How to Write a Prescriptive Nonfiction Book

Prescriptive nonfiction is basically a how-to book that gives someone direction or information on a subject. It does not tell a story. Instead, it helps readers understand about an area of life. Readers wishing to improve a skill or educate themselves on a topic would reach for a prescriptive nonfiction book.

Should you write a prescriptive nonfiction book?

To answer that question, I’d like to ask a few more:

  • Have you developed a niche area of expertise?
  • Do you have specialized knowledge in a particular field?
  • Is your way of doing things better than the norm?
  • Would someone be able to do a task better and more efficiently by using your method?

If you answered YES to any of these questions, you should consider writing a prescriptive nonfiction book to share your knowledge with others.

Define your terms

Being an expert in your niche area, you probably are fluent in the language of the field. Remember, though, that your reader is probably a novice. Can you think of a time when you were surrounded by people speaking a language you didn’t know? If so, you probably felt left out. That’s not an enjoyable experience.

To prevent that in your book, make sure to define all the industry terms you use. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that people will be impressed with your liberal sprinkling of hard-to-understand technical words throughout the manuscript. The goal is to teach; the goal is to be understood. Keep it simple, so that everyone can understand.

Start with an outline

Start with an outline. Get the key principles out of your head and onto paper. I like to bullet-point the important topics, only jotting down a few notes at this stage. This outline will later form the table of contents of your prescriptive nonfiction book.

Next, take each important point and expand on it. Don’t write out the entire chapter now, but rather, express your thoughts in a few paragraphs of prose. Create further bullet points which will serve as your subheadings.

Add personal stories 

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 dry text.

Your readers will want to hear your stories and anecdotes that complement the lessons. When you’re outlining, add a few lines to jog your memory about these stories. 

Include practical exercises

Very few people can absorb information without trying it out. Add in a few practical exercises for your readers. It’s a good idea to get people out of the mode of just reading and put them into action. Make the assignments simple and easy to follow. The goal should be that they can accomplish a task and feel they can do it again and again. The last thing you want to do is frustrate your reader.

Starting your first draft

When you have your detailed outline worked out, start on one chapter. This can be any chapter; you don’t need to start at the beginning of your book. I suggest starting with your favorite section, one you know very well. You’ll gain confidence that way.

Continue to write each chapter, in any order that you like. You might find it helpful to start at the beginning, now that you’ve gotten your feet wet.

Don’t edit as you write. Just let the words flow onto the pages.

As you progress through your first draft, you’ll most likely think of other things to include in other parts of your book. Simply add them into the detailed outline; don’t stop midway to write that new segment. Finish the chapter that you’re on.

Final steps

When you complete your first draft, review it all and make sure it flows. Take out any repetitions.

If you are self-publishing, your prescriptive nonfiction book can really be any length. Having said that, be sure to cover your topic thoroughly. When you’re done, I highly recommend that you hire an editor to polish your manuscript and fix any typos.

Please understand that every writer needs an editor. We all make errors, which are hard for us to see because we’re too close to the piece.

Share your knowledge in your niche area of expertise with others. You’ll feel great when people write in to thank you! And if you need some help writing your book, please email me. I’d love to help you write your prescriptive nonfiction book.

Additional articles you might find helpful:

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Working With A Ghostwriter – What Steps Should You Take?

How Much Does It Cost To Hire A Ghostwriter?

Laura Sherman (119 Posts)

Laura Sherman, a.k.a. “Laura the Friendly Ghostwriter,” is a professional ghostwriter and author. She enjoys writing fiction and nonfiction and is happiest when juggling multiple projects. She recently authored “Chess Is Child’s Play” to introduce the next generation to the game of kings and queens. As a parent of three, and one of the top 50 women chess players in the United States, Laura wrote this book to teach any parent to teach any child, of any age, to play chess.