HOW TO WRITE A NON-FICTION BOOK

I’m the author of three books, including the best-selling and most highlighted book for Airbnb hosts. I make anywhere from $700 to $4,200 per month from book sales (print, digital, and audio).

I find this is comical because I come from a past of mediocre, at best, grades in all writing classes I ever took. But, I always knew something was there.

Hindsight is twenty-twenty, as they say, but three things in my early life make it very apparent that I’m a writer in spite of my writing classes.

First, when I was very young, I remember getting very excited at the thought of writing one of those ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ books where you read a page then make a decision at the end of the page and based on that decision you create your own story. Remember those?

Second, when I was 11 years old, I started a journal that I’ve written in ever since at least once per month. Almost 1,000 pages as of today.

Third, in college, I elected to take a grammar class just for fun and I enjoyed it! For someone getting terrible grades in writing class and not enjoying those classes, this decision seems peculiar.

I’ve pretty much always been a reader. I remember in high school reading books on my PDA, an iPhone looking device from the early 2000’s. I…was…a nerd.

Before writing my first book, I jumped in blind. I just started writing. I wasn’t so smart like you reading this blog post from an existing author. I had no idea at the number of steps involved in writing a professional book. The decisions just seemed to keep coming.

“No one makes money from books!”

We hear it all the time. But, have you ever thought about who’s saying it? Most definitely not the successful author who made a living selling books.

It’s true, there’s more failed authors than successful ones. For me, writing my first book was one of the most rewarding and profitable things I’ve ever done.

Almost two years later I’m still receiving a similar amount of monthly income from the book as I did when I first started selling it. Even better, there’s a similar book published four years before me that still does about half as well as I do. It’s the ultimate passive income business.

It’s hard. Very, very hard. I wrote a large chunk of my book in Guatemala City and it’s when I started drinking coffee. I remember more than one night ending at 1am only to start the next day at 5:30am. I had a deadline. I wanted to get the book out before Christmas. It didn’t happen, published on January 2, 2018, but the deadline pushed me to finish. Chip Conley, prior executive of Airbnb and founder of Joie de Vivre Hotels, agreed to write my foreword.

If I had to guess how many hours I put into the book, it would be well over 250 hours.

That was the past. This blog post is the future. Many questions that I agonized over, I’m telling you about here to make your book writing journey more pleasurable even if you don’t make much money. For such a creative endeavor, there is a standard process to writing a book. I’ve outlined it into the 15 below steps, many of which will happen simultaneously like steps eight though ten.

Step #1 — Write Your Outline

This is very important for the flow or readability of your book. It also helps you form a better idea in your head about what exactly you will write about which will, in turn, help you decide on a title which is very important.

You must do this first because once you write a book and then try to squeeze in new ideas, the book ends up with a helter-skelter feel with each added topic or idea.

I use Word for my writing, but I’ve been recommended and looked into Scrivener. Although I’ve never used it, it does appear marginally better than Word as it’s specifically designed for writers.

Step #2 — Write The First Draft

After your outline, take a least a week break. Ideally, take a month or two because new ideas will pop into your head to add to your outline. There are many strategies in how to write efficiently, but for me, I write when I feel inspired. I don’t have deadlines and I’m not doing this with the idea of being a professional author who writes X books per year.

Step #3 — Revise The First Draft

You’re going to hire many different types of editors, but you’ll be the first. Take another week’s break between the first draft and this step. Add standard copyright legalize at the beginning of the book (your hired editor can also do this) and add any legal disclaimers. For example, if you’re giving medical or legal advice.

Here’s what my disclaimer looks like:

how to write a non fiction book disclaimer

Step #4 — Create A Book Title

Ultimately, you decide your title. The book will be a success or failure based on the myriad of decisions you are making in producing your book. However, outside help can be a valuable tool to ensure you don’t make any really grave errors. Sometimes you are just too familiar with your book that you miss something that is so obvious to others.

I remember sitting around a roundtable discussing books and the topic of titles came up. I recommended a tool and one gentleman dismissed my idea as bad. I asked him how many books he wrote. His answer: zero.

Just like in weight-lifting, there are many roads to the desired outcome. I recommend you not dismiss other’s ideas, especially if the person giving the idea has written a successful book (yes, like me). A better approach this gentleman could’ve taken is to inquire with me as to why I thought this was a good idea.

However, he does have a point whether he knows it or not. It’s very easy to defer your judgement to other’s who are less familiar with your book. It’s a great idea to ask for feedback unless you think it will interfere with your own good judgement.

For example, if you really like one cover, but when you ask for feedback from other’s it turns out that no one liked the same cover as you, you must understand why. The “why” is the much more important component of feedback in this case. Based on the “why”, you can accept or reject the feedback.

Recommended resource: PickFu

Step #5 — Write Your Supplemental Text

The supplemental text is marketing. You need it for the book itself, but also will use it in any marketing efforts you do. In this step, you’ll write the text for the back cover, book summary, book description, author introduction, and anything else you can think of.

For example, I added the following to my first book in order to collect the reader’s information for potential future sales. At the very least, I’d get many of them to visit my website and understand there’s a legitimate business behind this book.

how to write a non fiction book disclaimer reader bonus promotion

Step #6 — Hire Your Editor(s)

You’d be surprised at the number of editors you can hire for your book. At least, I was. Don’t just hire anyone.

This is tricky because anyone can call themselves an editor. This just means there’s a bunch of crappy, cheap editors you have to sift through. Ask your editor what their method is for proofreading. They should have one. If they say that they simply read your text and correct, that’s the wrong answer and you should move on. Here is where I recommend you spend your money on an experienced editor and pay attention to the reviews.

Here are the types of editors you’re most likely to need:

Proofreading/Grammar/Copy Editor: This is your first editor who will read your book as a reader would and suggest improvements for sentence structure due to awkwardness, spelling and punctuation mistakes, consistency issues, etc.

Structural/Developmental Editor: This editor will look at the flow and structure of your work and suggest improvements to make it more cohesive and an easier read.

Layout/Design Editor: This editor will ensure your books “guts” – internal images, titles, page numbers, etc. – look professional and cohesive. They’ll also ensure the book looks good on phones and tablets.

Recommended Tool: Upwork

Step # 7— Choose a Trim Size

If you will not publish in print, you can skip this step.

If you decide that you will offer a print version of your book, you next need to decide whether it will be paperback or hardcover. Once you decide that, you need to decide on a trim size.

Even though the trim size is set by your publisher which we don’t find until Step #13, there are common sizes.

For a non-fiction paperback book, this is 5”x8” or 6″x9″.

If you want a non-standard size, then you may need to either find a self-publisher earlier or ensure that the self-publishers you are deciding between offer your required trim size.

You will also have to decide on paper quality. The thicker the paper you print on, the more fancy and professional it feels, but the more expensive it will be to print and ship.

Step #8 — Create Your Cover Design

The cover designer will need to know:

  • Title and subtitle
  • Book trim size
  • Number of pages (for the spine width)
  • ISBN
  • Text for the back cover

For these reasons, start this process towards the very end of your book editing process. The guts of the book (ie text) will need to be optimally communicated by the cover.

Your designer will probably ask for the price so they can put it on the barcode. Simply tell them not to include the price on the barcode. Your price can change, your barcode cannot.

Ask for the name of the fonts used, you’ll need to give these to your interior designer.

I recommend you go with a contest-like website for choosing a cover design like 99 Designs (it is the most well-known and also the most expensive). It doesn’t make sense to work with only one person when you can have unique designs from a dozen different people.

I’ve used this site numerous times and here is my biggest feedback: Don’t try to fix a decent design. The designer either gets it right away or they do not. I’ve thought I saw potential in some designers and tried to work with them going back and forth on the message thread to improve the original design, but always to no avail.

After you have narrowed down to a few options, you can ask for feedback or split-test with PickFu or Facebook Ads.

Step #9 — Hire Your Interior Design/Layout Editor

Your designer (ie a good designer) should ask you about your target market and ask to see your cover so the guts can match it. They should know that all images need to be at least 300dpi for quality printing. They’ll need to know the trim size you want.

Here are some things that an Interior Design/Layout Editor can do:

  • Create a clickable table of contents (for digital formats)
  • Deliver a ready-to-upload file for your chosen publisher whether it be IngramSpark or CreateSpace and be on-call to fix any last-minute errors to upload the files
  • Ability to create a file for both print and digital/ebook both in color and black and white
  • Select an appropriate font(s) (you’ll choose at least two, one for headers and one for the body)
  • Ensure consistency between headings and subheadings
  • Able to work towards solutions for all of your requests. For example, I wanted to add reading time into my table of contents. My designer came up with an aesthetically pleasing way to do this.

how to write a non fiction book interior design

Be conscious about how your images/designs will appear in print. For example, I used yellow bolded boxes on some images to call attention, but when printed (in black and white) the yellow boxes were light and not noticeable. I had to go back and change all the photos with yellow boxes to a dark color and reupload the files.

Have your designer show you a sample of the layout they have decided on before doing the entire book without your approval. It doesn’t take much to present you with a 10-page sample of their vision for your approval. This saves time in the long run.

I’ve used Upwork with good success on this step. If you go budget (which there’s nothing wrong with) you will get a templated looking interior. I find this is also one of the areas it makes sense to pay for top talent as this is detail work.

On one of my books, I paid for a budget designer who actually ended up charging me twice without telling me and there were so many details not acceptable like the table of contents on digital formats only showed the number (not the chapter title). There were a bunch of small corrections like this which cost me time and money.

 

15 steps to writing a quality non-fiction book by 3x author Click To Tweet

 

Step #10 — Buy Your ISBN

Buy it through Bowker. There’s usually a deal if you buy more than one. Given the huge savings, I recommend you do it. I had no intention to write more than one book, but the cost to buy 9 more ISBNs made sense. It was only marginally more costly. And, I wrote 2 more books a year later.

However, don’t fill in the ISBN info until the book and cover are completed as you’ll need the cover design for the ISBN and the details like title and subtitle cannot change once submitted.

You also need to buy a barcode for your print book (not for ebook).

You can buy the ISBN in advance so you know the number for your back cover and copyright text.

Step #11 — Create Your Movie Trailer (Optional)

For my Airbnb book, I created a 45-second “movie trailer”. I got the idea from the 4-Hour Work Week. It cost me upwards of $3,000 and I love it. Though, if I’m being honest, I’m not sure how much additional sales it brought. If you are considering a movie trailer for your book, I recommend Wow How.

Step #12— Proofread Once More

But this time, you are reading for the flow and design. You are proofing the books “guts”.

At this point, I recommend you add on the same page as your copyright information who designed your cover, who edited the text, created the internal layout, etc. By doing this, you’re telling the reader that you’ve taken this book seriously and you promise not to waste their money or, more importantly, their time.

I did not initially do this with my first book and I hired an editor without any reviews. She did a subpar job and I got marked down by a few readers in their review solely for the grammar errors. I feel at least some reviewers may have pushed the blame on the editor (and not the author) and been more lenient with their reviews if they knew for sure that I hired a “professional” editor.

how to write a non fiction book supplemental text

Step #13 — Find Your Self-Publisher

There are three major players in the game – CreateSpace, Lulu, and IngramSpark – and countless smaller players.

I don’t know much about Lulu because I researched them two years ago. If you use CreateSpace you will only sell on Amazon, but with earn a higher commission.

In the end, I chose IngramSpark because my goal was to get my book in front of as many potential readers as possible (not to make as much money as possible) and they have the largest network.

After my third published book, I have only positive things to say about them. Their customer service whether I called in or used their live chat feature has always been top-notch. I’ve always been paid on time. I suppose my only gripe with them is a horrendously low commission of 40% I receive for all digital sales.

Step #14 — Record Your Audio Book

This one may seem optional, but it’s not. Since having an audible version, I’ve received 53% more income each month. Unfortunately, it took me almost a year and a half to offer this to my readers many of which who bought had already purchased the digital or print version.

I decided to use Amazon’s ACX because they made the whole process seamless. I also decided to hire a professional instead of record it myself. However, I did opt to read the introduction and I added a special thank you note not in the original publication.

You’ll have the option to pay an upfront fee or a commission. I suggest an upfront fee regardless if you think your book will sell a lot or not. It’s easier and more of the voice actors accept this method. ACX will give you an estimate for how many hours your book should take to record. For me, it was 6 hours for a 50,000-word book and that’s what the voice actor charged me.

You’ll get a ton of offers when you submit your book. Patiently listen to each submission for the right voice. I chose mine based on having more personality in his voice, though he sounded a bit nasally to me.

If your book has a lot of imagery and charts, ask the voice actor to include a companion PDF. I also asked mine to include background music at the beginning of each chapter.

Ask your voice actor to notate all grammar/spelling errors while they record so you can update later (your editor definitely missed at least a few glaring errors).

Step #15— Marketing Your Book

Disclaimer: I have not done much at all in terms of marketing my book. I created some social media posts on both my business and personal accounts. For the Airbnb book, I sent out an email to my list. Instead, I focused on writing an awesome book with tremendous value in a topic that I am an expert in.

However, this doesn’t always work. My Airbnb book sells 30x more books than my other two in any given month. I think this is largely due to the fact that there are only a few good Airbnb books, but many on travel and language-learning – the topics for my second and third books.

For real reviews, which help sales, I found BookSirens. They will give a free PDF, epub, or mobi version of your book away to readers who have identified themselves as interested in your topic. The readers understand the deal (free book for book review), but they’re in no way required to leave a review. The website says the review rate is 70%. In my own experience, 3 of 4 potential readers reviewed my travel book and 0 of 3 potential readers have reviewed my language learning book (I posted it a month later). Of those reviews, one was 5-star, 4-star, and 3-star. The reviews will be unverified on Amazon, however, all three reviews were lengthy and contained meaningful feedback.

Another tool I signed up for while writing this article is Howler, a service that will reach out to journalists in your niche for a monthly fee. The effectiveness of this is TBD.

Conclusion

I want to make it clear that only a few of the above-mentioned steps are absolutely required.

I’ve read books from authors who have neglected many of the above steps. There’s nothing wrong with this in theory, but I have found there to be two types of authors.

The first type is lazy. The second type is not.

I have nothing against writing a valuable book that’s not beautifully interior designed with an awesome cover and table of contents. However, I’ve noticed that you can judge a book by its cover. Of the few books that I’ve read from these lazy authors, none of them have been great, only good.

I’ve read hundreds of books and all of the truly great ones followed the steps above, if not more.

These two types of authors have different mindsets that manifest themselves in everything they do. The book is just the finished, visible product. The lazy author will be a lazy writer and a lazy editor. The flow will not be as good as it can be. Some valuable information will be missing or misrepresented. Their whole process is lazy with the finished product being lazy.

The not-lazy author will consider every detail important and make a conscious decision about each. This mindset will create a more cohesive, better book and better reader experience.

Don’t be the lazy author.

Happy writing.

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