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  • Julian Talbot

How to write a non-fiction book

If you have been thinking about writing a non-fiction book, here is the process I use:

1. Block out a few weekends to write the book. How hard can it be? Right?

2. Discover, too late, that you need another hundred weekends and late nights.

3. Press on, and write until the entire thing blurs together and the the the, typos are invisible too ewe.

4. Breathe deep, take a walk around the room, and reach for (another?) whiskey.

5. Finally, hold your head in your hands and groan "Why, why, why ... did I ever sign up for this?!?"

6. Run out of ideas, so ask all your mates to review your dubious scribbling.

7. Implement their suggestions, especially the ones you didn't want to hear.

8. Find an editor who can turn the result into an actual book.

9. Accept all your editors recommendations (especially the grammar), revise the sections where your editor said "what on earth are you trying to say here", and publish it with a massive sigh of relief.

10. Bask in the glory of being someone who has good mates and a great editor.

It's dead easy this book writing business. Now just to make good on the multiple rounds of <insert alcoholic drink of choice> and favors that I owe a lot of mates.

Here is the latest result of my process. The dubious scribblings are mine, the good stuff belongs to my good mates as listed in the book and any semblance of readability belongs to my editor.

Oh, and if you're looking for more practical advice or tools, I meander along with the following process (more or less):

  1. Jot an idea in Evernote

  2. Use X-Mind to map out the structure, what should be in it, who my audience would be, and why anyone should read it.

  3. Use the webclipper to save relevant quotes, articles, and ideas in Evernote.

  4. Start writing in Scrivener. Scrivener is a writers dream and it's where I spend most of my time doing the writing, adding to the research folders, and moving chapters around up and down the pile until they seem to be in a logical order.

  5. Build some graphics in Powerpoint.

  6. Insert them using the 'Insert / Image linked to file' so I can mess with the graphics (er, update them) and Scrivener will just pick up the latest version whenever I compile the manuscript.

  7. Save some references into Zotero using the Firefox web clipper.

  8. Insert the references into Scrivener.

  9. Compile the document (including graphics and citations) from Scrivener to a PDF then cajole all my mates into looking at it and making suggestions, especially the ones I don't want to hear.

  10. Incorporate their comments.

  11. Pay an actual graphic designer on Upwork to improve my home-built graphics into something legible.

  12. Find a graphic designer on to design a cover - again relying on friends to help pick which one is best. You might be able to do this unassisted but I've learned that my sense of aesthetics isn't my strongest ability - or at least not in the mainstream of popular design.

  13. Find a good editor on

  14. Go through their comments. It turns out that using and editor doesn't make it any easier to write a book. It makes the book much better, but you still have to review their comments and tweak the text when they say things like "this paragraph is crap". Actually they usually say politely leave a comment "Not clear what you are trying to say here" but we know what they really mean.

  15. Sign up on or to publish the book and fill in the details. If you use you'll need to go to Bowker, preferably in your home country, to get an ISBN.

  16. Hire a graphic designer to convert the manuscript to a print ready version. Or, as I've done with this book, spend the time to trial and error the capabilities of Scrivener to output a document that meets the requirements for KDP - and some aesthetic basics (again relying on peers and people who who know about design).

Job done. Press the big red PUBLISH button, and get your weekends back. Until you realize that you might want to tell people that the book exists so you:

  1. Block out a few weekends to do some marketing.

  2. Discover that ...

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