First, let me clarify that I am talking about nonfiction books, as opposed to novels or fantasy or horror or science fiction or poetry or anything else that is a product of your imagination. William Zinsser, who wrote the definitive volume on the art of nonfiction writing, explains that “nonfiction writers are those of us who are trying to write well about the world we live in.”
The most important thing to know about nonfiction writing is that it must be based on the truth. Nonfiction is a broad category of writing about real things, people, events, and places. Nonfiction books include biographies, history, memoirs, how-to books, journals, textbooks, travel, and opinion pieces. In other words, you have a lot to work with.
Chances are that you already have an idea, or you wouldn’t have gotten this far. You think you know what you want to write about. The question is can you explain it to someone else in a way that they would understand it. Can you boil it down to a single sentence, such as My book is about ____________. Or, my book will help the reader to ___________ by doing (what?). In the first sentence you simply describe your subject matter; in the second you include a benefit—what you are promising the reader. Promises include solving a problem, meeting a need, explaining how to do something, sharing your own story as a way to inspire, presenting a point of view, teaching a technical process, and many more examples.
Your first challenge is to clarify the book’s subject matter and why someone would want to pay money to read it. Your second is to determine what to cover in the book. You can do this with a list, and outline, or a mind map. If you are not familiar with a simple mind ma, let me demonstrate one way to organize your ideas. The following is a simple mind map of the chapters in an e-book and ghostwriting:
It is simple because it only includes the subjects of each of the eight chapters in the book. To make it a little more complicated, let’s break out the content of each chapter.
Mind maps work well if you are a visual learner. If you are someone who does better by listening (an aural learner), you can dictate your thoughts into your phone or dictating software and then play it back. If you are a good old-fashioned purist, who prefers to outline, a mind map can easily be converted to an outline. (Though it is certainly possible to create a more detailed mind map, it will be smaller on the screen or take a larger sheet of paper to print it out.)
The Savvy Ghostwriter Outline
- So, you want to be a ghostwriter …
- What is a ghostwriter?
- Why would you want to be a ghostwriter?
- Why would you not want to be one?
- What does it take to be a ghostwriter?
- Technically and temperamentally
- Why would someone hire you?
- How do you get assignments?
- What kind of writing does a ghostwriter do?
- Business books
- Corporate histories
- Family histories
- Memoirs and autobiographies
- What do you absolutely have to know before you sign the contract?
- Questions to ask about the book
- Questions to ask about the client
- Questions to ask about the process
- Questions to ask about payment
- Contracts and Budgets
- The client’s contract vs. your contract
- Credits & acknowledgments
- What’s the difference between ghostwriting and just plain writing?
- Legal matters
- Why ghostwriting isn’t for sissies
- Back to the question: So, you want to be a ghostwriter?
Why go to all this trouble? Because this is the single most important thing you can do, whether it is a mind map, outline, or recording. Once you have organized your thoughts and gotten them down in the most detailed form possible, you have done the hardest work in writing your book. The rest is just filling in what you want to say under each of the subheads.