Wednesday, 16 November 2016

How to Write Your Non Fiction Book

Here’s some good advice from Writing Magazine December 2009, with some comments from me for self publishers:

Identify a topic and audience
‘If you know your subject well and you are passionate about it, this will shine through your work and proposal.’
‘Each book needs a clear target audience and it’s important to be able to quantify the size of that audience to your target publisher.’

[You also need to be clear about this for yourself, even if you’re going to self publish]

Research the current marketThe next thing you need to do is go online and see if a book on your topic has already been published.
‘You have to know what the competing books are so you can tell the publishers what makes your book different.’ However, many publishers do produce similar books, so you can write about the same topic.

[You need to be certain that your wonderful idea hasn’t already been done – save a lot of work. If it has already been done, do you have a fresh perspective?]

Compile a synopsisNext, you need to research the content of your book in order to put together a synopsis.
The best advice is to find a series to slot your book into. ‘If you can make your subject fit into a series, identifying the content and creating the synopsis becomes much easier.’

Pitch a proposalIf this is your first non-fiction book you need to work harder than a published author to persuade a publisher to commission your book. There are two ways beginners can prove they are capable. ‘One: provide a sample chapter to prove you can write and two: provide a biography of your experience in the subject area to prove you are the person to write that book. They want someone who can write and someone who knows their subject.’

Many publishers will have specific submission guidelines that you need to follow, but for general submissions there are some things every proposal must include. Sarah says: ‘I wrote a sample chapter, a synopsis of the book idea, reasons why I thought my idea would sell and why I was the person to write it. I also quoted some similar books on the market and explained why I believed my book was different. I also included a brief biography.’

To choose which publisher to go to, go to your local bookshop or library to see which publishers produce books on your subject, and use the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook to find contact details.

[If you’re going to self publish you don’t need this, but writing an explation of why your book is different will help you later in your marketing]

Write the bookYou will need to agree a word count with your publisher – non-fiction books are usually between 50,000 and 100,000 words. Publishers will often give you a tight deadline too… so you need to be disciplined.

[Self published books can be any length you like, but see what length other books on the subject are. Currently non fiction ebooks sell better if they are shorter]

Edit your work
Once you have completed all the chapters and have finished the first draft you need to edit, edit, edit, so that the manuscript you send to your publisher is the best you can make it.

[A publisher will also edit your book. Without a publisher it’s worth paying for a professional edit – but make sure you find an editor who can understand your subject]

What happens next?When you send your finished manuscript to the publishers it will be passed on to proofreaders before being passed back to you to check again. The editors may suggest changes and it is a good idea to implement these as they know what will help your book sell.

‘Once they’re happy with everything, page layout proofs are sent to me for checking.’

The publishers will also send you a cover for your book which they usually choose, as they know what the bookshops like. Once you have approved the cover it will be sent with your manuscript to the printers and your first non-fiction book will be published.

[As a self publisher, you will need to get your own cover designed, and write the ‘blurb’ for the back cover (if printed) and for the description on Amazon. You also need to think about marketing and what you’re going to say about the book to potential buyers. As you don’t have to wait for a publisher’s work, you can have your book published as soon as you’re ready]

Your submission package
  • Explain why your book will sell, what makes it different, and why it looks at a subject from a new angle
  • State the potential size of the market, who your target readership is, and other current books for that market
  • Explain why you are the best person to write this book and detail any experience you have in the subject area
  • Include a detailed chapter breakdown of the book (a synopsis)
  • Include a complete sample chapter
  • State how long you think the manuscript will be and how quickly you can deliver the manuscript if they accept your proposal
  • Say how you could help sell the book with features, interviews etc.
[All these items will be useful for your marketing and especially to pitch for interviews, guest blogs, and speaking opportunities]

Ann Marie Thomas is the author of three medieval history books, a surprisingly cheerful poetry collection about her 2010 stroke, and the science fiction series Flight of the Kestrel. Book one, Intruders, is out now. Follow her at

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