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Writing nonfiction books has its share of hang-ups, heartaches, and hassles, but after writing and publishing over fifty books over the past nine years, I’ve learned systems to help navigate from ideation to publication with less friction.
How you start your nonfiction book can make or break the overall success if you don’t have a fundamental understanding of what it takes to not just write a book but write a nonfiction book worth someone’s time and money.
Though I’m talking to my nonfiction authors out there, fiction authors can still take a few notes because it will help build a better understanding of your niche and ideal reading audience. That’ll create a more iron-clad bond with your readers that’ll have them sharing your books and looking forward to your next publication.
To paraphrase Ralph Waldo Emerson:
If a man can write a better book…though he built his house in the woods, the world will make a beaten path to his door.
But, how do you write a better book?
Have you ever heard the adage that “success leaves a trail of breadcrumbs”? It shows if you study successful people in your field, you’ll find hints about what it takes to succeed as well. Of course, with a little ingenuity and unique life experiences, you too can “write a better book” as Emerson said.
Do a little recon before putting pen to paper. Think of this process as less like research and more like observing the world through other people’s lenses. While you COULD write a nonfiction book with only your keen insights, you might lose sight of the bigger picture, since you’re so close to the subject.
Let’s explore few ways to research your next nonfiction book, so when you write your next manuscript, it’s ready-made for a hungry reading audience.
Table of Contents
Reading In What You Write
If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.
Read the books within your niche. For example, I’m neck deep in an eight-book series set to release in 2024. A large part of my homework before writing the books was to read every book about the topic I cover. No matter how big or small the author was, I read their books.
Having a different perspective helps solidify my views or even provides me with a different outlook to consider. And, because my niche covers the self-publishing industry, not all content is evergreen, so I think about how I can better frame the content so I’m not having to update every other month.
For me, this meant reading books by Joanna Penn, Honoree Corder, David Gaughran, Craig Martelle, and more. Even while I’m editing my manuscripts, I continue reading books about self-publishing so it keeps my insights sharp and my content relevant.
Studying the Competition
Naturally, Amazon is the ideal place to research published books. To model the successful authors, dive deeper into various marketing aspects that include the title and subtitle choice, the series name, description, and the metadata.
The metadata also includes the page count, the publishing imprint, and any relevant details about the publication. You’ll also notice the Amazon Best Seller Rank (ABSR), which is a great indicator for determining what authors to study. I believe all books within a niche are worth studying, but you want to see what books sell the best through the right marketing.
An even better indicator of performance is through reviews—the barometer of social proof. This part of the process can be fun, but also time consuming. I’ll show you the longer way first and will share a faster way next.
Find a book in your niche, then scour the reviews. I prefer starting at low-ratings, because every good book gets them. I’m not focused on trolls or ratings with no context. The best reviews are when you get an understanding of the missed opportunities. When you’re writing your book, you’ll have precisely what readers missed in the other publication. You’re fulfilling a demand.
Once you burn through the low one-star reviews, move your way up one star at a time till you get to five stars. By the time you’ve gone through hundreds of reviews, you should have a clearer understanding of what the author did right and wrong, according to readers.
And, yes, ignore the generic, “I like book. Book is great. I recommend book.” Those are useless. Again, you’re looking for substance and context, not a summary or commendation with no context.
If you go through a dozen books, you’ll easily have a laundry list of items to consider when writing your next book. You have the exact solution to what readers want most. Use it to your advantage.
Studying Beyond Books
Let’s look at other areas for online research. After all, if you’re planning to publish a nonfiction book, you should strongly consider getting outside sources and citations. Much like reviews, citing your sources serves as third-party credibility. It shows you know what you’re talking about it and have outside intel from a trusted source.
How much is too much? This depends on what you and your editor hash out after the first draft is done. For now, we’re still in the building stages, so gather all sources you can.
Start with my favorite resource, YouTube. Now, I know not everyone who posts a video on YouTube is qualified to dispense advice, but you’d be surprised at what you can find. Everything from interviews to workshops to live podcasting, you’re merely a keyword phrase away from finding a solution to your problem.
Search any number of content to suit your needs. Do a lot of sifting initially. Much in the same way you did research on books, pay attention to the language. Focus on what they’re saying if you’re looking to cite the source. But, also pay attention to the title of the video, the keywords used in the description, and of course, take a scroll through the comments—think of them like reviews. Just focus on the comments with substance, because you might even get recommendations for other excellent resources.
By far, the best way to search down what you need online is Google. If you prefer another search engine, that’s fine, but for the sake of this conversation, Google is really the only search engine I use beyond Amazon and YouTube.
And, as you probably guessed by now, you’re going to approach research much in the same way as you did the previous two options. Keywords, titles, reliable sources, and so on.
You could even go as far as to taking your list of keywords and compare their search volume through Google Trends. This tool will give you a more precise idea of what is in-demand online and what is on a downward trend. Knowing what people search for makes an enormous difference in discoverability and relatability. You’ll have the right keywords for discovery, and say the right words that your ideal audience resonates with most.
Leverage AI for Quicker Research
I completely understand that artificial intelligence is a divisive topic, but you’ll find that universally, AI can expedite your research process and can be reliable with the right fact checking systems in place. As you might be aware, the most popular generative AI tool is ChatGPT.
ChatGPT is great for sorting out ideas, researching topics, and managing all things related to your book project. Using information sourced through AI comes with one important caveat. You must fact check whatever you research through AI. They built these systems on all informational sources, both accurate and false.
I once requested five great quotes about success from ChatGPT and it gave me some great ones. Sadly, I couldn’t accept it at face value and would have to cross-check my information and find a source I could cite. Otherwise, it’s best to go without than to go with info that may not be accurate or even altogether true.
You can get free access to their GPT-3.5 model with no real-time information. Yes, it’s pretty nice, but often, you’re left with doing a lot of prompting and sorting through the details while still have to track down your sources. If you want real-time info, you have to shell out $20 per month. Is the upgrade better? I hear it is, but before you go plunking your money down, I have to show my secret weapon. It’s what’s given me an unfair advantage in my nonfiction research. In fact, if you follow my channel, you’ll have noticed I did two book writing challenges—one in a week and another in a day.
I leaned on my sponsors Dibbly Create for my nonfiction research. Other than reading entire books, Dibbly Create can handle all aspects of research in one place. No need to open three different sites or bookmark dozens of tabs.
Get access to this tool and follow along on the next steps when you visit my affiliate link at DaleLinks.com/DibblyCreate.
Using the pro plan, I get an entire suite of tools that includes KIP’s Research tab, among many other sweet features. I tap on KIP in the top right corner, select Research, then I choose Amazon – Search Term Analysis based on the region-specific domain, the search term, and the number of books I want to analyze.
If I want more granular results, I hit the dropdown for Advanced Search, then put in additional prompts or insights. I use Advanced Search precision research to filter through only relevant information.
Usually, it takes a few minutes for KIP to gather the analysis. In the meantime, I typically keep going about my work till it gives me a notification at the bottom of the dashboard. Once it’s set, I check out the output and save it to a note. This is key to organization since it’ll put it with your book, so you have something to easily reference while you’re writing later.
You’ll find out everything from popular titles associated with the keyword, all the relevant metadata, the rating and number of reviews, the Amazon Best Seller Rank (ABSR), the cost, and quite a few other items. Scroll past that and you’ll get in-depth thoughts about what readers thought about the book, including the strengths and weaknesses.
Books with one-hundred reviews are greater, bring back a more balanced view. Oh, and get this, KIP loads you up with keywords include short- and long-tail keywords. These words are what you normally have to spend hours combing the internet for, making sense of a veritable alphabet soup online.
The best part I like is the Competitive Edge. KIP literally tells me how to knock the ball out of the park. Fulfill these needs and you’ll win big time! This isn’t merely AI guessing its way through things. It’s AI presenting factual information on what customers expect from books in your niche.
The following example shows the Competitive Edge report for “how to self publish a book”.
Proficiency and Readability:
- The writing style of the book is highly praised by reviewers.
- The language used is clear, concise, and easy to understand.
- The book is written in a way that appeals to both beginner and experienced authors.
- The writing style is engaging and keeps readers interested throughout the book.
- The language proficiency of the authors is evident in their ability to explain complex concepts in a clear and concise manner.
Writing style aspects:
- Reviewers appreciate the practical and actionable advice provided by the authors.
- The authors’ expertise and experience in self-publishing shines through in their writing.
- The book is well-organized, making it easy for readers to navigate and find information.
- The writing style is informative, yet accessible, making it suitable for authors of all levels of experience.
- Reviewers appreciate the inclusion of personal stories and insights from successful authors, as it adds a relatable and practical aspect to the book.
What if you want to refine your research to a precise author and book? Grab the ISBN-10 code or ASIN in the Product details section of the book on Amazon. Again, you could ask specific questions or requests in the Advanced Search, just like the search term analysis tool.
Again, the keywords and competitive edge sections are what I appreciate most. When I was writing a book about How to Write a Book in 24 Hours, I searched other books similar to what I was producing. I got all the inside intel I needed to confidently pump out the outline for my book and write an excellent first draft with all the right sources readily available.
Check out the full report Dibbly Create provided me about a book similar to what I was wanting to write.
Title: How to Write a Novella in 24 Hours: And other questionable & possibly insane advice on creativity for writers
- Customer Rating: 4.4
- Total Rating: 713
- Best Seller Rank: 545969
- Price: N/A
- Daily Units Sold: 0
- Monthly Units Sold: 1
- Daily Sales (USD): N/A
- Monthly Sales (USD): N/A
Summary Reviews Category
- Provides useful and good advice on book covers and writing techniques
- Approachable and friendly writing style
- Tips on choosing ideas and sticking with them
- Emphasizes the importance of embracing criticism
- Contains great examples and inspiration
- Fun and concise reading that improves writing craft
- Offers loads of hacks and creative ideas
- Gives concrete steps and instructions for various tasks
- Provides tools for writing, publishing, and marketing
- Offers insight for hyper-creative minds with many ideas
- Brief yet informative and engaging writing
- Provides valuable information for a low price
- Inspires and brings up new techniques and ideas
- Useful for finishing stories and combating impostor syndrome
- Helpful for organizing ideas and getting to work
- Contains a monster grammar error on the first page
- Lacks in-depth discussion on plotting methods and fleshing out plots
- Not suitable for experienced writers looking for detailed writing techniques or self-publishing information
- Some advice may be common sense for indie authors
- May not be worth the price of $3.99 for the amount of content provided
- Could benefit from more focus on writing technique and self-publishing details
- Not recommended for readers looking for extensive information on writing and publishing
- May not provide enough value for experienced writers
- May not be suitable for readers looking for comprehensive instructions on writing and self-publishing
- Lack of emphasis on specific writing techniques and self-publishing strategies
- Could benefit from more discussion on plot development and character building
- Could have more in-depth exploration of different genres and writing styles
- Might not provide enough value for readers with advanced writing skills
- May not offer enough practical advice for overcoming specific writing challenges
- Lack of detailed instructions on marketing and promoting books effectively
- Could benefit from more examples and case studies for marketing strategies
Proficiency and Readability:
- The writing style of the book has been praised for being concise, engaging, and easy to understand.
- Readers have mentioned that the language proficiency of the author is commendable, with clear and effective communication.
Writing style aspects:
- Readers appreciate the author’s ability to provide useful tips and advice in a concise and to-the-point manner.
- The author’s approach to discussing covers and marketing strategies has been well-received.
- The use of real examples and mockups to illustrate concepts and ideas has been appreciated by readers.
- The author’s ability to provide concrete steps and instructions for various aspects of writing, publishing, and marketing has been praised.
Themes and Themes Handling:
- The book focuses on the theme of writing a novella quickly, and readers have found the treatment of this theme satisfactory.
- There are no specific comments on other themes explored in the book.
- Some readers have expressed interest in seeing more in-depth discussions about plotting and fleshing out plots before starting to write.
Engagement and Emotional Impact:
- The book has been successful in engaging readers and providing inspiration and motivation for their own writing.
- Specific scenes or passages that have had a positive impact on readers have not been mentioned in the reviews.
- There are no specific suggestions or requests made by reviewers for future books or improvements.
Topics and Themes:
- The most discussed topics in the reviews include the effectiveness of the advice provided, the usefulness of the book for writers, and the value for money.
Short tailed keywords (1-2 words):
Long tailed keywords (3-5 words):
- writing advice books
- self-help writing books
- novella in 24 hours
- writing technique
- writing a novella
- choosing which ideas
- criticize unconscious racism
- writing a novella quickly
- advice on creativity
- methods for writing
- improve your skills
- approach your writing
- designing a decent book cover
- marketing inspiration and advice
- worth a read
- Competition Edge 1: To have an edge over similar books, include more in-depth discussions about plotting methods and fleshing out plots before starting to write. This will provide readers with a more comprehensive understanding of the writing process and help them develop stronger storylines.
- Competition Edge 2: Include practical exercises or writing prompts throughout the book to encourage readers to apply the advice and techniques shared by the author. This will provide readers with hands-on experience and help them develop their writing skills.
- Competition Edge 3: Incorporate case studies of successful novellas or examples of authors who have followed similar techniques with positive results. This will provide readers with real-life examples and inspiration for their own writing journeys.
- Competition Edge 4: Expand the discussion on marketing strategies and provide more detailed guidelines on how to effectively promote and market self-published books. This will help authors navigate the competitive world of book marketing and increase their chances of success.
- Competition Edge 5: Include a section on overcoming common writing challenges and addressing common insecurities that writers may face. This will provide emotional support and encouragement to readers, making the book a comprehensive resource for both practical advice and emotional guidance.
As you can imagine, the YouTube and Google Search Term Analysis tools work the same way. Now, you’re getting the actual websites and URLs so you can easily fact-check your info. Again, you can’t really get that with free ChatGPT.
For example, for the search term “how to self publish a book”, the Google Search Term Analysis tool provided me this report.
Title: How to Self-Publish a Book: The Complete Guide to Publish Like a Pro
This article provides a comprehensive guide on how to self-publish a book. It covers the benefits of self-publishing, the steps involved in the self-publishing process, the cost associated with self-publishing, pricing strategies, and the potential income for authors. The article also offers tips and recommendations for self-published authors, such as the importance of editing, book design, marketing, and joining the indie publishing community.
- Self-publishing allows for greater diversity and gives underrepresented voices a platform to share their work.
- Self-published authors can earn higher margins compared to working with traditional publishers.
- Self-publishing provides authors with complete control over the publishing process.
- With advancements in technology, self-published books can have the same quality as traditionally published books.
- The steps to self-publishing include writing, book editing, book design, book metadata, publishing, distribution, marketing, and joining the indie publishing community.
- The cost of self-publishing varies depending on factors such as editing, interior design, book cover design, publishing, printing and shipping, and book marketing.
- Pricing your book should be based on competitive book prices in your genre and your publishing goals.
- Authors’ income from self-publishing is on the rise, making it a viable option for those seeking financial success.
- It is crucial to get your book professionally edited and to be cautious of overly expensive services.
- Global book distribution is essential for reaching a wider audience.
- Setting realistic author goals and getting involved in the writing and publishing community can enhance your publishing journey.
Number of words:
The article is approximately 1,289 words long.
- Book editing
- Book design
- Book metadata
- Author income
- Writing community
- Add more specific examples and case studies to support the benefits of self-publishing and the potential income for authors.
- Include additional tips and resources for book editing, book design, and book marketing.
- Provide insights into specific genres and niche markets within the self-publishing industry.
- Discuss the pros and cons of using self-publishing platforms other than IngramSpark.
- Include success stories of self-published authors who have achieved significant commercial success.
- The evolution of self-publishing and its impact on the traditional publishing industry.
- The role of self-publishing in promoting diverse voices and empowering marginalized authors.
- Comparing the pros and cons of self-publishing and traditional publishing.
- Exploring the challenges faced by self-published authors and how to overcome them.
- The future of self-publishing and the potential impact of emerging technologies on the industry.
Final Thoughts on Nonfiction Writing & Research
Research is your best friend when it comes to crafting that masterpiece. Whether you’re an old-school book hunter or riding the AI wave, take your time, double-check those sources, and watch the magic happen.
Get access to Dibbly Create’s Research tool, among five other options for outlining, description writing, summarizing, and more. And, that’s just scratching the surface of what Dibbly Create can do for nonfiction authors.
Check out this next video where I show you how I wrote an entire book in seven days using only my iPhone 7 and Dibbly Create.