There is a big difference between what you need to know and what you need to do when you write a nonfiction book. One is theory; the other is practice. What follows is a step-by-step look at the process from both perspectives.
Theory: This should be your first step. It organizes your thoughts and helps you plan every aspect of your nonfiction book from purpose to promotion.
Practice: Planning requires a proposal, which can be time consuming and often frustrating. It forces you to conduct research, answer tough questions for yourself or a publisher, and to think deeply about your book.
Theory: This is the heart of the matter, the message you intend to convey, what goes between the covers. It is the content of your book and the most labor-intensive activity.
Practice: Even though the content is most important, there are many other sections of a book we rarely think about when we begin, such as what goes in front and in back of the content and on the covers. Writing requires skill, a long attention span, and a great deal of self-discipline.
Theory: Professional partners are the people who play a role in some aspect of your book—everyone from editors to indexers and from proofreaders to publicists.
Practice: First, you have know what kind of help you need then, you have to find that help and finally, you have to evaluate your partners. A publisher will supply many of these services, but if you self-publish, you are the project manager.
Theory: This is a series of activities handled by publishers or by you if you self-publish. Production details may seem daunting, but many of them are just a matter of preference or straightforward fact. Practice: Discovering your taste and preferences means looking at real books in the bookstore and taking notes on your observations. The more you can tell a publisher or your own graphic designer, the better your book will be.
Theory: Publishing puts your book in a form readers can access and read. When this step is complete, your book is tangible, unless it is published digitally.
Practice: Your role with a conventional publisher is to make sure everything is accurate before you go to press; your role when you self-publish, is to make sure everything is done and done correctly. A book designer can guide you, but this is step-by-step process you must learn and master.
Theory: In order to get the copies of your book out of your basement or warehouse and into the hands of readers, you have to let your target audience know it exists and how to buy it. The time to consider your promotional strategy is during the planning phase of the process, not when the book is printed.
Practice: “Considering your strategy” and knowing what that actually means are quite different. Marketing your book is an ongoing process that depends heavily on learning your way around the Web—having a website, writing online articles, understanding social media, so much more. Welcome to a whole new world.