Last week I chatted with a friend I haven’t seen in years. Back in the day, we contributed to the same magazine. The last I heard, he was writing a nonfiction book. Of course I asked him how the book went — was he traditionally published, or indie?
“I wish,” he said. “Neither. I gave up on it — it’s a mess.”
He asked me whether I had an outline or a template or something which worked for nonfiction.
Of course I do. I sent it off to him; maybe you’ll find it useful too. It’s beyond simple.
Want to write a nonfiction book? Here you go…
Create an outline. If you hate outlines, I don’t mean the kind of outline that your English teacher harassed you into creating when you were 12.
The kind of outline you need to create is one based on components.
Non-fiction is much easier to write than fiction because nonfiction books contain similar components.
Let’s have a look at some of them:
• A foreword. This is similar to an introduction, but a foreword is usually written by someone other than the author of the book. It helps if you can get someone famous to contribute the foreword. (They’ll expect payment.)
• An introduction. This is optional. If you can’t think of anything to put in an introduction, leave it out. Think of including an introduction if you want to tell your own story: how you came to get the information you’re about to share.
• A “How To Use This Book”page. This can be short, or quite long. For example, if you’re writing a book on yoga, you could use this chapter to give four or five exercise routines, compiled from the various poses that you discuss in the rest of the book.
• Chapters with problems and solutions. If you were writing a book on dieting for example, you could write seven chapters all posing a typical problem, and then provide solutions for each problem.
• The last chapter is the wrap-up. In this chapter you’ll want to give readers instructions on where they go from here, and you’ll also want to include an inspirational message.
• A glossary is useful if it will be necessary for readers new to the subject area. For example, if your ebook contains a lot of jargon with which your reader may be unfamiliar, give explanations of terminology here.
• An index. I’m always disappointed when an otherwise excellent book, that I’ll be referring to again, omits an index. I know creating an index is a hassle, but if you think your readers will use it, then go the extra mile and include it. MS Word makes this simple enough, and so does Apache OpenOffice Writer, which is free.
What you include in your nonfiction book is up to you
It’s your name on the cover, after all. And self-publishing means never having to explain yourself. 🙂
On the other hand, what if you want to go the traditional route, and hunt for a literary agent? In this case, your agent and editor will want input into your book, preferably right from the outline stage.
This can be a challenge. A few months back I worked with an author who hated the changes her editor asked her to make. There’s a simple answer to this: “Don’t make them,” I suggested. “If you think a change is pointless, just say no.”
She’s a new author, so she thinks that her editor is all-seeing, and all-knowing. I pointed out that as the author, she came up with the idea. She had a concept for her book, and knew her audience. It’s perfectly fine to refuse an editorial request. If an editor really wants a change, the editor can make a case for it, and the author might decide to make the change. Or not.
I hope this simple template helps you to write your next nonfiction book — have fun. 🙂
Resources to build your writing career
Get daily writing news and tips on the blog’s Facebook page.