I’m a big fan of my colleague, Jennie Nash, who’s on a mission to put book coaching on the map, and make sure authors can get the support they need to write a novel or write a nonfiction book. I loved Jennie’s last book Blueprint for a Book and interviewed her less than a year ago about how to write a novel and the journey of writing and publishing that terrific book. Now, Jennie’s back with the book on writing and publishing nonfiction.
Why Write a Book About Writing a Book
Lisa: In Blueprint for a Nonfiction Book, you mention that there are often deeper reasons for writing a book than the obvious ones. What were your obvious and not-so-obvious, deeper reasons for writing this book?
Jennie: It’s a good question. The first step in the Blueprint method is to ask yourself why you’re writing a book. There are external reasons – for me, for the nonfiction Blueprint, the primary external reason was that it’s a great lead magnet for writers interested in becoming a book coach and for clients who want to work with me on book proposals.
The primary internal reason I would say was my ego. The more book coaches we train at Author Accelerator, the more I see the tools I created being used in the world. It’s an incredible feeling to see my ideas rippling out across the writing universe, but it also made me want to put a stake in the ground and say, “I created the Blueprint! I created the Inside Outline and the Outcome Outline! It’s mine!”
(And by the way, most people’s internal reasons are a little raw like mine is. People are often motivated to write by jealousy, for example, or anger. So if something comes up for you around your book idea that feels kind of embarrassing – you’ve probably nailed it.)
The Reader’s Relationship with the Writer
Lisa: How does it feel to speak the truth of something that raw and possibly a little embarrassing—at least not all tied up in a pretty bow? is it scary? Freeing? A little of both? And how does that admission tie into writing the best book you can?
Jennie: We come to books to get something deep. We spend a lot of time reading a book, and we want something deeper than what we can get in a blog post or a TED Talk. Part of what we want is the relationship with the writer. We want to feel connected to them, and we want to trust that they will lead us safely to wherever it is we want or need to go. Readers can sniff it out a mile away if you are dialing it in, or obscuring the truth. So starting out a project by being honest with yourself sets the tone for the whole thing; it makes it easier to be honest with your reader.
Be Honest with Yourself
As for how it feels to be that honest—you captured it perfectly: both scary and freeing. For me, the freedom of owning my why gave me the inspiration to actually complete the book. I used it to fuel me.
A very high percentage of writers I work with burst into tears on our first coaching call; it used to surprise me, but now I expect it. It’s the combination of fear (they are really doing this difficult thing, and someone is holding their feet to the fire), and relief (they are no longer doing it alone, and they have said out loud their deep level why and they have not been struck down by lightning and now they can do the work.)
Adding “Features” to a Book
Lisa: You say it so beautifully. The willingness to go deep is what will allow you to connect to your readers. Back to Blueprint for a Nonfiction Book: I love that the chapters are short and each chapter ends with a brief “Take Action” directive. Were these features you knew you wanted from the beginning?
Jennie: Blueprint for a Book: Build Your Novel From the Inside Out, which I wrote first, doesn’t have the “Take Action” feature. I contemplated it at one point but decided that the nature of steps was enough to direct writers to take action. By the time I wrote the nonfiction book, I knew I wanted the Take Action step. I wanted readers to be very clear about what to do. So yes—I did include those elements from the start. Now I kind of wish I had done it in the first Blueprint book.
Tips on Case Studies
Lisa: That’s one of the many beauties of self-publishing. At some point you can go back and change it if you decide it’s important to include! You offer such excellent examples and case studies as you walk through decisions: spot-on titles, structure, how to connect with readers, etc. Had you been collecting these case studies ahead of time or did you do much of the research as you wrote the book? Any tips for identifying, researching and writing case studies?
Jennie: Thank you! The case studies are the absolutely hardest part of writing these books. And I agree that they are very value-added for the reader. I am going to start work on the memoir Blueprint book soon and I am dreading the case study part of it.
I often earmark an example to use in the book if I am working with a client and see something that would be perfect for a given lesson. Then I drop it in a folder with a note about why it’s a good example. Recently I helped a writer with a query letter, for example, and the whole thing was impacted by the change of one word. It was a cool scenario—and I dropped that example into a folder for a future query letter
In other cases, I ask our book coaches if they have any clients willing to share their work in progress. The nonfiction Blueprint has examples from two of our book coaches and their writers. One of those writers happens to also be one of our book coaches, so that worked out well.
Many writers don’t want to share work on a book that isn’t yet published. It can take two or three years from the time someone does the Blueprint to the time the book is on the shelf, at which time the Blueprint work can feel old and not up-to-date so a writer may not want to share it.
In terms of tips for using case studies to teach, I just suggest keeping your eyes open. When a coaching client suddenly GETS a concept and goes from vague to clear, that’s often a great example to use. Or when they are raw and real on the pages and you can just feel it. I would love to make a book of bad examples, but I could never get permission to do that.
The Biggest Errors Authors Make on their Outlines
Lisa: Yes, pretty much the only bad examples we can use are our own mistakes! I love your outcome outline. What do you see as the biggest errors authors make in outlining their books?
Jennie: I designed the Blueprint to solve for the biggest errors authors make—not being intentional about your idea, your message, your structure, your audience, and the marketplace. The Blueprint walks you through all those questions.
The Outcome Outline is a tool I created because one of the things that is fatal to a nonfiction book is lack of narrative drive. If it’s just a bunch of information dumped on the page, it won’t hold our attention. We want to be pulled through, just like in fiction. We want to learn something, which means we want to change. So take us on that transformation journey!
Getting to Transformation
Lisa: Absolutely. Transformation is critical and it comes by an experience, not a lecture. You have to think about how you’ll help someone get that experience as they read…and narrative helps make that happen!
Jennie: You can put a ho-hum table of contents into the Outcome Outline, work it through, and make it sing!
Lisa: Anything else you’d like to share with our readers/writers?
Jennie: The time to do the Blueprint is before you write. People waste so much time trying to get words on the page. It’s as if sheer word count was the only metric of success. Getting clear on your goals, however, is the best way to build confidence in your project—and if you have confidence in your project, you are more likely to finish it, and to sell it.
The Importance of an Outline
Lisa: I agree wholeheartedly. People sometimes come to me with years of working on a book without an outline or a clear book concept. The result can be a big mishmash that takes so much time to revise—much more than if they had a stronger, more detailed focus and plan to begin with.
Jennie Nash is the founder and CEO of Author Accelerator, a company that trains, certifies, and supports book coaches. Jennie’s clients have landed top agents, six-figure book deals, and spots on the New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestseller lists. Jennie is the author of 11 books in 3 genres, including Blueprint for a Book: Build Your Novel from the Inside Out and Blueprint for a Nonfiction Book: Plan and Pitch Your Big Idea. Visit her at authoraccelerator.com if you’re interested in hiring a coach; at bookcoaches.com if you’re interested in becoming a coach; and at jennienash.com for all other inquiries.