If you’ve been thinking about writing a nonfiction book this article will guide you through a simple 5 step process for planning your book before you start writing.
Feel free to use it, modify it yourself, or disregard it completely. What I can say though is that writing a nonfiction with a plan is probably a better idea than writing one without.
If you’re looking for advice on planning a fiction book then I recommend checking out this post instead.
Unlike a nonfiction book where you can get away writing without a plan, writing a nonfiction book is far more efficient with a strategy. Unlike a fiction novel that can be developed as you progress through the story, a nonfiction book, particularly a ‘how to’ nonfiction book, is written with a goal. Usually, that goal is to teach the reader how to do something or help them make a change in their life. The 4 hour Work Week by Tim Ferris teaches people how to quit the 9-5 lifestyle and go into business for themselves.
This guide is written with the same idea in mind. To teach you how to go about writing a nonfiction book that works or in other words achieves its goal.
One more thing – this guide is written under the assumption that you already know what you’re writing a nonfiction book about. If you haven’t figured that much out yet, don’t worry about it, read through this post anyway and then bookmark it to come back later.
Step #1: Write 16 Major Questions
Let’s pretend you’re writing a book about proper search engine optimization techniques. I’m choosing this as an example because it’s something I’m knowledgeable about and will be able to provide examples on more readily.
What are 16 questions that come to mind for you about your topic? Start the process of planning a nonfiction book by taking a few minutes to put together a list. Write your questions in the second-person. In other words, write ‘you’ or ‘your’ focused vocabulary.
- Do you have unique keywords for each page?
- Is your site mobile friendly?
- Are you generating sufficient backlinks?
- Is each page optimized in its title, URL, description and H1 tag?
- Are your blog posts and other pages engaging?
- Are you segregating visitors based on their needs?
- Are you tracking your results?
- Are your YouTube videos and other social media outlets optimized accordingly?
- Do you have good keyword density for pages?
- Are you actively seeking new backlinks?
- Are you frequently generating quality content?
- Are you guest posting on other blogs?
- Are you paying attention to current and new trends?
- Are you researching keywords thoroughly?
- Are your Google ads optimized properly?
- Is your shopping cart optimized for SEO?
At this point, you shouldn’t be worried about making sure the questions are ordered in any way that actually makes sense. It’s why I’ve done this example using an unordered bullet list. All you need to care about right now is making sure you have 16 questions related to your overall theme, which in this case, is search engine optimization.
It isn’t until the next step when you worry about turning your unordered clutter into something more meaningful. If you can’t come up with 16 major questions, keep thinking about it until you can. It doesn’t matter if they sound repetitive. Just make sure you get 16 written down.
Step #2: Trim & Order
In step #2 we’re going to take those original 16 questions and narrow them down to only 12 questions. This is your chance to combine any questions that you think might be repetitive, or simply eliminate any that aren’t ‘big picture’ enough.
By the way, these 12 questions are going to become the foundation of your new book. They are going to be what eventually becomes your chapter titles.
This is why it’s so important to get these questions figured out now – everything you do after this point is going to relate back to these 12 questions.
In my example, continued, here are my 16 questions narrowed down to 12, neatly organized along the way:
- Are you paying attention to what’s trending?
- Are you researching your keywords?
- Are your pages and blog posts optimized?
- Are you actively building backlinks?
- Are your shopping cart and landing pages optimized?
- Are you frequently generating new engaging content?
- Are you giving your website visitors a great experience?
- Are you building authority?
- Are you cross-posting to social media?
- Are you seeking opportunities to guest post?
- Are you optimizing your Google Adwords?
- Are you tracking your results and making improvements?
There we have it – my messy unordered list is now condensed into 12 beautiful points I could write full chapters about. I took out the point about ‘is your website mobile friendly’ because most websites automatically are these days and if need be, I can lump that point in with chapter 3 or 7. I also ordered my chapters from ‘research’ to ‘implementation’ to ‘follow-up.’ The old bullet point about keyword density will get mashed in with chapter 3 as well, as it wasn’t major enough to warrant its own chapter.
Finally, I struggled for a while to think of my final bullet point. That’s okay though – it’s part of the process. Eventually, I came up with a brand new idea, which was added in as chapter 8, ‘Are you building authority?’ This wasn’t listed anywhere in my original 16 questions, but that’s what happens as you go through this process. New ideas fly into your head.
Step #3: Develop Sub-Points
Now that you have your 12 chapters worked out, it’s time to take all of them and write 3 sub points for each one. Basically, if you could split each chapter up into 3 major sections, each with its own talking point, what would each of those 3 talking points be about?
I won’t give examples for all my 12 chapters. 3 should be sufficient to get the idea across.
Are you paying attention to what’s trending?
- Using Reddit for research
- Using Google News and Google Trends
- Watching Facebook and Twitter hashtags
Are you researching your keywords?
- Using Market Samurai for targetted keyword research
- Paying attention to the competition
- Choosing high-volume, low-competition keywords
Are your pages and blog posts optimized?
- Optimizing your title, URL, description and H1 tag
- Ensuring good keyword density
- Optimizing images for SEO
You might notice that two of my original chapters from step #1 are now sub-points of chapter 3. That’s just how these things sometimes work out. Continue doing this for each of your 12 chapters, until you have 3 major topics to talk about in each one.
Step #4: Break Down Each Point
The next step in writing a nonfiction book is to break down each of these individual sub-points even further. To do this, I recommend turning each point into a question and then answering it.
How can you use Market Samurai for targeted keyword research?
- You can get search patterns for individual countries or for the entire world
- You can get fairly accurate monthly or daily searches for individual keywords
- You can get a lot of insight into the top 10 competition on Google
How can you pay attention to the competition?
- Set up Google Alerts with relevant keywords
- Follow your competitors on social media and watch for what they post
- Talk to your competitor’s followers and learn about the content they like
How do you choose high-volume, low-competition keywords?
- Pay attention to the title, URL, H1 tag and meta description of your competitors
- Look at the number of backlinks your competitors have for that keyword
- Determine if your competitors have a high page rank
Do this for each of your sub-points and you have an entire chapter’s worth of content. To add even more value, consider conducting interviews with experts in your niche. Not only will this help add credibility to your book, but when your book comes out, the people who have been interviewed will probably help you promote it by tweeting it out to their followers. Bonus!
Step #5: Pick a Good Title
For this part, I recommend picking a good title and a good subtitle. The title should be quick and catchy, or something that grabs your reader’s attention. Think about ‘in your face’ titles.
Earlier I mentioned The 4 Hour Work Week by Tim Ferris. This is a terrific example of a book with a great title. Who wouldn’t want to work a 4 hour work week? Sh*t My Dad Says is another nonfiction book that delivers awesome shock value, as does Go the F**k to Sleep, which gained so much popularity that it got read by Samuel L. Jackson.