That book has been in the back of your mind for years and it is finally coming to the fore. You know how to do something that is truly transformative, you have the proven methods to make it work, and you want to share it with other people so they too can benefit. You have an idea of the main subjects and what you want to address within them, you are committed to investing the time, and you are ready to start.

All that’s left is to start writing, right?

Hold on.

Oh, do an outline first, right?


You’re getting ahead of yourself. There are some things you need to consider before you dive right in. And I am actually going to ask you to get even further ahead of yourself.

When you are embarking on writing that non-fiction book you have always wanted to see in print, a good place to start is this question: “What this thing going to look like at the end?” I start out with clients by having them consider what they are going to tell publishers in their book proposal questionnaires when they are trying to get the finished manuscript published. That’s the goal, right?  You should not even begin an outline before going way out to the end of the process and answering some of the following questions, which are typical publisher book proposal questions.

The first question is: Who is your audience? If your immediate response is “everyone,” it’s time to go back to the drawing board and get a more solid idea of what you are going to be writing about. No book is suitable for everyone, and thinking it will be for the masses means that you have not given enough thought to the subject matter. Be realistic and narrow it down.

Next question: What other books are out there already that may be direct competition for your book? If your immediate assertion is, “There is no book out there that is competition for this book because there is nothing like it,” you are very likely mistaken. If you are not aware of books that cover your topic, go to Amazon and search key words and phrases that relate to your idea. Find some of the more popular, highly rated examples and make a list.

If your immediate assertion is, ‘There is no book out there that is competition for this book because there is nothing like it,’ you are very likely mistaken.

If you are already aware of some possibly competitive works, add those to the list as well. For the books on your list that you have not read, you can use the “Look Inside!” feature on Amazon. Many times, the limited featured content will include the table of contents, the publisher information, the introduction, and perhaps some good sample meat from the book.

Doing this kind of research or, even better, purchasing and reading electronic versions of these books, can be extremely helpful in better defining who you are trying to reach. It will also help you identify publishers that look for books like yours, and it will help you answer the next category of questions for yourself.

On to the next group of questions. What differentiates your idea and your approach to providing this valuable content for your audience? How does your book differ from those in the list of books you created. Why would your intended audience choose your book over similar ones that are already on the market? These are perhaps the most important questions you will need to answer for prospective publishers once you are well along on your book.

Are you going to provide specialized or supplemental content,  or an angle that nobody has presented in those other books that are out there? Do you know a distinguished colleague in this field who would be willing to write a compelling foreword to your book once you have the manuscript close to final?

Last question: What enlightenment will result from your book?  List four things your audience will take away when they are done reading. Or 10 is even better. When you list these, write them as if they are learning objectives, saying what people will be able to do after reading this book. The following is sample phrasing for this, using the example of a book on some kind of breakthrough organizational innovation subject:

  1. Identify the major obstacles to collaboration in such-and-such systems, and explain some of the newest strategies in breaking through them.
  2. List three standout organizations who have found success in implementing these programs and detail some of the unique innovations that got them there.
  3. Name the top five drivers of such-and-such and how they are associated with successfully implementing these programs.
  4. Explain how developing such-and-such can increase collaboration in your organization through more efficient use of …, …, and … .

Working through these important considerations takes a little time on the front end, but your efforts will be rewarded by having more focus from the beginning as you write, and more success at the end in courting potential publishers when you are finished. Best of fortune to you!

Lee Reeder is a ghostwriter, writer, editorial project manager, photographer and graphic designer with decades of experience. He has also served as a non-profit and for-profit leader and manager.

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