Writing, publishing, and marketing a nonfiction book is a difficult task, especially when you’ve chosen to publish it yourself. I’ve published 5 books and have improved the quality of my work through experience and by reading books on publishing. I’ve read over 80 publishing guides and am recommending the top 10 books for self-published nonfiction authors in this article.
Until you’ve actually published a book or two, it’s hard to tell good publishing advice from bad. Sometimes the information and strategies in authorship books are outdated. Sometimes the books are just a sales pitch to get you to sign up for other author services or products. Sometimes the books are too general or basic to offer much help. And sometimes the books are so poorly written and formatted that you wouldn’t want to follow any advice they contain.
Fortunately, well-written books for independent nonfiction authors do exist. These books are clear and concise. They are easy to understand. They provide good advice and show you how to apply it. They give you a process to follow. They include valuable resources. They are informative, inspiring, and sometimes even entertaining.
Whether you are an aspiring nonfiction author, or a published nonfiction author seeking greater success, you’ll find the following books useful. Many of these books are also relevant to traditionally published authors, but I’ve selected the ones most beneficial to self-published authors.
The 10 Best Books for Indie Nonfiction Authors:
1. The Elements of Style (4th edition) – William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White (2000). This is the classic book on writing style. In under 100 pages, it covers grammar, punctuation, composition, commonly misused words, and more. With reminders to be clear, omit needless words, and not explain too much, this book can help any nonfiction author become a better writer.
2. Dreyer’s English – Benjamin Dreyer (2019). This is a modern, entertaining grammar guide. Dreyer states it is now perfectly fine to split infinitives, end sentences with prepositions, and begin sentences with “and” or “but” if it helps you communicate clearly with readers. And he includes witticisms such as “Only godless savages eschew the series comma” and “If you send me your resume rather than your résumé, I’m probably not going to hire you.”
3. On Writing Well – William Zinsser (2006). This classic book on writing nonfiction describes principles related to simplicity, clutter, style, audience, words, and usage. Zinsser also discusses different forms of writing about people, places, yourself, business, the arts, humor, and more. His advice is helpful whether you’re writing articles, blog posts, or a book.
4. Everybody Writes – Ann Handley (2014). This is a guide to writing good content that gets results. It will help you write your book and will also teach you copywriting skills so you can market your book. Handley helps you choose the right words, write with style, and show empathy for your readers. She explains that the formula for Quality Content = Utility x Inspiration x Empathy.
5. Your First 1,000 Copies – Tim Grahl (2013). This book provides a system for building a platform, connecting with readers, and selling more books. Grahl discusses the concepts of permission, content, outreach, selling, and tracking. He explains why focusing more on your email list and less on social media will help you sell more books…and then he shows you the best ways to build your email list.
6. Perennial Seller – Ryan Holiday (2017). While many authors write a book first and then decide how to market it, Holiday says that authors who focus on both writing and marketing from day one are more likely to create perennial bestsellers. He provides many examples of successful creators who focused on both audience and product from the start, like authors Tim Ferriss and Susan Cain.
7. The Author’s Guide to Write Text That Sells Books – Rob Eagar (2018). This book helps you write effective marketing text for your back cover, Amazon book page, website, social media ads, and elsewhere. Eagar shows you how to create an attention-grabbing book hook, write a persuasive book description, get endorsements from influencers, and much more.
8. Successful Self-Publishing – Joanna Penn (2019). This primer shows you how to self-publish a book in ebook, print, and audiobook formats. Penn provides an overview of the self-publishing process and the decisions you’ll have to make related to cover design, interior design, title, categories, keywords, formats, distribution, publishing services, book marketing, and other important issues.
9. The Business of Being a Writer – Jane Friedman (2018). This guide explains different business models for writers. Friedman discusses book publishing but also talks about other ways authors can earn income, such as consulting, speaking, freelance writing, online teaching, editing services, affiliate marketing, and more. She shows writers how to become entrepreneurs.
10. The War of Art – Steven Pressfield (2012). This last book inspires authors and artists to overcome the resistance that can cause us to procrastinate and avoid doing our work. Pressfield challenges us to be professionals, which means showing up every day, not making excuses, mastering technique, not taking failure or success personally, and just doing the work.
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