7 Steps to Writing a Christian Nonfiction Book
What is a nonfiction book? It’s any book about a factual topic like history, biography, theology, and science. It includes “how-to” and “self-help” books. Such books contain reliable information, no fiction.
What makes a particular nonfiction book uniquely Christian? The content reflects Christian values. All writing has a slant, even factual writing, and Christian values should shine through in subtle ways to readers.
Far too many Christian writers get an idea for a nonfiction book and start writing. Some even think they are on a mission from God, yet go against God’s principles and start writing without planning or counting the cost (Luke 14:28-30).
1. Confirm the Market for Your Book
Many Christian writers say, “If I can just change one life, my book will be worth writing.” The reality is, if you are aiming at changing only one life, then you should simply talk to your next-door neighbor. Books are designed to reach a large audience, so you want to be sure people want to purchase a book like you intend to write.
Some Christian writers are content to give away their book and think the number of downloads equals the number of readers. That is far from true. Many ebook hoarders download thousands of books but read none. When you give away your book or sell it for 99 cents, you advertise it has little or no value.
So, how do you confirm there is an existing market for your book? Invest in a power tool like PublisherRocket. This software allows you to type in a topic. You’ll then see how many titles on this topic Amazon sells, how many copies each title sells, and the income each receives. This is probably the most powerful type of market research you can do. Competition is good; it proves buyers are looking for a book like yours. Write a better book, and you’re likely to get better results. Increases (sales) are essential, at least from what we learn from Jesus (Matthew 25:14–30). PublisherRocket is a quick and efficient way to do reliable market research.
2. Immediately Create an Author Identity
No, I’m not talking about writing under a pen name. I’m talking about having a “home base” on the internet to develop a following. You cannot expect to sell your book if you have not created a following.
Many Christian writers think God is going to bless their book with wide visibility and acceptance miraculously. No book promotion is required. That’s magical thinking. You occasionally hear of “miracle book sales” because they are such infrequent exceptions, not how God works. Even books by non-Christians occasionally go viral. God blesses those who do the work (Proverbs 16:3).
What the cheapest way to get maximum exposure? Start a blog at the same time you start writing your book. That gives you the time to tell people about yourself and your book. Importantly, you can collect visitors’ email addresses and email them when you release your book. They will buy because they feel like they know you, and if your book is good, they’ll spread the word about your book in their church and through their social networks.
Don’t make the mistake of using a free blogging website. You want your own site, domain name, and hosting so you gain maximum benefits. Start right from the beginning.
3. Have a Budget
Too many Christian nonfiction authors think there are only two steps to producing a book. Step one is to write a book, and the second is to publish it on a no-cost site like Amazon.
Sadly, that idea has led to some horrible books flooding the marketplace. Without a budget, these authors depend on “Beta Readers” they find on Facebook. That is usually a case of the blind leading the blind. Authors honor Christ best when they invest money in developmental editing and then copy editing. Authors need to select competent editors based on their training and experience, not their cheap price.
Then they want to engage helpers to design an appropriate cover and do the interior design and typography for self-published print books. Even an ebook requires expert skills to produce if you want a professional look.
Why does this procedure honor Christ? Because this is how you produce a quality book inside and out. Because you are paying people with unique talents, not begging them to work cheaply or for free. Just because you are writing on speculation does not mean others must work on the same terms.
How much does publishing a book, including a nonfiction book, cost? Somewhere in the neighborhood of $2,500. How do you get that money? From a job, from savings, from investors, or by borrowing it. It takes money to make money.
There are far too many inferior Christian books on the market. Christian writers need to invest in themselves and their readers by paying for quality editing, a cover, and interior design.
4. Research Your Book
Nonfiction books require research. You need to set aside time, and usually, some money, to do that. The Lord has provided the internet, enabling us to do an astounding amount of research from our desks. But for nonfiction, we often need to buy books on our topic and even take trips to special libraries or to interview people.
Many who write autobiographies don’t dig deeper than their own memories. That may work in some cases but is dangerous for those who share their stories of abuse, hoping to support others. There are untold numbers of books like this, and probably hundreds, if not thousands, are being produced each month. Writing the story may be therapeutic for the writer, and that’s good, but it is a downer for others. Just because a person has written a book does not mean it should be published. The only redemption for such books is when the person’s story is interlaced with psychological facts and biblical truth.
How do you do research? You start with your basic ideas about your topic. You break out these ideas into chapters and include secondary ideas you think belong in each chapter. That’s your launchpad.
Next, you list all the primary sources that are relevant to your nonfiction topic. These will be books, journal and magazine articles, films/videos, and credible blog posts. Interviews with experts are always valuable, and that’s easier than ever with Zoom.
You may start with a basic chapter outline, but it will change as you do more research. This is how you develop a nonfiction book.
5. Write Your First Draft in a Flash
Write your nonfiction book based on your outline. You’ll have researched each point, so the writing can be as fast as you want it to be.
The thing that slows the process is simultaneously researching as you write. Do all your research before you start writing. Miss something? Mark the spot and fill it in before you do your second draft.
Many new authors think they write only one draft. That’s the amateur “one and done” group. Seasoned writers want to write their first draft as rapidly as possible and then fine-tune it in the second or third draft. Their best effort is what goes to a developmental editor. An author will then do a final draft after that. With all changes made, this draft is what an author sends to a copy editor.
Many new authors are confused about the difference between a revision and an edit. In my view, authors are ill-served when they try to copy edit their own books. They are blind to gaping holes in content and grammar. Revision is not editing. The revision process is the opportunity to make better word choices. Swap paragraphs around. Add new sections and delete others. Authors revise their manuscripts to add clarity. Your first draft is like a lump of clay. Revision is shaping it into something beautiful. Editing comes after revision.
6. Produce the Book
After complete editing, you produce the book. That includes the cover and the interior design I mentioned earlier. If you intend to honor the Lord, you want to make sure your book is the best it can be in all regards.
The best place to distribute a book is on Amazon. The world has access to it when you properly promote it. Draft2Digital.com is also an excellent place to sell books.
7. Promote the Book
Books do not jump off the shelves into the hands of grateful readers. Authors must tell others that their book exists. You can’t tell them once but must tell them repeatedly. Book promotion is a never-ending process.
Amazon and Facebook will tell you that buying ads is the best way to sell books. That is disastrous for most authors. The best way to promote your book is to go where your readers hang out. No, you don’t want to go to a book promotion page on Facebook. Authors go there, but book buyers don’t often seek books at such places. If your book is about church growth, for example, you want to promote your book on church growth Facebook pages, church growth blogs, and in-person at church growth conferences. If your book is about homeschooling, you want to go where homeschoolers congregate. This principle applies to all nonfiction books.
You always want to reach the largest audience possible for the least amount of money. You invest your time, but it is a wise investment if you have written a quality book.
Christian writers think God will part Red Sea waters, and their Christian nonfiction book will be a miraculous success. As far as I know, God only did that once. Today, if we want success, we must build bridges to cross water and then ask God’s blessing as we travel across it.