How to write a book

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A nonfiction book is a huge undertaking.

But writing a book is easier than you fear.

Here’s how.

A book is an idea

Start with a differentiated idea that’s relevant for your audience. No idea, no book.

If you know something few other people know, that’s your idea.

If you have no idea, don’t write a book, because nobody needs a book of rehashed idea-free blather.

Make a table of contents

The first chapter is the scare-the-crap-out-of-you chapter. Use either fear (do this or something bad will happen) or greed (do this and something good will happen).

The remaining chapters explain your idea and how to implement it.

Use the reader question method to determine what questions your chapters will answer.

If your idea is worth more than a blog post or two, then exploring the dimensions of that idea should be sufficient to generate a table of contents.

Now you have a list of chapters.

Plan a chapter

How do you write a chapter?

Consider the reader question that the chapter will answer.

Figure out what concepts, examples, evidence, and advice you need to answer the question.

Use research to assemble the concepts, examples, evidence, and advice. Conduct some interviews to create unique content like case studies.

Assemble the concepts, examples, evidence, and advice into a storyline. Create a fat outline.

Write the chapter in parts

Now that you have the bits of your chapter listed in order, write them.

Write a case study, if that’s how it starts.

Write about a concept.

Write about how your research proves that it is valid.

Write about what to do about what you found.

Each of those pieces is about 400 words. Surely you can write 400 words about a single case study, concept, example, body of evidence, or set of advice.

Once you’ve written one part of the chapter, write another.

Then assemble the pieces with section heads and transitions.

Now you have a chapter.

Put the chapters together

Keep writing chapters. Assemble them into a manuscript.

Now rationalize things that aren’t consistent. Fix things that are in the wrong order. Turn a collection of chapters into a book-length narrative.

If the chapters are sound, this is just finishing work.

Check facts and footnotes

Verify that everything is nailed down and the sources are accurate.

Then send it to the publisher, deal with the copyedits, and prepare for the launch.

Is it really this easy?

Of course not. It’s a huge effort.

Ideas are hard. Thinking is hard. Writing is hard.

But if you plan it properly first you can break it down into tasks of manageable size and then complete them without too much pain.

It is harder than you might think. But it easier than you fear.

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