by Laura Sherman
A prescriptive nonfiction book is a how-to book that gives someone direction or information on a subject. Rather than tell a story, it gives readers a better understanding of an area of life. People wishing to improve a skill or educate themselves on a topic would reach for this kind of book.
Prescriptive nonfiction books might include:
CEOs, business leaders, and entrepreneurs are great candidates for writing a prescriptive nonfiction book. These select industry giants often have the wisdom to share that can help others.
If you’re reading this article, you most likely have a concept for a book and are wondering whether you should follow through on that idea. After all, it will take you hundreds of hours to put your ideas into a form that others will want to read. Or will they? That’s the question I hear most from new authors.
To answer that question, allow me to ask a few more:
If you’re an expert in a field and have a unique and specialized focus, most likely others would like to learn from you. Maybe you understand how to decorate an Airbnb to maximize your ability to rent it out, or maybe you can produce a full-length feature film on a shoestring budget. Over the years I’ve heard many intriguing pitches. The possibilities are as wide as one is creative.
Anyone who has taken the time to study a subject thoroughly, drilling down to gain insight into a field of knowledge, probably has at least one book within them. For instance, maybe you’ve achieved a master’s degree relating to the effects of global warming on a specific ecosystem, or maybe you have developed tasty recipes for certain restrictive dietary requirements. Your hard-won research deserves an outlet so that others can learn and benefit from what you’ve discovered.
When I first learned to play chess, I was taught how all the pieces moved, then told to “play.” I was nine and found the experience a tad overwhelming. When it was time to pass on my love of the game to my first child, I realized I could improve on this technique of teaching.
I started teaching my son when he was four by introducing him to one piece, the rook. I focused on how it moved and made sure he understood that before I moved on to the bishop. He soon learned how to play proficiently, and this success propelled me into teaching hundreds of other young kids. I felt this technique was better than the normal way to teach, so I wrote the book Chess Is Child’s Play to help other parents become good chess coaches for their kids.
Anyone reading this article who has forged a new path in life has undoubtedly stumbled along the way countless times. Those errors you committed years ago probably paved the way to solutions that others can benefit from today. There is no need for others to scrape their knees on the same problems if they can read your book and learn how to avoid them.
If you answered YES to any of these questions in the subheads above, you should consider writing a prescriptive nonfiction book. Readers are eager to learn from you, so why not share your knowledge with them?
Being an expert in your niche area, you’re probably fluent in the language of the field. Depending on the subject, the terminology can be very specialized and complex. Remember that your reader is probably a novice and completely unfamiliar with these foreign words. I remember a time I went to a country on the other side of the world with a good friend and sat on his friend’s couch and listened to them speak their language for hours. Even though I had studied the language a bit before the trip, I was lost. I’ll admit, I felt left out. It wasn’t an enjoyable experience.
Don’t make this mistake with your reader; don’t allow them to feel left out.
To remedy this potential problem in your book, define all the industry terms you use. I think some people think readers will be impressed if they liberally sprinkle hard-to-understand technical words throughout their manuscript. Trust me, they aren’t; especially if they don’t understand the words.
Remember, your goal is to teach; the goal is to be understood. Keep it simple so that everyone can get it.
Get the key principles out of your head and onto paper in the form of an outline. There are a variety of methods, but I usually bullet-point the important subjects and make sub-bullets for all the related topics. I’ll jot down a few notes under each to help me remember my main point for each segment.
This outline will form the table of contents of your prescriptive nonfiction book.
While your readers have picked up your prescriptive nonfiction book to learn more about a subject, they still want to be entertained. No one enjoys reading dry text.
Entertain your readers with exciting stories and humorous anecdotes that complement the lessons you wish to impart. When you’re outlining, you can add a few lines about these stories to jog your memory.
Very few people can absorb information without applying the data. It doesn’t hurt to include a few practical exercises in a prescriptive nonfiction book. Get people out of the mode of just reading and put them into action. The goal is to have them use your wisdom in their daily lives to reap the benefits.
Create assignments that are simple and easy to follow. Make it so that your readers can accomplish each task relatively easily and then perform that task again and again. If you feel they might fail, break down each step into even simpler steps that will help them achieve the overall intended goal. The last thing you want to do is frustrate your reader.
When you have your detailed outline worked out, begin by writing one chapter. This can be any chapter; you don’t need to start at the beginning of your book. I’d suggest starting with your favorite topic, one you know very well. You’ll gain confidence in writing that way.
Keep the above tips in mind as you write your first draft.
Continue to write a few more chapters, in any order that you like. Once you feel confident, start at the beginning and write the chapters in order. This will help with flow. However, if you write chapters out of order, you can always correct flow and transition issues later in the editing phase.
That reminds me: please don’t edit as you write. Just let the words flow onto the pages. A lot of new writers will want to rewrite and rewrite. This is just a waste of time. Get the first draft written. Then you can edit.
As you progress through your first draft, you might think of other segments to include in your prescriptive nonfiction book. This is great! However, don’t stop what you’re doing to write the new piece. Instead, add it to your outline. Then write it when you get to it if it occurs later in your book. If it comes prior to the chapter you’re on, complete the segment you’re writing before you add the new piece in.
When you complete your first draft, read your book all the way through and fix all the typos you can find. Make sure all the segments flow and the transitions work well. Look for any repetitions of ideas and remove them.
Next, you’ll need to hire an editor. Every writer makes errors, and these can be very hard to spot in your own work because you’re too close to it.
Although you might know an English major who can help you for free, I’d recommend paying to hire an experienced professional editor. He or she will be fluent with all the latest style and grammar points. Yes, these change over time. For instance, when I was young, it was proper to put two spaces after a period. Now it’s one. Honestly, countless grammatical points have changed over the last few decades. It can be hard to keep track.
If you can afford to hire two editors, that’s even better. One can do the heavy lifting and point out errors in grammar, style, transitions, and flow, as well as help you fact-check. The other can do a light review, catching any remaining little errors.
Once you’ve completed the editing phase, it’s time to publish. You can either write a proposal and find an agent and publisher or self-publish your book on a platform like Amazon.
Today self-publishing is very quick and easy to do. It’s the popular choice for most authors. And you have the added bonus that your prescriptive nonfiction book can really be any length. Just be sure that you’ve covered your topic thoroughly.
I can tell you from experience, sharing knowledge about a niche area of expertise with others is terribly rewarding. I continue to receive praise for Chess Is Child’s Play a decade after its release. I’m truly grateful when people write in to thank me for helping them teach their four-year-old child to play chess.
Of course, if you need some help writing your prescriptive nonfiction book, please email me. I’d love to help you!
Additional resources you might find helpful:
Your Guide to Hiring a Ghostwriter
How to Edit Your Own Book
A Ghostwriter’s Fee: How Do They Charge?
How Much Does It Cost To Hire A Ghostwriter?