reader group.)
Hire a professional reader: You can also rely on a professional. Other names for professional readers are editors, developmental editors, book doctors, or book coaches.
I CAN HELP YOU WRITE YOUR NONFICTION WORK
A nonfiction writing coach specializes in organization and strategic planning. They help guide you to make the most effective use of your time and effort. An experienced book coach helps you with everything I recommend above—and more.
These resources will help you understand more about how to write nonfiction.
I’m always grateful to hear how others have accomplished their writing goals. The authors below have published in the exciting, wide-ranging field of nonfiction—and have brought back wisdom to share with us. These resources offer inspiration, encouragement, and know-how for writers stepping foot onto the nonfiction path.
Nonfiction books routinely top THE NEW YOUR TIMES bestseller list. Malcolm Gladwell—award-winning author of five NEW YORK TIMES bestsellers—has written books on topics as far-ranging as ketchup, crime and quarterbacks. Lucky for us, Gladwell is now teaching his first online writing class—for Masterclass.
ON WRITING WELL
by William Zinser
Whether you want to write about people or places, science and technology, business, sports, the arts or about yourself in the increasingly popular memoir genre, ON WRITING WELL offers you fundamental principles as well as the insights of a distinguished writer and teacher. With more than a million copies sold, this volume has stood the test of time and remains a valuable resource for writers and would-be writers.
HOW TO WRITE NON-FICTION
by Joanna Penn
Penn asks: “Are you ready to change your life with your words?” She says, “The first nonfiction book I wrote changed my life—so much so that ten years later, I make a living with my writing.”
In this book, Penn includes business models of writing nonfiction, mindset issues around writing, the details of how to research, write, and edit your book, as well as publishing, product creation, and marketing tips.
ZEN IN THE ART OF WRITING
by Ray Bradbury
This book is a joy-filled exploration of how Ray Bradbury found his way to being the writer he became. Mr. Bradbury includes wonderful suggestions about how you, too, can discover the literary topics and approached that will light you up. Because, that’s what it’s really all about, right?!
THE WRITING LIFE: Writers On How They Think and Work
by Marie Arana
Featuring some of contemporary literature’s finest voices, this book will inspire writers. In it, authors divulge professional secrets about: how they work and how they deal with the frustrations and delights of a writer’s life. Culled from ten years of the WASHINGTON POST column of the same name, THE WRITING LIFE [is] for anyone interested in the making of fiction and nonfiction.
by Roy Peter Clark
Ten years ago, Roy Peter Clark, America’s most influential writing teacher, whittled down almost thirty years of experience in journalism, writing, and teaching into a series of fifty short essays on different aspects of writing. In the past decade, WRITING TOOLS has become a classic guidebook for novices and experts alike and remains one of the best loved books on writing available.