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Five Nonfiction Book Structures for Fast Writing

Some writers pore over their books for years. Other knock them out in months. Still others churn out a complete manuscript in weeks. The reason for this can come down to writing style or ability–maybe you simply have the ability to write quickly–or to the format of the book they choose to write. Today, Rochelle Melander, author of Write-A-Thon and an expert at writing books in under a month, tells you how to write a good book fast by using five book formats particularly suited to this endeavor. NA

A new client called with a challenge: she had arranged speaking engagement for the next month and promised the coordinator that she’d have her book ready to sell at the event.

“How much have you written so far?” I asked.

She had an idea, but she hadn’t started writing the book. I’m a fast writer—I once co-authored a book in just 11 days—but I’ve been writing for years. Still, I love a good challenge, and I promised to help. My client came up with a book structure that could be written fast. Each page would hold a quote and her three-sentence reflection on the quote. The quotes would be arranged thematically.

It worked. My client finished writing and editing in time to have the books printed, bound, and ready to sell at her event.

Some book structures work better for writing fast than others. In my book, Write-A-Thon, I describe eight book structures that lend themselves to writing fast. Here are five of them:

  1. The Big Idea Book. A big idea book takes a single big idea and spins it into a short book that explores or explains the idea through anecdotes and evidence. Examples include Seth Godin’s Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us and Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die by Chip Heath and Dan Heath. Big idea books are not complex. They simply present one ground-breaking idea in a way that helps the reader get excited by the idea and pass it on. That’s why these books become runaway bestsellers—because they are both revolutionary and accessible.
  2. The How-To Book. The how-to book takes something you, the author, know how to do and teaches others how to do it, too. Chris Baty’s book No Plot, No Problem: A Low-Stress, High Velocity Guide to Writing a Novel in 30 Days (34,642 words) does this well. No Plot, No Problem unpacks the novel writing process and shows readers how to do it on their own in a short timeframe. Another example is Brooke Silar’s The Pilates Body, which teaches exercises for readers to do to achieve the look and fitness level of an expert Pilates student. The book Fish! A Remarkable Way to Boost Morale and Improve Results by Stephen C. Lundin, Harry Paul, John Christensen, Ken Blanchard teaches readers how to motivate employees (17,401 words).
  3. The List Book. The list book is a variation on the book of essays. The writer develops a list of 10 or 12 or 99 things you need to know on a subject and spins out a series of essays or information for each item on the list. Kent M. Keith did this with his book, Anyway: The Paradoxical Commandments: Finding Personal Meaning in a Crazy World (13,485 words). Cherie Carter-Scott took ten of her own ideas about life and wrote the book, If Life is a Game, These are the Rules: Ten Rules for being Human (31,822 words). Of course your book does not have to be a serious, let’s-change-the-world tome. You could write a humorous list book. Or you could write a list book that was nothing more than a list—no essays involved. Barbara Ann Kipfer did this with her book, 14,000 Things To Be Happy About. The author started compiling the list of happy things in sixth grade and it grew to be a super-long list and mega bestseller.
  4. A book of Quotes, Prayers, or Inspiration. Find a theme that rocks your world (and your market). Then write your own wisdom or borrow from the great minds of history and collect the sayings in a book. These books can be wildly popular because they are easy to read and great for nabbing quotes for speeches, reports, and dinner party conversation. John Lloyd and John Michinson put together a clever book of quotes titled, If Ignorance is Bliss, Why Aren’t There More Happy People: Smart Quotes for Dumb Times. Amy Gash collected quotes from children’s books for her book What the Doormouse Said: Lessons for Grown-Ups From Children’s Books. Barbara Bartocci has created a whole series of short prayer books under the title Grace on the Go. Each brief book of prayers is geared toward a different market—dieters, financial worriers, or people in grief. Kim McMillen created her own book of life lessons, When I Loved Myself Enough. Each page records some small lesson she learned in her life such as, “When I loved myself enough, I quite answering the telephone when I don’t want to talk.”
  5. The Parable. The parable book includes one very short story that teaches the idea of the book. The idea embedded in the story solves a problem that readers have in an innovative and inspiring way. Popular books in this category include, Who Moved My Cheese by Spencer Johnson (11,112 words), The One-Minute Manager by Kenneth H. Blanchard and Spencer Johnson (15,553 words), and Raving Fans: A Revolutionary Approach to Customer Service by Ken Blanchard (20,799 words). Yeah, it kind of looks like Blanchard and Johnson own this market. Not true. But they’re good at this kind of book.

Your turn: What kind of book have you been able to write fast?

About the Author

Rochelle Melander is an author, speaker, and certified professional coach. She is the author of ten books, including Write-A-Thon: Write Your Book in 26 Days (And Live to Tell About It). A portion of this article was excerpted from Rochelle’s latest book, Write-A-Thon. Rochelle teaches professionals how to write good books fast, use writing to transform their lives, navigate the publishing world, and get published! For more tips and a complementary download of the first two chapters of Write-A-Thon, visit her online at www.writenowcoach.com

Note: This post is part of the 2012 Write Nonfiction in November (WNFIN) challenge, which takes place during National Nonfiction Writing Month (NaNonFiWriMo). You can find out more at www.writenonfictioninnovember.com. To participate in the challenge, simply “sign in” by commenting and leaving a description of the nonfiction project you'll be completing during November. Come back and report in if on the status updates page, and comment on the various blog posts or on the WNFIN Facebook page.