Book Review – How To Write Non-Fiction

How to write non-fictionFor the past three weeks I have been on a journey exploring authorpreneurship by reading the books of Joanna Penn on the subject. This is the final book I am reviewing from Joanna and personally it’s the best one I have read out of the four. Below are the links to the previous reviews:

Successful Self-Publishing – click here to read

How To Make A Living With Your Writing – click here to read

The Successful Author Mindset – click here to read

How to write non-fiction is a book that lays out the basics of writing non-fiction and the advice in the book, if followed will get you started and support you to publish your first non-fiction book and more. This is a large book with over 400 pages so there is a lot of content in it.


The book is divided into five parts which are:

  1. Part 1 – Before you write: Mindset
  2. Part 2 – Before you write: Business
  3. Part 3 – Writing and Editing
  4. Part 4 – Publishing and Product Creation
  5. Part 5 – Marketing Non-Fiction 

Let’s explore what you will read about in each part of the book.

PART 1 – BEFORE YOU WRITE: MINDEST

This part of the book covers mindset issues that can stop us from writing and how to cope with these issues. The chapters in this part of the book are:

  • Why write a non-fiction book
  • Can I write a book if I’m not an expert?
  • Originality. Or “There are already so many books on the topic”
  • Who are you? Personal stories and your writer’s voice
  • Fear and self-doubt
  • The day a non-fiction book changed my life

PART 2 – BEFORE YOU WRITE: BUSINESS

This part of the book focuses on the practical business aspects we need to consider before we start writing. The chapters in this session are:

  • Types of non-fiction books
  • Business models for non-fiction books
  • Who is your book for? Identify your target market
  • Decide on the topic for your book
  • Decide on your book title
  • Your author name and pseudonyms
  • How long does your book have to be?
  • How long will it take to write the book?
  • Your perspective on time
  • Writing a book proposal

PART 3 – WRITING AND EDITING

Part 3 of the book is about getting into actual writing and editing as well as research, structure, organization and legal issues. The chapters in this part are:

  • Gather and organize existing material
  • Research, interviews, surveys and social listening
  • Structure and organize the book
  • How to write the first draft
  • How to dictate your book
  • Turn your/blog/podcast/videos into a book
  • Speed, quality and perfectionism
  • Focus and shiny object syndrome
  • Writer’s block
  • Co-writing a non-fiction book
  • How to turn a book into an engaging read
  • Elements of non-fiction in non-fiction
  • Does non-fiction have to be true
  • Legal issues: using real people, quotes, lyrics, images and citing sources
  • Self-editing a book
  • How to find and work with professional editors and proof-readers

PART 4 – PUBLISHING AND PRODUCT CREATION

Here you will read about how to turn your words into various formats that customers can buy. The chapters in this part are:

  • Your publishing options
  • Use different formats to create multiple streams of income
  • Non-fiction book covers
  • Book formatting for non-fiction: tables, images, graphical elements
  • Pricing your book
  • Your book sales description
  • Categories and keywords
  • Turn your non-fiction book into a multi-media course
  • Updating your books over time

PART 5 – MARKETING NON-FICTION

This is the final part of the book and it deals with marketing non-fiction books for those who are just starting out and those who are already established in the field. Here are the chapters:

  • Two models of marketing and the importance of mindset
  • Book-centred marketing
  • Paid advertising for non-fiction books
  • Author-centred marketing. The power of a personal brand
  • Build your author website
  • Build an email list
  • Integrate email marketing with your book
  • Content marketing for non-fiction books
  • My non-fiction marketing journey
  • Conclusion

MY PERSONAL LESSONS

Following are some personal lessons I took away from the book.

  1. If you want to write your mindset matters so you must start off with a clear reason why you want to write in the first place. Some reasons people write are:
    1. To build authority and credibility
    2. To write multiple books in a niche to earn income and dominate the market
    3. You already have an audience and you want to meet their needs
    4. You are interested in a topic and you want to write about it.
  2. You don’t need to be an expert to write a non-fiction book. You can share your experience and opinion with people. And you don’t need to bother about being original either. Share your own personal stories and views with people. Share your own unique experience about the topic you are writing about with people.
  3. Writing has a lot to do with how we think, so during the process you will doubt yourself and even wonder whether you can ever be a successful writer. The truth is, this affects every writer and it is an inherent part of the writing process. Don’t let it stop you. Also remember, fear is often worse than the reality. Embrace any fear you have as part of the writing process.
  4. There are different types of non-fiction book. Be clear about which type you want to write. Some types are:
    1. How to/instructional books which cover self-help, business, health and fitness just to mention a few
    2. Inspirational/personal stories/memoirs which can be people narrating their own personal journey. For example how someone lost weight or overcame a challenge.
    3. Topic-based evergreen books which Joanna describes as follows – these are books read for informational purposes and are often evergreen. They are written for the mass market as opposed to academic tomes. An example is the autobiography of Steve Jobs written by Walter Isaacson.
    4. Academic textbooks/technological/trends/manuals which tend to be books in niches catering for a specific audience.
  5. There are a number of business models that you can use to earn money from writing non-fiction such as:
    1. Making money from direct book sales
    2. Using the book as a lead generator to sell other products
    3. A book can also be the basis of a public speaking career
    4. You can combine all the previous models to make money
  6. Be clear about who your book’s real target market is. Put yourself in the mind of your potential reader and research other books in your niche. Ask yourself these questions:
    1. What problems does your target market have that your book can help to solve?
    2. What promise are you making with the book?
    3. How narrow can you make your target market?
  7. Your book title needs to grab people’s attention and there are a number of ways to do this:
    1. You can use a ‘how to’ titled. For example, ‘How to be a tour guide.’
    2. Use the principles of copywriting by making sure your title emphasises the benefits of reading the book. A good example is Dale Carnegie’s, How to win friends and influence people.
    3. Make clear what the book is about using a subtitle. Here’s an example – High Performance Habits: How Extraordinary People Become That Way.
  8. You may worry about how long your book needs to be. Non-fiction books don’t have to be long as you are giving people information they find useful, it can be communicated in a short book. But here are some reasons that may help you think about the length of your book:
    1. If you want to publish your book via the traditional route then you should aim for around 60,000 to 80,000 words. Of course you will need to check the submission guidelines with the publisher.
    2. If your book is going to be part of a series covering micro-topics then it can be around 25,000 words or more.
    3. If you are going to publish your book in print then about 27,000 words is fine.
    4. Make sure your non-fiction book is not too long.
  9. How long will it take to write your book? According to Joanna, here are some things to consider:
    1. What type of book is it? Writing a short self-help book will take less than writing an academic book.
    2. How much research do you need to do. The more research you need to do then the longer it will take.
    3. How experienced are you as a writer. If you are just starting out writing then it will take longer.
    4. How many words per minute can you write?
    5. How many hours per day can you allocate to writing?
    6. How well structured is the book?
    7. How much editing is needed.

Are you really interested in writing non-fiction? Then reading this book will certainly help. This is a big book and my review has barely scratched the surface of what you can learn from this book. I guarantee that if you do read it, you will come away wiser knowing some of what it takes to be a successful non-fiction writer. Of course, it won’t teach you everything you need to know but it will give you a good foundation to start.

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