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I’ve self-published more than ten books. My first book, Eight-Hour Investor, was the toughest to complete, and I imagine most authors struggle to finish their first book.
In this post, I will guide you on how to write a nonfiction ebook (or book). If you’re a fiction writer, this post won’t help you with plot and character development tips, but you’ll gain insights where nonfiction and fiction writing intersect. Before I cover book writing activities, let’s address three common myths.
Myth #1: You must have above average writing and grammar skills to write a book.
My writing and grammar skills are decent at best, and I don’t think of myself as a fantastic writer. On the other hand, I’m excellent at researching and presenting information straightforwardly and logically. For everyday writing projects, like this post, I use Grammarly for free grammar, punctuation, and spell checking. For large projects, like a book, I pay for professional proofreading and editing services through Scribendi. Even if you are an exceptional writer, a professional editor will enhance your content by correcting it and giving you feedback.
Myth #2: You need special writing software.
I use Microsoft Word as do many of my peers. Google Docs and LibreOffice Writer are excellent alternatives. If getting distracted is a concern, check out FocusWriter and WriteMonkey. Freemind can help you organize your ideas. Scrivener is a premium word-processing program and outliner designed for authors, but you can skip their software for your first book.
Myth #3: It is hard to self-publish a book.
Writing and self-publishing a book are two separate activities. This post will address the former while my self-publishing tutorials address the latter. In my tutorials, I demonstrate how to self-publish a book through Kindle Direct Publishing (ebook), CreateSpace (paperback), and ACX (audiobook). These platforms are owned by Amazon, the leader in online books sales. Alternatively, getting a book published by a big-name publisher, like Simon & Schuster or HarperCollins is significantly more challenging than self-publishing. I’m not familiar with the traditional publishing process because I haven’t taken this route. Also, self-publishing royalty rates are much higher than traditional publishing. For instance, royalties range from 25 to 70 percent through Amazon’s ecosystem compared to 6 to 25 percent through traditional publishing.
The Six Steps to Writing a Nonfiction Ebook
- Select a topic or idea to write about
- Define your audience and set a word count goal
- Create an outline
- Proofread and edit
1) Select a Topic or Idea to Write About
People typically select topics based on their professional and personal experiences. Individuals also write about subjects they are passionate about or want to explore. For instance, Maria writes about cooking as an extension of her love for food and entertaining others.
For some people writing a book is a goal they want to check off or a way to generate leads. For others, it’s strictly about making money. To give yourself a chance at earning enough royalties, you should research your topic or idea. Research methods include:
- Amazon marketplace research and analyses of books, bestsellers, and niches
- Keyword research to understand the demand for a topic
- Keyword research to understand what people might buy
My latest book, Investing Is Easy, borrows from my years of investing experience and study. Although there are many books about investing, only two books frequent bestseller rankings. Both these books are outdated, which is why I wrote a book about recent developments like robo-advisors, smart beta funds, and thematic investing.
2) Define Your Target Audience and Set a Word Count Goal
Who will you write your book for? For mothers, fathers, millennials, teachers, techies, or romance readers? A target audience is the demographic of people most likely to be interested in your product or service. Defining and profiling your target audience will help you to write and market to them. The more details you capture about your ideal reader and customer, the better. For example, which social media platform does your audience use the most? How much is your audience willing to pay for your book?
One of the best ways to finish a manuscript is to work toward a word count, for example, 30,000 to 40,000 words. Ten thousand words equate to roughly forty pages for a Kindle ebook. Customers are open to short and long reads, which is why Amazon offers a “Kindle Short Reads” category for books that take less than two hours to read. I typically aim to write books of 25,000 to 30,000 words or 100 to 120 pages.
10,000 Words = 40 Pages +/-
3) Create an Outline
For nonfiction and fiction writing, your outline is a high-level overview of your book. For nonfiction, an outline is a general description or plan highlighting essential topics. For fiction, an outline sets out the main events and plot from beginning to end. Many authors end up tweaking their outlines as they write. I usually update my outline several times before completing my manuscript.
Preparing an outline is advantageous because it serves as a reference point for the subjects you want to cover. As a reference point, you are less likely to get lost in your writing or suffer from writer’s block, which is a condition, primarily associated with writing, in which an author loses the ability to produce new work or experiences a creative slowdown.
Ways to create an outline for nonfiction writing:
- Brainstorm topics and brain dump ideas, arrange them and subtract what doesn’t make sense or closely relate
- Start with a temporary or “working” title then list key points
- Start with a working title then list main chapters
- Ask yourself, “what do I want my readers to know?” and arrange your ideas in a logical order
- Review outlines of similar books to draft yours
I create my outlines in MS Word, but you might sketch ideas on paper, a blackboard, a whiteboard, or using mind mapping software. To create an outline for fiction writing, please see this post.
Before I begin writing, I set a weekly word target, for example, to write three to four thousand words. Most of the time I achieve my goals, but sometimes other priorities surface that get in the way. At three thousand words, I will complete my first draft in roughly sixty days. I recommend setting daily or weekly word count goals and tracking your progress, for example, I use a spreadsheet.
I live alone and work from home, so distractions aren’t a significant problem. My environment is conducive to writing. You might not be so fortunate in which case you should consider how to enhance your environment to make it distraction-free and favorable. For instance, you might commit to writing only in the afternoons when your roommate is at work.
Begin writing your book. My new approach to writing is to formulate questions and answers for each chapter. The question and answer method help me to write and structure my contents. I developed these questions for chapter one of Investing Is Easy:
- Why do people invest?
- What are the benefits and drawbacks?
- How do investing and financial planning relate?
- What is the difference between investing and trading?
For “why do people invest?”, I wrote:
Individuals invest for different reasons. You might invest for long-term growth while I might invest to generate passive income. There are four common reasons for investing in securities, which are tradable financial assets of any kind:
- To increase one’s wealth
- To preserve one’s wealth
- To receive fixed-income
- To generate passive income
Many people want to grow their wealth in preparation for retirement and other financial needs…
Number of Drafts
The goal from start to finish is to continually refine and structure your book into something that you’ll be proud to offer and sell to readers. How many drafts should you produce? The average amount of drafts differs for nonfiction and fiction writers. For nonfiction, producing three to five versions of the same book is common. For fiction, it can be more. Also, it depends on the complexity of the topic and the book-length/page count.
The purpose of your introduction is to convince readers to buy your book and to justify its existence. I prefer to write my introductions when my drafts are completed because I can distill my manuscript into concise points. I like to list and explain four to six reasons or value propositions. I keep my introductions brief, three to five-hundred words so that readers can make up their minds quickly.
5) Read and Review
Now that you have a “final” draft, you should read and review it. I recommend not looking at your manuscript for one to four weeks before reading it. A break will give you fresh eyes and allow for greater objectivity.
During your review, be critical of your work. Question your logic, content flow, and sequence. Furthermore, remove content that doesn’t add value or is unnecessary. My word count typically decreases by 5 to 10 percent as I eliminate waste and “fluff.”
Listen to Your Content
Too much reading can make everything look the same, which makes it harder to identify errors and sloppiness. For my last two books, I use the “Read Aloud” feature in MS Word to listen to my books. Listening has helped me to identify mistakes, missing words, and poorly worded sentences. Also, it has helped me to identify and reposition contents.
6) Proofread and Edit
Proofreading and editing your ebook is critical to creating a publisher-grade masterpiece. Proofreading focuses on correcting errors in spelling, grammar, syntax, punctuation, and formatting. Editing takes a more in-depth look at how information and ideas are presented and include proofreading steps.
Many authors don’t fully commit to editing activities because they don’t want or have the money to invest in their books. However, getting your book edited professionally is a worthwhile investment. The last thing you want to get is customer feedback and reviews that mention spelling and grammatical errors. These types of customer reviews will negatively impact your credibility, brand, and sales.