How to Write a Nonfiction Book in 10 Easy Steps

Guest Post by Jewel Allen.

Jewel Allen is an award-winning journalist, author, and ghostwriter who grew up the Philippines and now lives in Utah. She has a bachelor’s degree in English from Utah State University and runs a memoir publishing company, Treasured Stories.jewel-allen-photo-by-tina-tate At one time, she fronted a rock band and wrote songs. When that phase passed, she decided she was more cut out to be a writer. She is the author of a young adult paranormal mystery, Ghost Moon Night, and a political memoir, Soapbox: How I landed & lost a columnist gig, fought a prison, and got elected. Soapbox chronicles her journey from journalist to activist to politician, with lots of how-to’s on grassroots / political campaigning. Visit her at www.jewelallen.com.


Have you ever wanted to write a self-help book or memoir?

Oh dear, I can already hear you saying, what do I exactly have to write about?

Plenty. For starters, if you are a successful at your line of work, and I don’t mean just as a writer, you probably have been asked by people for advice or about your unique experiences. My husband, who is a veterinarian who has specialized in sled dog races the past decade, is sitting on a goldmine of stories. He is largely unmotivated, so it probably won’t happen unless I ghostwrite it for him.

But I know you book types out there. You are always thinking of ways to write about your life experiences and selling it. Which is perfectly fine. Not only can you add to your publishing credentials and make some money, you can also help other people figure out a solution for their problem and give them an armchair experience.

In my case, I wrote and published a political memoir called Soapbox: How I landed & lost a columnist gig, fought a prison, and got elected.soapbox_cvr_med

This is why. A year ago, I was running for city council and wished I could have gotten concrete advice of how to run for local office before I threw my hat in the ring. So I decided to write a book about my experience. I enlarged upon it by including my experiences running a grassroots campaign. Before long, I had a book.

Well, okay, so my political memoir didn’t get done quite so easy-peasy. But it was a surprisingly streamlined process. (For perspective, I am on my nth revision of my historical novel, and I’m thinking it might need at least one more revision. On the other hand, Soapbox took nine months from draft to published.) So if you are thinking of writing that self-help or nonfiction book, here is my advice:

  1. Social media is your friend.

When you publish a memoir, your thoughts, insights, and opinions will be laid out there for all to see. You had better get used to it. In this post-blog age, social media, Facebook in particular, can help you build a platform even before you publish your book. Another advantage: your posts will already be chronological in order and you can easily confirm dates.

2. Post daily.

If you want to remember good, juicy details, you need to write them all down. Unleash all your fiction skills to make a scene memorable. Later, when you are writing your draft, you will be glad you did. Trying to remember what happened a year later is really hard.

3. Being transparent can avoid lawsuits.

One of the things I worried about writing a political memoir is if I would get people mad with how I characterize them or how I share details. One of my litmus tests was asking, “If they read this Facebook post, will they feel insulted?” If the answer was yes, I reworded it or skipped the detail altogether. You can be honest without being mean.

4. You can test the waters as far as the interest in your subject.

When I started posting about running a grassroots campaign and running for office, those “likes” encouraged me to keep writing. I got a sense, too, of what people were interested in reading about.

5. Set a publication goal and stick to it.

For me, my goal was to get out my book before the next election. Just days before this year’s election, my book went live on Amazon. Nonfiction subjects are usually time-sensitive. If that is the case with your topic, set a goal to get it out while the topic is still relevant or fresh in people’s minds.

6. Write your posts in usable chunks.

Your posts can be a good springboard for the first draft of your book. Save yourself time and effort later by writing them in a format that is publishable.

Each post could be a story that can drive home your point.

7. Write in a consistent style.

Casual or serious tone, it’s up to you. If you are consistent, it’s a lot easier to stitch together your posts into a book. Whatever style you choose, make sure it’s engaging.

8. Have fun experimenting.

Often, my posts written at the end of the day were raw and real. Sometimes, it was the equivalent of that 1 a.m. drunken call, and I don’t even drink. But those angsty posts can also be interesting. Sometimes, that late hour is freeing, and you tend to be more breezy, chatty, and entertaining. Be judicious in what you eventually use in your book.

9. Expect to do a lot of extra writing from scratch.

Initially, I thought that my draft would basically be my Facebook posts. I was wrong. I had to do a lot of writing from scratch. But at least I had a good framework for a narrative.

10. Get pre-pub feedback from readers both familiar and unfamiliar with your story.

You want those familiar with the story to vet your accuracy. You also want people who aren’t familiar with it to give you feedback on any confusing parts. For example, I used some acronyms in the first draft which I decided to spell out later.

Jennifer Bennett

About Jennifer Bennett

Jennifer J. Bennett was born in Southern California as the youngest of six children. Her imagination began to develop as a child creating worlds in her backyard. Books have always played a big role in her life; favorites growing up were “The Country Bunny” by Dubose Heyward, “The Light in the Attic”by Shel Silverstein, and “Island of the Blue Dolphins” by Scott O’ Dell among many, many others. She also enjoys music, theater, travel, and cooking.

Jennifer moved from Southern California in 1989 and finished high school in Southern Utah where she met her husband Matthew Bennett who currently works in educational administration. They reside in St. George, Utah with four amazing kids: Haylee, Chase, Conner, and Libby. After her father was diagnosed with cancer, she began writing her first novel, “The Path”. Her father encouraged her to move forward with her writing and she has continued since. He passed away in 2009.

Jen, as her friends call her; can be found buzzing around California from time to time in search of magical elements from the past. She tries to balance fun, being a mom, and trying to be a grownup (which she really isn’t sure she ever wants to be).

Visit Jen’s blog at: http://www.jjbennett.com/

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