5 Things to Do Before Writing Your Nonfiction Book
These five steps will pull your idea together.
So, you've been hit with the inspiration to start writing a book, and you're ready to hit the keyboard running.
This is normally where I would say "go do it" and cheer you on as you begin writing your first sentences. However, if you can take a little bit of time to pull together some extra research before you jump into the writing, you'll be setting your book up for success before you even have the first words written.
Whenever I sit down with a new client to start planning their strategy, these are the are five areas in particular that we discuss and research before we begin outlining their book.
Market research entails learning more about the market in which you want to release your book. Publishers will want to know several things as they consider whether or not to take on your book, including how much demand there is for your book. Whether or not there are already books published within your industry or area of expertise is a strong indicator of how much demand there is.
Even if you plan on self-publishing, understanding what the market looks like right now will help you figure out how your book fits into it. This will help you define your book positioning statement, which will be an important piece of your marketing strategy moving forward.
And finally, understanding the market will set the baseline for the rest of the research you need to do before writing your book.
Related: Conducting Market Research
As a business owner, you probably know your target audience pretty well. But one place I see a lot of entrepreneurs get hung up on when starting their book is picking out their ideal reader. The ideal reader for your book — the person who needs your book the most — may not be the same person as your ideal client. They might be the person your ideal client was before they were ready to become your client, or they might be someone new entirely, depending on your book's topic and strategy.
Understanding who your ideal reader is will help you get into their heads. You'll need this level of understanding to predict other areas of your book, including what needs readers are seeking to solve, where they will look for those solutions and how they are most likely to accept those solutions from you.
You've probably already got a general idea of the overall topic for your book, but breaking that down into more specific topics can sometimes be a bit tricky. Many first-time authors struggle to break down their topics into specific areas. Then, as they start working their way through the list, they actually end up with too many topic ideas.
Topic research will be a blend of the topics you want to cover and the topics your audience is expecting to discover. Start with the topics already burning in your mind. My favorite method to do this is with an old-fashioned brain dump. Set a timer, grab a pen and start writing every idea that comes into your head. The more ideas you write down, the more ideas will come to you. Don't think about whether or not they're good ideas or bad ideas, just get them all out.
Once your brain dump is done, you can go into the market and start looking at what the audience expects to learn. One easy way to do this is to check out the table of contents of some of the books on the market. You can also check out FAQ pages and top tips pages and listicles for topic ideas, all of which will give you an idea of some of the questions the audience has. You may already have some of these topics on your list from your brain dump, but if you come across any ideas that jump out at you, go ahead and add those to your list.
What you should have right now is a long, disorganized, jumbled list of topics. Perfect.
To organize this list, grab a new sheet of paper and create two columns, one for "yes" and the other for "maybe/not yet." Then start going through your topic ideas and moving them into one of these two columns. Anything that will definitely add value and answer the need your ideal reader has for this book goes into the "yes" column, and everything else will go into the "maybe/not yet" column.
When you've finished, you've got a complete list of topic ideas that you know are important to your audience and your book (and the beginnings of your chapter outline.)
Keyword research entails identifying the words that people will be using to find your book later when they go to a search engine looking for an answer. They aren't necessarily going to contain the title or the content of the book, but rather the focus or question the readers need answering.
This part of the process is often dismissed as being a part of marketing research, but I like to include it as a separate piece of research to be done before the book is written to help serve as a focal point. The clients who have done their keyword research before writing their books have had much more success with their marketing once their books were finished. Additionally, keyword research helps keep the author on task and on point, ensuring that they cover the areas their readers are looking for and using the language their readers are using.
Content research is the research most authors think of when they think about researching their books. This research includes the information, details and facts they need to pull together while writing their book. This includes the supplemental articles, data and charts the author might need to use to bolster their story.
Technically speaking, you can do content research at any time, and you will probably be doing at least some content research throughout the entire process. However, the clients who have completed their content research prior to writing tend to have a much easier time through the writing process. They're able to write longer and pause less often to check or verify any of those little details.
Time to put it into action
Now that you know the five key areas of research you need to complete for writing your book, set aside some time and start working through everything. You might have to put off writing your book and invest a few hours — maybe even a couple of days — to get it all done. But doing so will ensure you put out a much better and thought-out book that will reach your ideal audience and, ultimately, help you reach your goals.
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