Thirteen Important Rules for Writing a Non-Fiction Book


1. What’s your big idea? Your single, compelling idea? Summarize the idea in a sentence and return to it often. Don’t ever forget it (which you will be tempted to do half way through).

2. What’s the problem? What is the reason people need your idea? If your idea isn’t a solution to a problem people are having, it doesn’t matter how good of a writer you are.

3. Read ten great (bestselling) non-fiction books in your field. Look for patterns in their construction.

4. Get your chapter list figured out up front. You might change it, but you need to know where you’re going.

5. Spell it out. Don’t make mental leaps and assumptions. It’s better to state the obvious than assume the reader already knows.

6. Lay off the font gadgetry. Bold, italics, and underline are the crutches of a weak writer. If you write a compelling sentence, people will read it.

7. On the other hand, lots of headers are good for organizing thoughts.

8. You gotta keep in mind what the audience cares about, which is usually tactical top ten lists and next step nuggets, more than what you care about as a writer, which is the deeper issues at play. Don’t eschew the deeper issues, but throw them bones often.

9. Treat your big idea like a character. Don’t flash the goods at the beginning. Grow and develop it. Otherwise, people will never get to the second half.

10. Simplify. Simplify. Find the rabbit holes and wandering side trails and yank them out. If it’s good, keep it for another book, but it doesn’t belong in this one.

11. Run your idea through the wringer. Sling every opposite idea you can think of at it, then respond accordingly. Invite others to sling opposing ideas, too.

12. Trying to make everything line up thematically is important at rewrite, but not up front. First, get through the first draft.

13. Put then pen down. Eventually, you’ve gotta get on with the next one.


Inspired by this awesome blog post on Pixar’s 22 Rules of Storytelling.


About the Author

Len Wilson

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Christ follower. Storyteller. Strategist. Writer. Creative Director at St Andrew. Tickle monster. Author, Think Like a Five Year Old (Abingdon).