Book Review: Writing Nonfiction: Turning Thoughts into Books

by Mr. Cheap

In John Reed’s “How to Write, Publish & Sell Your Own How-To Book” he refers to Dan Poynter’s work repeatedly. In my review of that book, Tim from Canadian Dream also directed me to Poynter, so when my local library had a copy of his “Writing Nonfiction: Turning Thoughts into Books” I had to check it out.

Writing a book fits with the audience of Four Pillars in a number of ways. It is an often cited example of “passive income“. Blogging in many ways is the evolution of publishing newsletters, columns, articles and books (I suspect most bloggers harbour a secret desire to write a book). It is also an excellent component of any business development strategy (either blogging or publishing a book).

While Reed clearly makes a decent living from writing, he also isn’t getting as fabulously rich as his level of fame might suggest. I imagine it’s similar with Poynter. Two articles I read recently that made a lot of sense to me are: “A Reality Check About Blogging For Money” and “Reality check: You’re not going to make money from your blog“. These articles present a fairly convincing case that blogging will rarely lead directly to “living wage” level income. Instead it’s a way (like writing a book) to establish your expertise in an area, which can then be leveraged for something that actually will make money.

I’ve been really impressed with Squawkfox and how she’s taken her blog to the level that she got a publishing contract (and is now appearing on every Canadian media outlet – I’m just waiting until they get her to announce “Hockey Night in Canada”). I’m not sure where this will all lead for her, but I hope it’s somewhere great and lasting. She showed her “writing chops” on her blog and got noticed by a publisher, which has lead to a book that has gotten her noticed by Canadians. Maybe she’ll become the Canadian version of Suze Orman… Writing a book can be a deliberate attempt at creating the same sort of exposure for a project. I imagine it would also be quite powerful for career building: if you’ve published a known book in the field you’re working in, there should be little doubt about your expertise in potential employers.

Getting back to the review, while in theory they cover the same topic (writing a nonfiction / how-to book) Poynter’s book is very different from Reed’s, and the two compliment each other quite well. This book provides a “nuts-and-bolts” guide to get from a general desire to write a book to having a published book sitting on your desk (and in bookstores, which is also a different objective than Reed’s self-publishing book).

At the start of the book Dan Poynter iterates all the benefits of being a published author. This leads in to a discussion of how technology has changed the publishing process and presents a convincing picture that it is worthwhile to write and publish a book, and it has never been easier. He gives detailed advice on how to select a topic for a book, how to research the market (and evaluate competing titles). This is followed up by an explanation of all the parts of a published book (such as ISBN numbers and forwards), which are necessary, and how to produce each.

While Reed’s book glossed over the actual writing (he basically said just write it), Poynter has some great suggestions for getting the content in shape and for the revision process. One of my favourite ideas is to use a binder as a “working version” of your book. While you’ll obviously do the writing and typesetting with a computer program (like Microsoft Word or Open Office), you also print out a working copy and assemble it in a binder (separating out chapters). This even has a cover, spine and back page which are all mock-ups of the current version of your book. The suggestion is to carry this wherever you go, and use it to make revisions. You get to see your book coming together as the parts of the binder get filled in.

Another excellent part of this book is his treatment of enlisting help from others. He recommends that you get experts to review a CHAPTER of your book, rather than dumping the whole thing on them (he claims many more people are willing to provide feedback on a portion of the work, if they don’t have to read the whole thing). This has the added benefit of being able to target very specifically who you ask for what. If I was writing a personal finance book, and if there was a chapter dealing with RRSP, the first person I’d go to would be Preet (he, literally, wrote the book on RRSPs [non-affiliate link]). He may or may not have time to read through it and provide feedback, but he’d probably be a lot more willing to look at 18 pages than 144.

Poynter strongly suggests 144 pages as the length for a book (apparently printing is typically done in multiples of 48). Our blog posts are often around 1000 words, (and each page of Poynter’s book looks like it’s around 500 words), which makes a book seem a lot more doable (it would be about the equivalent of 72 blog posts).

He also provides good advice on how to solicit “celebrity blurbs” for the back cover and ad copy (the basic idea is to take a risk and ask, and to write a first draft to make it as easy for them as possible).

There is a bit at the end about finding an agent or publisher. This boils down to his suggestion not to send unsolicited manuscripts, and instead to try to talk to a publish or agent who specializes in your type of book (and if you’re talking to one who doesn’t, try to get a referral to one who does).

Overall I’d highly recommend this book for anyone thinking about writing nonfiction. It has a large amount of useful information that isn’t in Reed’s book (and vice versa) and, as stated above, the two compliment each other quite well.

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{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

1 as

A post (which may well become part of a future book) about two books, which are about writing books (possibly made up from blog posts). And on Friday I expect other blogs to post (in their weekly review) posts about this post… My head is turning.

2 Mr. Cheap

as: *grin* and ideally it will be a book about blogging, which other blogs will review, then we will have blogs linking to the reviews of the blogging book based on blog posts reviewing books about writing books.

Apparently blogging about blogging is one of the signs of a blog in decline. I hope that isn’t the case here…

3 Mike

as – This post was just an outlet for Mr. Cheap’s unconscious desire to write about “The Fox”! 🙂

I predict the book will be about a computer nerd/blogger and the women who love him….particularily the women with the word “Fox” in their name. 😛

Seriously – these look like good resources. I don’t have a lot of interest in book writing, mainly because of the time involved, but if I should ever find myself unemployed/retired then I would consider it then.

4 Mr. Cheap

Mike: you figured me out! 😉

5 as

Mike, Mr Cheap: A strong pillar of every blogger is an inspiring muse, declared or not…

6 Dividend Growth Investor

I would love to write a book some time down the road. But I doubt I would make any money from it. I read somewhere that the first book opens the door for you in the publishing industry and establishes you as an author. The second book however is the one where you make $$.. So if the first book is on dividend investing, the next one would be on drips and the third on using options ( following the path of a certain canadian dividend investor ;-)))) )

Some bloggers suggest combining your best articles into a free e-book.. This is an interesting idea that I have thought of doing myself, but time has been a limiting factor..

7 Mr. Cheap

DGI: I agree. I keep trying to get Mike to do the work for assembling a book, but he isn’t biting ;-).

I think you’ve got a plan there to go from dividends -> drips -> options *grin*

8 Squawkfox

I’m laughing so hard I’m actually crying. Seriously tearing up. Announcing Hockey Night in Canada? <— LOL!

This post was just an outlet for Mr. Cheaps unconscious desire to write about The Fox! I predict the book will be about a computer nerd/blogger and the women who love him …

LOL Mike! When I do get the honour of meeting Mr. Cheap I fear he will be terribly disappointed with “The Fox.” I’m just not that cool. Now Preet – He’s a reality TV star! Waaaaay cooler!

9 Mike

We’ve met Preet – he’s not that cool!! Ok…maybe he is. 🙂

10 MoneyEnergy

Ha ha – Nice review, I’d like to look at the book. I’ve thought of putting out an ebook on a topic related to my blog that I know a lot about, so this would be relevant. And I could see Squawkfox as a Canadian Suze Orman…

11 Dividend Growth Investor

Mr Cheap – If I were writing a book, then why not follow the steps of Mr Foster who went from Dividends to Drips to Options 😉
Of course as my work/life balance gets more and more hectic I imagine a day where the only thing I would be writing in my free time is my signature on credit card slips 😉

12 WhereDoesAllMyMoneyGo.com

Yeah, I’d definitely be more likely to read 18 pages than 144! Thanks for the link too.

I self published the book, and it was profitable (layout was very little), but not anything to live on. But it did get me an offer from a publisher which I have yet to accept only due to time constraints. Plus, the TV thing probably raises my stock when it comes to negotiating… 🙂

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