Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Organizing, Putting Together, and Writing a Non-Fiction Book

A non-fiction book is built, then written. The key to finishing a book is having a plan that organizes the steps from start to finish. Learn how this ghostwriter puts a book together.

There are several key components to writing a non-fiction book and you really need a plan. Sure, you can sit down and start typing or writing and just see where things go, but you may find that you get stuck after the first few chapters. You may even be tempted to give up when you find the task overwhelming. I have used this plan to write about twenty books.

1. Decide on a working title. This may change later, but you need a title when referring to the book in any of the preliminary stages. Your title should be short and easy to remember. Include keywords that people might use to search for a book on your subject. The subtitle needs to further explain what the book is about. If someone reads your title and subtitle and still has to ask what the book is about, you need to rethink your titles.

2. Get the domain name for your book title. Get several versions (.com, .net, .org, .info) and purchase domains that have keywords that refer to your book. For example, if your book is titled Super Soccer: Training Young Girls to Play Soccer, you might want these domains: (.net, .org),,,,, and so on. These domains can be forwarded to the site that actually contains your Web content.

3. Write your query letter. Even if you don’t plan to use a conventional publisher, write a query letter anyway. You will need an elevator speech for your book anyway. This concise one-page document that is normally part of the process of asking a publisher to accept your book and offer you a lucrative contract is a great way to get an overview of what your book is going to be about. You can use part of this query as your back cover blurb—a very important part of your book marketing. But mainly this query will bring clarity to the overall scope of the project.

4. Write your book proposal. This requires you to do your marketing research, see what your competition is doing, determine what the book will do for the reader, and outline every chapter that will be in your book. By the time you are finished with the proposal, you will have a clear picture of how your book is going to be organized. All you have to do is flesh it out.

5. Begin to structure your book. Use the chapter outlines from your book proposal to create a skeleton structure of your book. Make chapter headings and bullet point anything you want to cover in that chapter. This is when I assign styles to my headings. This allows me to create a hyperlinked table of contents, which makes it easier to move around in the document once it gets larger.

6. Research the topic more fully, conduct interviews, ask people for stories that will help illustrate your points, and use this information to fill in the bullet points on your outline. Get contributors to sign a release form that gives you permission to use their stories in your book. As you come across experts, contact them and ask if you may send them the part of your book that mentions their topic of expertise and have them critique it.

7. Document your sources as you go! You may not remember where you found certain information a month or so after the fact. If I am using text or a quote, I will copy the URL of the site where I found it and put it in a comment bubble (using MS Word) or as part of the text. I can go back later and get the article title, author’s name, etc. and put it into proper format for the bibliography. If I copy and paste text directly from the Web or an e-book, I will highlight that section in yellow until I can get back to it. The yellow highlight reminds me that I must cite or rewrite this material to avoid plagiarism.

8. Round one edit. You have a rough draft and it is called rough for a reason. It hasn’t been edited. It is jumbled and needs more organization. In your first round of edits, you may move part of one chapter into another place in the book. As you rewrite the copied text, you will begin to see where you need to do more research and flesh out certain weak parts. You may add or remove an entire chapter!

9. Send pertinent sections of your revised rough draft to the experts you’ve contacted. Make revisions using the feedback they give you.

10. Add your front and back matter. This includes the introduction (which is a summary of what the book is going to be about). Pull this from the proposal you created in step 3.

11. Round two edit. At this point, you should have a cohesive manuscript that flows well and contains the material you want to include. Start correcting grammar, punctuation, spelling, and other mechanical errors.

12. Ask your friends to read your manuscript and give feedback. You are still perfecting the manuscript so it’s not too late to make changes.

13. Ask the experts you have worked with along the way to give you an endorsement or write
the foreword for your book. You may use their endorsements on the back cover, inside the book’s front flap, or as part of your marketing material. If the expert is pressed for time, write the foreword for them and ask them to make changes or sign off on it. Make it easy for them to say yes to you.

14. Hire a copyeditor. The book is now ready for the eyes of a qualified editor who will mark your every error in red ink. Yikes! This is the part we all hate, but I can’t tell you how much I have learned from seeing red ink on my pages! Not only will your book be better, all your future writing will benefit from the effort.

I wish you well in writing your book. If you get stuck, you can always contact me for help.

Yvonne Perry, is the owner of Writers in the Sky Creative Writing Services—a team of highly qualified writers and editors with many years of experience in writing for articles, books, ad copy, media releases, PR kits, Web text, biographical sketches, and newsletters. Editing, proofreading, book review, and book evaluation services offered individually and as packages. Find us online at

Follow WITS on Twitter:

If you liked this article, please share it on, StumbleUpon or Digg. I’d appreciate it.

Bookmark and Share


Joe Lavelle said...

Hi Yvonne

This is a great road map. I wish I had read it 3 years ago, as it would have saved me many months.

I am glad to have met you since and have used so many of the high quality services of Writer's in the Sky!

Thanks for what you do for us rookie writers! Joe

Act As If It Were Impossible to Fail

L. Diane Wolfe said...

Thanks, Yvonne! I've done non-fiction and it is SO much different than fiction. This is an excellent guide.

Mike Thompson said...

Even for fiction, organization is the key. My first two attempts to write a novel failed. The successful third attempt had something the first two lacked: a written timeline, outline, character family trees, formatting plan; there's so much that goes into writing a good novel, it's no wonder that few can finish one. All great info though. Kinda a bummer, but your English teacher was right about doing all that planning.

Shayne Packer said...

This is a great guide, and very well thought out. It is timely for me, since my wife and I are starting to write our first non-fiction book.