How to Write a Non-Fiction Book

Seven years ago, I had so much I wanted to say. I began writing recklessly and randomly, telling my story in various ways.

Five years ago, my agent said people responded to my self-care ideas. My writing found a focus. I made “self-care” the hub.

Then I made a mindmap. Every idea branched off.

I read, I highlighted, I compiled lists and notes. I hoarded quotes and stories. I dreamed, I gazed, I thought, I prayed.

I researched. Not only books but scientific articles too.

Then I gave each chapter a home, inside a file, inside a box. I sorted my quotes, articles, and ideas and tucked them inside those files within the box.

I wrote chapters. I met with critique partners — we sharpened iron. Each new edit was placed into the file. It was a messy hodge podge.

We ate and drank, laughed and cried, and spurred each other on. No one does anything of value alone.

I piled everything into one document and sent it to my agent, who got it sold. A team of editors believed in what I’d written.

The first edit is done. (I love editors!) As of now, I have a title, but I can’t tell anyone until the board approves.

I’m not sure how the book finally gets finished. I don’t know what the cover will look like or when I get to write my acknowledgements, back cover, etc. I have much to learn, but you can be sure I’ll write another post telling you what happens.

Have you written a book? What was your process?

Your Book: Impacting the Final Product

I recently had a conversation with an editor at a medium-sized publishing house. She shared a few horror stories of difficult authors she has worked with over the years. Authors with giant egos and immoveable demands. Authors who argued and insisted they knew what was best.

I was quite stunned to hear this. Then I got sad and then a little mad. Isn’t it presumptuous to think that an author knows more than an entire team of experts at a publishing house?

There will always be times when an author must take control of some of the details of their own books and career. But authors of faith ought to consider a bit more of consistent humility during the publishing process. Here are a few reasons why:

1. The publisher is taking a risk, spending a great deal of money, and they want the book to succeed as much as you. I read one agent’s stats. Of the 2,000 proposals he looked at, he selected 20. Of those 20 selected I’m guessing a publisher bought 10. Publishers pour thousands of dollars into your book, usually more than $20,000 when it’s all said and done. They assign teams to consider titles, covers, fonts, layout, book length, back cover copy, catalogue copy, marketing and ad copy, etc. Your book endures several types of edits. Those of you who are published know it takes at least a solid year to edit, design, print, market and distribute a book, and the publisher is betting on you with the realization that only 10 to 20 percent of books earn back their advance.

2. Editors understand how important your book is. I recently read these comments from an editor:

When an author submits a text to an editor, the author has handed over a sacred object, one that has been countless hours in the construction, and into which the author has poured immeasurable amounts of his or her mind, body, and spirit. The author and everything he or she has put into a text becomes vulnerable to the suggestions, revisions, and deletions of the astute and discriminating editor. The author must trust the editor to do his or her job forthrightly, honestly, and in full awareness of personal biases and areas of intellectual and creative weakness.…. Manuscript in hand, the editor holds an object as precious as a newborn baby, and the posture he or she assumes is that of midwife, responsible for the nurture and health of the ideas to which an author has given birth.

3.  Editors are eager to change the culture together with you. They are for you, not against you. David Zimmerman, editor for InterVarsity Press, shares, 

On a good day I’m a midwife, holding authors’ hands and breathing anxious breaths alongside them, helping them through the arduous and emotionally wrenching work of bringing their gift to publication. I get to be a witness to the evolution of great ideas, to be the sounding board of audacious thoughts, to be the student of great undiscovered teachers. I get to celebrate countless milestones with authors, from the news of their book’s acceptance for publication to the signing of their contract to the registration of their book with the Library of Congress and the Copyright Office, to the book’s first printing, first sale, first review, first reprint. I even get to dole out money to authors, demonstrating the real material value of the thoughts in their heads.

4. God loathes pride. If you are a good writer, and I’m guessing you are if you’ve caught the eye of agents and editors, your gift comes from God. God crafted you with the ability to put words side by side in a way that causes people to think, cry, and laugh. Your gift impacts the world. The only response to that gift is gratitude.

Praying for your agent, editors, design team, publishing house, and readers is a much more productive way to control the outcome of your book. Trust that they want the same result as you.

Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.

(James 4:10)

How has God asked you to demonstrate humility during the publishing process?


Using Pinterest to Pump Your Platform


My 23-year-old daughter claims I say it wrong.

“Mom, it’s pin plus interest. It’s pronounced pin-trist, not pinta-rest.”

It’s an awkward name.

I’d been hearing about Pinterest for months but had no reason to learn how to pronounce it correctly. I didn’t have time for a silly little social media site where people look at photos of puppies, share recipes, and plan weddings.

But social media guru Ingrid Schneider told me it might be a good way to market my book. Surpisingly I got hooked.

Now I’m convinced every author should consider Pinterest as a potential marketing tool.

What is Pinterest? In simple terms, Pinterest is a virtual bulletin board. Instead of using words or tweets, people simply create bulletin boards and pin photos to the boards. Others stop by to see what they’ve pinned. If they like it they re-pin the images on their bulletin boards.

What makes Pinterest unique compared to other social media sites? First, Pinterest requires little effort. If you see an image you like, you click “re-pin” and tell it which bulletin board to go to. Another unique feature is that Pinterest lets you look for images by topic, in addition to people.

Is it really that popular? The site was created two years ago but has since witnessed phenomenal growth in the last six months. Check out these stats:

*In mid-December 2011, the total unique visits hit 11 million. As of February 7, 2012, when I wrote this article, Pinterest was gaining 11.7 million unique monthly visitors.

*Pinterest has 40 times the number of followers it did six months ago!

*Pinterest is one of the top 10 social media networking sites, driving more traffic than Google+, LinkedIn and YouTube combined!

Pinterest blossomed in the middle of the country and its primary followers are women aged 25-44, although that is quickly changing. Men make up 20% of users. As companies see the advantages of putting their products on the site, demographics will surely change.

So is Pinterest The New Amazing Network? Chris Brogan says, “It will be for those who use it to build a relationship that goes beyond the pins. Any network is serviceable, if you learn to interact and help people satisfy their needs.

What are the ways people are using Pinterest?

*Retailers are posting images of their products. Pins contain websites that bring viewers back to the store’s website, leading to sales.

*Bloggers are putting images on Pinterest that link back to their blogs. Imagine how one cool image could go viral and share your blog’s link thousands of times!

Can you show me some examples of how people are using Pinterest to market things?

*Tourism –12 Reasons to Visit Buck’s County

*Since my own book won’t be released until March 2013, and I don’t have a title or cover, I’m promoting my counseling practice.

*Companies like Etsy, Nordstrom and Lands’ End are developing a presence on Pinterest. My friend Jim Simon pins his Koostik. Food bloggers showcase their best recipes. Tech reporters list their favorite gadgets.

So how might an author use Pinterest?

*Use it to create a story line or brainstorm ideas about characters, settings, time periods, costumes, architecture, themes, etc. I noticed author Chris Bohjalian started a board for his latest project.

*Upload images of your book cover and post it on a bulletin board of your favorite books. The people who started the site ask that you keep self-promotion to a minimum and be sure to give proper credit to your pictures.

So how do I get started?

Pinterest is an invitation only website, so you can ask someone who is currently a user to invite you, or ask for an invitation from the website.

Since I write about self care, I thought it would be important to remind you that you don’t have to interact with others on Pinterest and you don’t have to use it for marketing? Fellow WordServe author Katy McKenna has been caring for ailing parents for ten years. Here’s what she says:

Pinterest, in a weird way, is saving my life—and not just my creative life. Because I instantly got hooked, there were no longer enough hours in the day to keep up negative news. I get a kick out of scanning pics and finding those that remind me of the people, places, and things I’ve enjoyed over the years. Now I am thrilled with happiness if I spot on someone’s board a bouquet of roses in my favorite color combo—rust and purple. I am catching myself LOLing about silly stuff like I used to. JOY.

A few more links:

A beginner’s guide

Set up your author Pinterest profile in 10 easy steps

The power of the re-pin

21 must follow Pinterest users  

More tips for getting started

Making your website pinnable 

How to bring traffic to your blog using Pinterest

13 tips and tricks for cutting edge users

The ultimate guide to Pinterest

Everything you need to know about Pinterest

Why more men should join pinterest 

7 examples of brands that pop on Pinterest

56 ways to market your business on Pinterest

Are you using Pinterest to pump your platform? If so, how? If not, why?

7 Ways to Do Book Dedications

Ever since I imagined writing a book I imagined my dedication page. I’m not talking about the acknowledgements page where you thank everyone who ever helped you; I’m talking about that mostly blank page tucked in the beginning of a book, after the title page and publishing credits.

Many people give a clear dedication to a spouse for all his or her longsuffering, but some book dedications are cryptic — they proclaim a public thanks while alluding to stories more interesting than the book itself.

I am fascinated with the topic of book dedications because there is always a story behind the story. There’s a reason the author wrote the book in the first place, and there is often intrigue behind the dedication — a story or relationship we may never know. Here are seven examples of book dedictations:


A.A. Milne’s dedication to his wife in Winnie the Pooh:

To her – Hand in hand we come Christopher Robin and I, To lay this book in your lap. Say you’re surprised? Say you like it? Say it’s just what you wanted? Because it’s yours — because we love you.


Betty MacDonald to her sister in The Egg and I

To my sister, who always believed that I can do anything she puts her mind to.


John Steinbeck to his friend Pascal “Pat” Covici. As Steinbeck wrote Journal of a Novel: The East of Eden Letters, he often mentioned the things he was tinkering with or building around the house. At one point, Pat asked Steinbeck to make him a box; Steinbeck joked that the only specification was that Pat shouldn’t be able to fit inside it. When Steinbeck finished East of Eden, he placed his 250,000 word manuscript into a mahogany box he had carved and sent it to Pat. The note he placed on top became the dedication page of the novel.

Dear Pat,
 You came upon me carving some kind of little figure out of wood and you said, ‘Why don’t you make something for me?’ 
I asked you what you wanted, and you said, ‘A box.’ ‘What for?’ ‘To put things in.’ ‘What kind of things?’ ‘Whatever you have,’ you said.
 Well, here’s your box. Nearly everything I have is in it, and it is not full. Pain and excitement are in it, and feeling good or bad and evil thoughts and good thoughts – the pleasure of design and some despair and the indescribable joy of creation.
 And on top of these are all the gratitude and love I have for you.
 And still the box is not full.


Random blogger to actor Colin Firth in her future, hoped for book

Thanks for playing Mr. Darcy, and for wearing that white shirt in the lake scene.


J.K. Rowling to Sean PF Harris (the first of her friends to learn to drive and the first with whom she discussed her ambition to be a writer) in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

For Sean PF Harris, getaway driver and foul weather friend


C. S. Lewis to his God-daughter Lucy Barfield (age 12 when he began the writing the book and age 15 when it was finally released) in The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe

My dear Lucy, I wrote this story for you, but when I began it I had not realized that girls grow quicker than books. As a result you are already too old for fairy tales, and by the time it is printed and bound you will be older still. But some day you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again. You can then take it down from some upper shelf, dust it, and tell me what you think of it. I shall probably be too deaf to hear, and too old to understand a word you say, but I shall still be your affectionate Godfather


Dave Cullen to those injured and killed in Columbine

For Rachel, Danny, Dave, Cassie, Steven, Corey, Kelly, Matthew, Daniel, Isaiah, John, Lauren, and Kyle. And for Patrick, for giving me hope.

What are some of your favorite book dedications? To whom will/did you dedicate your book? What will you say? How will you say it? 

Organizing Your Non-Fiction Writing

Non-fiction Writer Friends,

Do you wake up with brilliant ideas for your writing, but struggle with the outline when you sit down at your computer?

I do.

When I have an idea for a book, I grab a piece of paper and draw a circle with the main idea in the middle and the spokes become all the topics I could use to fill in the book.

Once I begin, my writing becomes haphazard. First, I start telling stories, and then I try to convey strong ideas by inserting subtitles and explanations around my stories. Often it seems like I’m going backwards, trying to fudge an outline around my stories. If you’re thinking this is a path to frustration, you’re right.

Sometimes I wish I had a simple and clear method for outlining each chapter.

Two months ago, I attended a speaker training led by speaker and comedian Ken Davis. Previously the workshop was called Dynamic Communicators Workshop, but now Ken is teaming up with Michael Hyatt, Chairman of Thomas Nelson Publishers, and they have renamed the workshop The SCORRE Conference.

At this workshop, what I learned about speaking easily translated into my writing. The SCORRE method gave me an easy template for both. Attendees of the SCORRE Conference are taught how to pick one of two choices for their talk: It will either be enabling or persuasive? It can not be both.

The reason for the choice is because it forces you to distill your talk into a single objective and forces you to stay on track. This is important because 75% of people leave a presentation with no idea of what was communicated. Even sadder, 50% of speakers cannot articulate the objective of their talk.

With my new strategy in mind, I went back to my previously written chapters so I could clean them up and make them purposeful. As I read my first chapter, I wondered, “Is this a persuasive chapter or an enabling one?” To make things more confusing, I came across a quote attributed to Zig Ziglar:

“All great books convey the HOW and the WHY.”

For awhile I wrestled with the direction. Should I have my book be a WHY or a HOW? Should I make each chapter contain a WHY and a HOW? Was there a way to incorporate Zig Ziglar’s quote and adhere to the SCORRE method?

As I prayed, the answer appeared. The bulk of each chapter was a persuasive speech — It answered the question WHY.  But, at the end of each chapter I had tips for implementing the chapter ideas — these became the HOW.

I think I finally came up with a really good way to organize my non-fiction book.

(Just to clarify, if I were giving a speech, I would still pick a HOW or a  WHY, not both)

What about you? How do you organize your non-fiction writing?

*A few years ago I bought Ken’s book Secrets of Dynamic Communication. The book was helpful, but to be honest I did not implement his method until I attended this workshop. Now that I’ve learned the method, it’s all I’m going to use. There is a SCORRE conference coming up in April in Rome, GA and another one back in Vail, CO next October. I highly recommend writers attend.The accommodations were deluxe, the coaches were supportive, the opportunities for networking were immense, and the learning was easy due to the skill and humor of Ken and his associates. I’ve been to many speaker conferences but this was by far the best.

Social Media – When Less is More

When I first joined Facebook I thought, “This is ridiculous. Who would ever do this?”

But I was told if I ever wanted to be considered by a book publisher, I better have an author platform. One of the foundational ways to build a platform is by using social media venues such as Facebook and Twitter.

So I grudgingly used my Facebook account. I logged in once a week to see what others were up to.  But then a weird thing happened. I discovered I loved social media. I made real friendships online and looked forward to hearing from my “peeps.” I enjoyed getting ideas and opinions from people all over the world. I loved knowing what people were thinking and talking about. I looked forward to laughing, crying, and praying with my online friends.

As soon as I mastered Facebook, I noticed authors talking about something called Twitter. Twitter seemed overwhelming so I read a few books about it:

*Twitter Revolution by Warren Whitlock and Deborah Micek. I wrote about it here

*Twitter Means Business by Julio Ojeda-Zapata You can order it here.

I learned that Twitter is very different from Facebook. Twitter is a powerful tool for specific purposes such as checking how snowy the roads near Vail are, what Judge Belvin Perry is ordering Casey Anthony’s jurors for lunch, discovering what the police are doing near I-70, talking out loud to politicians and celebrities, and telling companies about their bad (or good) service.

As I settled into my social media routine, I saw my heroes adding tens of thousands of friends, so I did likewise. I added and “friend-ed” everyone who crossed my path.

It makes sense. We all want to be part of the group like this little guy:

My friends and followers list grew, but I dreaded getting on my computer. I didn’t know whom I was talking to, and I felt like I was being spammed when I wanted to relate. So one day I deleted all 800 of my Twitter friends and started over.

I carefully and deliberately chose which friends I would follow (now less than 100) and paid little attention to who was following me. Every few months I clean out my Facebook account. I unfriend lurkers, spammers, and people who spew their message but never interact. One thing I’m proud of is that people I interact with on social media are not strangers, they are my friends. I have found several benefits to cutting back:

  • I am more eager to login to my Facebook and Twitter accounts.
  • I have built relationships with my online friends, so when my book gets published I won’t be a nameless face spamming everybody.
  • My friends and followers are more likely to pass my books, videos, and blog links to others.
  • I’m interacting with people who share my interests.
  • I’m filling a social need by relating instead of spamming. Research shows that people form communities on Facebook and Twitter in order to get social needs met.

More and more people, whose expertise I admire, are limiting the ways they interact on social media. As authors we are continually trying new marketing ideas, so we experiment, take risks, and try new things. I don’t know if the way I do social media is right for you…

Do you think more followers and friends are better? Why or Why Not?

How to Get Any Book Into Your Lap…Free!

Have you ever been in the situation of wanting to look up one item in a book, but the book is either expensive or obscure. Chances are you turn to your local library. Many people know about Interlibrary Loan (ILL) within their own library system, but what happens if your library system doesn’t carry a specific book?

In my last post I described how to get ahold of serious research in professional journals by accessing your library’s computer database. Today I want to describe how to get any book, from places all over the world, and have it delivered directly to your library branch?

The first time you do this it may seem tedious, but once you know how, it’s a breeze. I typically order about a dozen books a month this way. Your library system may vary, but here’s how my library does it:

  1. Bring up my library web site: Jefferson County Library
  2. Click on maroon-colored icon called “Research tools”
  3. This brings up:  “Subscription Databases A – Z” Click on this.
  4. In the Databases A to Z, click on “W” and choose “World Cat” or scroll down to “World Cat” Click link.
  5. Search for book. It is best to put several items in the search boxes. For instance, the book title and the author. Here I selected the title Seeking Peace and the author Mary Pipher. (I write about self-care and wanted to see how a bestselling author and psychotherapist burned out and subsequently learned to simplify her life.)
  6. When the world catalog finds your book, either print out the page, move it over to a dual monitor, or jot down the most important items: Publisher, year, and the OCLC number. (For Mary Pipher’s book the OCLC number is at the bottom of the page and is 233547957)
  7. Now go back to your library’s main screen. Choose the blue icon on the left side, “Find Library Books and More” – You will find a link called “Interlibrary Loan Request.” Double click. At the bottom of this page is a link called “ILL form for Books/AV Materials.” Click on that.
  8. Fill out the author, title of book, publisher/place/date, format (book, video, DVD), pick-up location (for me that is “Columbine Library”) and OCLC number.

*I don’t fill out the part about paying money for the request or the “cancel if not filled by date” information.

At the bottom of the page, I type my name and library card number.


Almost any title from across the miles will be delivered right to my library. It takes about a week. If you find this confusing, go into your library and ask how you can use the World Catalog and Interlibrary Loan. Chances are your librarian has a bookmark with instructions already printed on them.

I’m curious, did you know you could do this?  What research tips do you have to offer writers? 

Besides Using Google, How Can I Do Research for My Book?

Research Tools for Fiction and Non-fiction Writers

The majority of writers know how to use the Internet when they need to investigate a topic. Most of us pop onto a search engine like Google, bing, or Yahoo! Search and type our subject of interest into the search box.

But let’s say you are researching a term like “cancer.” Thousands of sites are going to show up. Some may offer helpful material, but many of the links are going to be useless. You may get scams and offers of miracle cures all mixed in with legitimate websites.

So how do you sort through all the extraneous material to get to the good stuff?

Here’s a simple trick I always use: Type the words “site: edu” after the term you are searching. (Don’t use quotation marks.) Inside your browser it’s going to look like this:

cancer site: edu

Now, the first websites that are going to be listed have been sifted through an educational institution. You are much more likely to find helpful material for your writing.

I write about self-care, so let’s say I have a question in my mind like, “I wonder how listening to music benefits cancer patients?”

Once again I could Google my question, but how will I know if the answers are valid? Maybe someone wrote them on a blog post without verifying the facts. Wouldn’t it be nice to know that the answers have been studied scientifically? Vetted by other scholars? Wouldn’t it be nice to know how the study was done, and whether the research was current?

Even as recent as ten years ago, you had to search tomes or giant stacks of professional journals in an actual library in order to get valid research. But with today’s computer technology it is simple to access serious research for your fiction or non-fiction book.

Hang with me here. It’s not as difficult as it might sound.

My library here in Littleton, Colorado (Jefferson County Library) lets me access professional journals from my home computer. I’m going to show you how Jefferson County’s library system does this. Your library system may vary, so If you need help, ask your librarian for assistance. Also, you need to make sure you have a library card so you can access the system. Here’s what I do:

  1. I go to Jefferson County Library’s web site
  2. I click on the maroon icon labeled, “Research Tools”
  3. I click on “Magazines and Newspapers” (on the left-hand side)

*My library subscribes to something called EBSCOhost, which provides online databases to libraries worldwide. All libraries are different, but most will give you access to two “workhorse, all-purpose” databases: Academic Search Premier and/or ProQuest. These allow you to search specific topics under a broad umbrella rather than having to narrow your research to certain journals (e.g. nursing journals or psychology journals).

Now you’re going to guess at some key words to put into the search box. I start by entering the words:

 affects music cancer patients

This next part is important:

Before I click the search button, I narrow my search by using limiters:

I want to limit my search to scholarly material because I don’t want information to come from non-scholarly magazines such as People or Newsweek, so I check “Scholarly (Peer Reviewed) Journals.”

I only want to look at the articles where I can read the entire article, not just the summary or abstract, so I check “Full Text.”

And lastly, I want the research to be current, so I’ll limit the date to the last ten years.

As I find articles, I look to see which key words are noted so I can try searching those if I’m not finding what I need. When I find my article, I can read it online, print it out in PDF format, or even email it to others or myself. If you are a visual learner, maybe a video showing how I do research will be a helpful addition.

 Do you have some research tips to offer other writers?

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