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The First Step to Writing a Nonfiction Book

Want to know the super-important, often-overlooked first step to writing a nonfiction book? (We consider skipping this to be at the top of our imaginary “nonfiction mistakes” list.)

If you want to write your memoir, a self-help/personal growth book, a spirituality book, or any kind of transformational nonfiction, this first step will save you a whole lot of time, energy, and moolah. 

Okay, okay, so what is the most important step in the writing process? 

The First Step to Writing a Nonfiction Book Is…

(drumroll, please 🥁)

R&D. Research & Development.

Think about it: any company that is putting something out into the world that they want to be of use and value to their clientele goes through a massive research and development process. 

Authors that want to sell books and help readers need to do R&D on their content, their stories, and their ideas before they write that very first page.

Why is Research Important in Nonfiction Writing?

Writing a book is a long, intensive process y’all. It can take YEARS. And you’ll be marketing your book for even more years after it’s published. 

You don’t want to write a book without making sure that your step-by-step methodology or storyline truly resonate with other humans! 

Nonfiction books sell largely based on word of mouth. If your message or story aren’t having an impact, people aren’t going to talk about your book and share it with their community. This means your book won’t have the opportunity to help and inspire others, which is probably (at least partially) why you want to write it.  

The only way you will know if your book content is working is to do that R&D step. 

How to Research a Nonfiction Book

Curious about how to test out your material? Here’s our favorite:

Teach an Online Beta Course:

  1. Take each chapter in your outline and create a teaching module with that chapter’s content. Think of each chapter as the curriculum for one lesson. 
  2. Invite friends and family or your online audience (if you have one) to a six-week course. One night a week for six weeks, you will teach one chapter of your content. Ask them to pay a super low price because having a little skin in the game makes people more likely to show up. Also, have each student agree to provide feedback. 
  3. Teach!
  4. After each night of teaching, send an email asking for feedback. 

If you are writing a teaching memoir: each week, tell a section of your story and then facilitate exercises to help your students use the lessons from your story. 

If you are writing prescriptive nonfiction: each week, teach one chapter, then guide your students through application materials. 

You will be shocked (SHOCKED!) at how much you learn through this process. Your students will give you real-time feedback on what is engaging, what resonates, what is impactful and what truly helps them. 

BONUS: You will be able to use student stories and successes in your book! (With all identifying characteristics changed, of course.)

Other ways to conduct R&D for your nonfiction book:

  • Write blog posts
  • Record YouTube videos
  • Give a lecture at your local library
  • Share stories at open mic nights
  • Coach clients one-on-one
  • Record a podcast

What Makes Effective Nonfiction Writing?

Content that impacts and helps your readers! 

And the only way to know what is going to do that is to test drive your stories and messaging. 

It’s the step before you actually start writing! 

(BTW, if you’re writing a self-help book, be sure to read this post about meeting your ideal reader.)

“But I Don’t Want to Do That!”

We hear you! A lot of authors are writing “for their heart or their art”. If that is you, please do it. You will benefit from getting your story onto the page. 

But if you want your book to fly off the shelves and to change other people’s lives, you need to do that R&D. 

If you want to be a thought leader with your book, you need to commit at a level that is higher than others are willing to commit to. 

This can feel vulnerable. 

It can take longer than you thought it would. 

It can be a lot of hard work. 

BUT! You will gain a special kind of confidence and expertise that no one can replicate.

Leave a comment and let us know what you think about this super important (very often overlooked) first step to writing a nonfiction book.


4 thoughts on “The First Step to Writing a Nonfiction Book”

  1. This post is extremely helpful. Let me understand something. First, make an outline of the chapters. Secondly, design the content in each chapter into a teaching to share with a test group. Thirdly, teach it! Okay I understand that. Should you do multiple things to test drive your material like a class, blog and podcast or just one thing? Is it good to use survey questions for feedback (I.e Survey Thank you. Ivery

    • Teaching your content in different ways will give you different kinds of feedback. A class will give you the opportunity for direct feedback because you’ll be talking to people. Blogs, podcasts, and surveys don’t always provide feedback, but they can still be helpful!


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