Writing non-fiction

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A look at getting ready to write to your non-fiction book


  1. Introduction

  2. The idea

  3. Genre and audience

  4. Outline

  5. Research


At Books from Start to Finish we like to keep things simple for you so here are some basic steps that have to be considered when planning to write a non-fiction book.

Providing this information also recognises that, as part of it being your book, you maybe want to have greater involvement in getting things going since you are perhaps likely to be the subject matter expert and of course, the named author!

We hope it shows how entirely flexible we are about how we work with you and we will never seek to pressure you into every possible aspect of our writing services we think we could sell you.

What we don’t cover here of course is the actual writing of the book. What this page aims to do is share with you the vital preparation that needs to take place before the first word of chapter one is on the page. Writing a book and becoming an author is like so many things in life, the better you prepare first, the greater the success later.

These are the things we will work on with you to resolve the questions we need to ask or you can do them yourself first before you come to us for help with the writing. We’re not giving away any trade secrets here since you can of course easily find this information already in many other places; all we’re doing is giving you our perspective on it; a tried and tested approach that’s worked for our other clients.

Step 1 – The idea

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What we’re referring to here is the answer you would give when you’d told someone you were writing a book and they said: ‘what’s it about?’ Of course this may seem obvious, but the point here is for you to be entirely sure in your mind what you are going to write about. If you say ‘Holidays in France’, do you mean all holidays in France, covering all types of accommodation and all budgets or, perhaps more likely, there are some specifics you have in mind.

What we’re saying here is that you need, from the very start, to give some real context to your ideas. You need to start thinking about is your finished book being on the book shelf in a shop and someone, their interested gained by the title, picks it up and reads the summary on the back; what is that going to say?

Even before you begin writing you need to give yourself focus on what the real purpose the book is going to be.

Step 2 – Genre and audience

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Clearly your subject is going to drive the answers in regards to these two aspects of your book. A travel guide for ‘Family Holidays in France’ is going to be aimed at parents with school age children that perhaps have some limits on their budget. But it’s not always going to be that easy.

If you subject is remotely ‘academic’ and your book might be used in education it is going to be have to be written in a different style to one where your book is being written for what we might term ‘general interest’. The former might need lots of data and graphs and academic references and be written in a formal style; the latter can be written in a more relaxed way with perhaps only summaries of key facts without a need to quote every single source for research in a footnote.

For either of these types of books you have the got to decide your audience. For an academic book is it aimed at school or university? If school, what age group? If general interest then is at aimed at adults or are you trying to generate the interest of younger people in your subject?

Yet again these points may well seem to be very obvious, but we have seen a number of books that have been written with an audience in mind and the end result is totally the wrong style. It is quite common to receive an enquiry which refers to a need for ‘my non-fiction book needs lightening up’! If the book is on a business subject, does it have the right levels of detail for the desired reader? Is too complicated or not detailed enough?

Step 3 – Outline

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As much as you might well know your subject, in writing a book about it you are of course, trying to help others be aware. On that basis, you need to very carefully plan how the subject will be introduced, how the different levels of knowledge will be layered on top of each other leading to the end where you’ve satisfactorily covered all that you want to.

If you try and start writing without doing this you could soon realise that you are going in the wrong direction or you get so far and then get stuck. It is quite common for people to start in the wrong ‘place’ and have to unravel all that’s been written so far.

What we’re referring to here is essentially, if we compare it to a novel, the plot, but in much more detail than would appear as the summary on the back of your book.

What is needed is for the ‘flow’ to be developed, with enough detail for each chapter to be almost a very abbreviated version of the book. Depending on the size of your book and breadth of things covered this could easily run to several pages or more. Preparing a draft Table of Contents is not going to be enough; it’s a great start but you really need to clarify things on your own mind with a little flesh on the bones before writing.

All things such as side issues need to be planned for as should if there might be reference to one topic early in the book, but the detail on that is going to come later. The pace of all major developments must be considered and then, once the total number of chapters is known, estimates of the size of the book can be considered. If you want a 60,000 word book you don’t want to end up with too much or too little.

Step 4 – Research

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This stage is almost interchangeable with the preparation of the outline and what we’re certainly not doing here is to suggest that, even when you are the subject matter expert, that you don’t know that it is very likely that some research will need to be done.

The point is that your key research should be undertaken as part of your planning and preparation stages. Some finer points can be looked into as the writing continues, but it is really going to help if you have the main work first so you have all your notes to fit alongside the outline.

If you undertake some critical research half way through writing you may well discover something that creates a major change to your outline and that can mean a lot of rewriting is needed!

One final point

If you want us to write the book for you or help you write it but your subject matter is quite technical, please don’t be put off contacting us. We have people in our group of writers who have experience on many aspects of writing but even if don’t have an immediate answer, we should be able to find someone entirely capable for you.

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