How To Write Your First Non-Fiction Book And Get Started As An Indie Author Part 1: Deciding What To Write About And Research

How To Write Your First Non-Fiction Book And Get Started As An Indie Author Part 1: Deciding What To Write About And Research

By Neal Martin/ September 2, 2014
Last Updated April 27, 2023
self publishing

Welcome to the first part of my brand new blog series on how to write a non-fiction book and get started as an indie author.

There has never been a better time to be a writer and self-publisher. Thanks to Amazon Kindle and many other indie publishing platforms, the opportunity is there for people to realize their dreams of becoming a published author and making a living as a writer.

It is in that spirit of creativity and free enterprise that I present to you this comprehensive guide on publishing your very first non-fiction book. Even if you have already published a book, keep reading because I’m sure you’ll pick up at least a few tips to help you progress further on your journey as an indie author.

In each part of this series we will be looking at the individual steps involved in taking you from someone who dreams of writing a book to someone who has published a book and did so successfully.

Here’s a breakdown of the steps involved:

  • Step One: Deciding what to write and researching your book
  • Step Two: Outlining your book
  • Step Three: Writing your book
  • Step Four: Writing title and description of your book
  • Step Five: Creating the cover for your book
  • Step Six: Publishing your book
  • Step Seven: Marketing your book

Those are all the steps involved and what’s to come. I’ll be doing my best to give you as much information as possible to make sure you write and publish the best book you can. All of the information I give you will be current and based on what has worked for me and others in the self-publishing game.

So, enough of my yacking. Let’s get started!

Step Zero: Laying The Groundwork

Many people would love to write a book and get started as indie authors. The problem is that they don’t know where to begin. The thoughts of writing a whole book can be a daunting prospect to many, never mind having to negotiate the sometimes tricky terrain of the indie author platforms like Kindle and Createspace.

If you are one of those people who would love to publish their first book but aren’t sure where to begin, the good news is I’m here to help. In this series, I’m going to show you, step by step, how to write and publish your first book in a matter of months, or even weeks if you knuckle down and work hard enough.

The bad news, if you want to view it like that, is that writing and publishing a book takes no small amount of hard work and dedication, especially if you want to publish something that is worthwhile and earns you a bit of money.

Let me tell you right now. If you are looking for a shortcut to riches, indie publishing is not the way to go. Yes, there is a tremendous opportunity with self-publishing to earn a lot of money, but to do that you need a catalog of good books, lots of dedication and a fair bit of marketing savvy to find that success.

Writing and publishing a book is not that hard when you know what you are doing. The hardest part of writing a book is getting started and making sure your head is in the right place before you begin. The process of writing a book is not a sprint but a marathon, so you need plenty of commitment and motivation in place before you even begin.

Your commitment is the fuel that will carry you through. Without it, you won’t get very far. It is therefore vitally important that you first create a solid mental base from which to work from. Once you create the right headspace in which to work, the rest will be relatively easy.

So before you go on to read the rest of this first part, take some time to read the article I wrote on being a professional writer, specifically the first part of the post where I talk about commitment and motivation. If you don’t have the proper commitment in place before you begin there is no point in you reading any further because you’ll end up giving in at the first sign of difficulty.

So go read the first section of that article and come back when you’re finished.

Done? Are we fully committed to this endeavor now? Is writing a book something you really want to do?

Okay, great. Let’s begin then.

Why Non-Fiction?

In this series we are going to be concentrating on non-fiction. Why not fiction? Because writing a fiction book takes a lot more work. It’s a whole other ball game and therefore not really the best way to get started in self-publishing.

Don’t get me wrong. Fiction sells like crazy, but you have to do know what you are doing. It also requires greater commitment and skill to write a full novel or series of novels than it does to write a non-fiction book.

The good thing about non-fiction books if you are just starting out is that they don’t have to be long books. A non-fiction book can be as little as thirty pages (although I don’t recommend you go that short). My biggest selling non-fiction book is only forty-five pages in length.

Buyers don’t mind the short length as long as they get value from the contents.

Whatever the length of your book, it has to provide value to the reader. If your book can do that, then all other factors aside, it will be a success.

Now let’s get started with creating our first book.

Step 1: Decide What You Are Going To Write About

In some ways, deciding what kind of book to write can be the hardest part of this whole process for some people. This is mainly due to thinking too generally and allowing oneself to get overwhelmed by the sheer number of possibilities available.

It’s also caused by looking outside of oneself for inspiration instead of inside. If you browse through a book store and look at the huge number of books on display, inevitably you will end up thinking you will never be able to compete with so many books, let alone write one yourself. It can get intimidating.

Understand: you shouldn’t expect to compete with the vast amount of books already published. Forget about what’s already out there and focus solely on the book that you want to write.

It takes a bit of self-belief at this stage just so you can get started. You have to believe you can do this, despite all the fears and anxieties that suggest otherwise.

Here’s the thing: The fact that you are seriously considering writing a book is proof enough that you probably have what it takes to actually write one, providing you work hard and go about it the right way.

If you read what I wrote on commitment and evaluated yourself based on that, you should know if you are serious about writing, or whether it’s just a passing interest. Passing interests, by their very nature, quickly fade. The itch to write never goes away.

If writing is an itch you can’t seem to scratch, scratch it by following this guide and writing your first book.

We said that you need to look inside of yourself for inspiration and ideas. This is because whatever you write has to come from you, not some other author. If you don’t have a personal connection with the material you write, you won’t get very far with it and whatever you write will come across as inauthentic.

Don’t listen to the internet marketeers either who bang on about outsourcing books and who claim they make fortunes from doing so. In most cases, these people are lying to sell their own products. Outsourcing low quality books will not get you very far.

Remember that as a writer you want to be building a brand for yourself. You want people to trust your authority and respect what you do. You won’t get that from publishing low quality books.

Digging For Inspiration

So I mentioned looking inside of oneself for inspiration. What does that mean exactly?

Looking inside of oneself for inspiration means digging to see what your personal interests are. What are you most interested in? What are you passionate about? What do you have expertise in?

Nearly everyone is passionate about something. Lot’s of people also have a level of expertise in something or other. This is where you should start.

I got started in self-publishing through my lifelong interest in martial arts. I’m a professional self defense instructor, so that was my area of expertise. I had a lot to say on the subject and I ended up writing six books on self defense and martial arts.

I want you take a pen and paper and list everything that you are interested in and what subjects you think you might be able to write a book about (or even better, a series of books).

Don’t let the fact that there are many other books on your subject put you off. Whatever you write, it will be written from your unique point of view (at least it should be—don’t try to copy other books), which should be enough to make it stand out.

A Word On Credibility

You should also be aware at this stage that  your credibility as an author could be a big factor when it comes to people deciding whether or not to buy your book. For this reason it is probably best that you focus your efforts on something that you are knowledgeable about and have first hand experience in.

That’s why I wrote books on self defense, because I have a lot of experience in that area. That experience gave me credibility, which is partly why my books did well.

But what if you have no experience in anything? Most people have experience in something. At the very least you should have some small amount to start with, which you can add to through research or interviewing experts. A lot of writers do this. I don’t know how well those authors do with such books. I’m sure they get something out of them.

I do know however, that the best non-fiction books are those written by people who know what they are talking about and have first hand experience to add.

Try to be one of those authors with experience. If not, do your best with the resources and experience you have and hope that readers will focus on the value you provide rather than your credentials.

Researching Your Niche On Amazon

Once you have your chosen subject, go to Amazon and do some research in the niche you plan on writing in. Look at what other authors have done. Check what books are selling well and whether there is potential to sell a lot of books in that particular niche. Some niches are so small that it may not be worth your while writing in them. If that’s the case, find a different niche, or failing that, stay in the same niche but try to make your book stand out somehow.

As far as researching a niche goes, you need to pick a specific category to look in. If your niche is health and fitness for instance, keep drilling down until you find a more specific category that contains the kind of books you wish to write yourself. The more specific you can be here the better. Keep drilling down until you can go no further.

Once you have found a specific category you would like to write in, check to see how many books are in that category. We are looking for categories with at least a hundred books listed, preferably more.

A category with less than a hundred books is probably not worth your while publishing in since not many people are interested in that category.

The next step is to look at the first couple of books listed. If the top selling books are ranked 25-30,000 or below, you are good to go. That means the books are selling well enough for it be worth your while trying to break into that niche. If the books rank above about 30,000, it means they don’t sell too well and you’d most likely be wasting your time targeting that category.

Amazon rankings: the lower the number, the higher the ranking. Conversely, the higher the number, the lower the ranking.

If the rest of the books on the first page have a similar ranking, that’s good. If the bottom books have bad rankings, that’s probably not a great sign. That would mean your book would have to be at the top of the category in order to make any decent sales. The question is, can you rank your book that high? Or would you be better off finding a different category, one were sales are a bit more healthy? That’s a decision only you can make. If you think you can rank your book at the top, go for it. If not, look for a different category.

I realize this kind of research may seem tedious, but believe me, it’s essential. There is no point writing a book if there isn’t a market for it and it isn’t going to sell too well. If you are going to spend time writing a book, at least make sure it’s time well spent.

Research at this stage will save you a lot of disappointment after publication when your book doesn’t sell. It pays to give oneself a fighting chance at this stage.

Having said all that, if there is a book you really want to write, despite the fact that the audience for such a book would be very small, then go for it. Not everything is about money. If you think your book will add value to people’s lives or help at least a few people solve a problem they were having, then isn’t that worth your time? Only you can decide that. If you want to be a writer, the experience of writing the book alone will be valuable to you.

No writing is ever in vain. You will always learn something from the experience of having written it.

Beyond that, only you cab decide what your goals as a writer should be. For the rest of this series, I’ll assume that you want a good return on your efforts so whatever advice I give you will be based around that assumption.

Looking For Commonalities In Your Niche

Once you’ve done a bit of research, you should now have some idea of the kind of books that have been published in your chosen niche, and which ones are selling well.

Now write down what the better selling books all have in common. What topics do they cover? What topics do they not cover? What are reviewers saying? What do reviewers like most about the books? What don’t they like?

Asking questions like these will help you decide what needs to go in your book and what you can safely leave out.

If you look at half a dozen bestselling books in your niche and see they all include the same topics, this means you need to do the same in your book because obviously, that’s what readers want and that’s why they buy those books and not other books that don’t include those same topics.

Take some time to look over the reviews of different books. If reviewers are saying they love a certain book because of something included in that book, it’s safe to say you should include whatever it is in your book as well.

Similarly, if reviewers bad mouth a book because of something, avoid including whatever it is in your book.

The point of all this research is not so you can copy what others have written. It’s so you can get a good understanding of what readers want from a book in your niche. The closer you can come to pleasing the readers in your niche the better. You’ll make more sales that way.

In the end, it won’t matter if the topics you choose to include in your book are also in other books because it will be you writing about them. It’s your take on those topics, how you put them across, what you have to say. That is what is going to make your book unique and different from all the others.

Always remember that.

That’s it for the first part of this series. Before you read the second part, make sure you have committed yourself fully to the task at hand. Also make sure that you know what kind of book you want to write and what niche you want to be writing in. Finally, make sure you’ve done your research and you know a bit about the competition in your niche and what readers want from a book in that particular niche.

In the next part of this series we’ll be looking at how to outline your book. See you soon!

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