According to the Jenkins Group, 80% of Americans want to write a book. Many have an idea for “the Great American Novel,” but as books become increasingly popular platform-builders, more entrepreneurs and thought leaders are directing their attention to writing nonfiction books. In fact, recent figures show about 85% of books published each year are nonfiction.
In this two part series, you’ll find five of my favorite ways to get started writing your nonfiction book.
Imagine Your Finished Book
Close your eyes and clear your mind. Now, imagine yourself in a bookstore, picking up a copy of your newly released book. What does the cover look like? What colors are present? Are there abstract images, photos of people, or an emphasis on the title? What is the title of your book? Now listen: What are other book browsers saying about it? If you can imagine the kind of conversation you hope readers will have as they recommend your book to their friends, you’ll start getting a sense of the energy you want to convey, which will inform the approach you take. It may also free your subconscious to generate some ideas about the ways your chosen subject can be presented for maximum excitement and engagement—the kinds of things that make a person want to tell all her friends about that awesome book she just finished. Visualizing the finished book will help inspire you (for bonus points, do a mock-up of the cover and post it in your writing space for extra motivation), and connecting with the heart of your book in an emotional way will help more “left-brain” oriented folks feel their way into writing a rough draft.
Interview Your Ideal Reader
Every book has an ideal reader, even if many kinds of people will ultimately benefit from your message. Describe your ideal reader in as much detail as possible: Is your reader male or female, healthy or suffering from an illness, single, divorced, married, a parent, a business owner, a student? How old is your ideal reader, and how educated? What does he or she like to do for fun? Once you’ve got a clear picture in your mind, imagine talking with your ideal reader. What is her most pressing need (i.e. what motivated her to buy your book)? What kinds of questions does he have on the subject (i.e. what is he hoping to find answers for in your pages)? Last but not least, how will you connect with your reader—with humor, personal anecdotes, statistics, suggested exercises, meditations? Now, write a letter to this ideal reader, addressing all the things you know s/he is expecting from your book and detailing what and how you’re going to satisfy these expectations. This will be a rough version of your book’s overview (an essential component of a nonfiction book proposal), and parts will also likely find their way into your Introduction.
Write the Jacket Copy
Forcing yourself to describe your book in as little as 200-300 words is a great way to zero in on what’s most important. This exercise can also help you identify the more marketable aspects of your book as you seek to find just the right balance of information and sales-ey marketing copy. Since this is just an exercise, go ahead and invent a few endorsements from famous authors in your category. Your jacket copy should also include an attention-grabbing headline (sometimes publishers use an enthusiastic endorsement by a big name instead), bullet-points or a list of the book’s key features and information, and a description of the benefits received from reading your book. Don’t forget a short bio! Committing goals to paper is a powerful tool, and crafting your bio provides an opportunity to start thinking of yourself as a published author.
I hope you find these methods a little more useful and interesting than the usual brainstorming routines. Let me know what works for you by commenting below. And if you haven’t already, don’t forget to get a copy of my free white paper on how to write a successful nonfiction book proposal. Also, don’t miss the second part of this two-part series.
Next time: two more ways to start writing your nonfiction book, especially for you “right-brain” thinkers.
Founder of The Writer’s Ally, Ally E. Machate is a bestselling book collaborator, award-winning editor, and expert publishing consultant who loves using her insider knowledge and experience with the publishing industry to lead serious authors toward success. She and her team live to help make great books happen, whether that means showing a writer how to improve a manuscript, get an agent, or self-publish; or coaching an author on growing her platform to sell more books. Since 1999, she has supported hundreds of authors on their publishing journey and takes pride in serving as their books’ best ally.