Category Archives: Self-Publishing


outlining your non-fiction book

I am big on using an outline in my writing process. Since (for now) I would like to avoid the whole pantsers vs. plotters debate, I will focus this post on outlining your non-fiction book. There are several reasons I recommend outlining your non-fiction book …

Outlining your non-fiction book will help you come up with ideas

Think of it as a method of brainstorming. You are getting all the ideas that have been swirling around in your head, out and onto paper. Some of these ideas will work and will be worth exploring deeper. Others will seem disconnected from the group. Maybe you can use them for another project, but they really don’t belong in this particular book. You can identify these easily because they don’t fit anywhere on your outline.

During this process, you can see what decisions you need to make

For example, in Facing Cancer as a Parent, I included a section called Ages and Stages. In it I cover how children from 0 to 26 years old react to, and cope with, a parent’s cancer. That’s a big span of ages! So, I broke them down into brackets: Infants, Toddlers and Preschoolers, School Age, Preteens and Teens, and Young Adults.

Outlining your non-fiction book will help you organize your thoughts.

As you plan your book, you will see patterns emerge from your outline. By identifying these patterns and developing them, your book will go from a bunch of disconnected thoughts with a common theme to organized ideas that naturally flow from one to the next. Outlining your non-fiction book is the most efficient and practical way to achieve that.

You will have your Table of Contents

You will want to pretty your outline up with clever chapter titles and page numbers, but after outlining your non-fiction book you will have a basic table of contents.

How to do it?

No, I won’t bore you with the same outlining rules you learned in the 4th grade. In fact, you don’t even need to remember your Roman numerals. Instead, we will look at form and function.

  1. Remember when I said that outlining was a lot like brainstorming? That’s the first thing you’re going to do. Write down your main idea and then all of the things you would like to say to your readers about that idea. You might do this in the form of a list or as a mind map. Use whatever method you like best.
  2. Look for the patterns in your ideas. Start to rearrange your ideas in a logical way.
  3. Decide if you will have chapters grouped into larger sections or if you will simply have chapters follow one another in succession. Either way, they will need to flow, logically.
  4. When you are ready to create your table of contents, you can write clever section/chapter titles. Wait until your book is ready to publish before you add page numbers. If you make any changes to your book the numbers can get thrown all out of whack.

See? No Roman numerals necessary. Do you have a different way of organizing your books or blog posts? I would love to hear about it in the comments below!

What are YOUR thoughts?

I’d love to hear in the comment section, below. I appreciate my readers as well as the writing community. To show that appreciation, I use Comment Luv. Just leave a comment below and your latest post will get a link next to it. Thank you!

About Heather Erickson

I am an author, writer, and speaker and homeschooling mom of 3. Since doctors diagnosed my husband, Dan with stage IV lung cancer in 2012, I’ve focused my writing and speaking on helping cancer patients and their families advocate for themselves and live life to the fullest, in spite of their illness. My goal is to help people face cancer with grace.

My books The Memory Maker’s Journal and Facing Cancer as a Friend: How to Support Someone Who Has Cancer, are available at Amazon.com.

I also blog about living with cancer at, Facing Cancer with Grace.

My Family
The Erickson Family, Photo by Everbranch Photography

Style Guide

You’ve written your book proposal and decided that your idea for a book is definitely worth pursuing. As a self-published author (or an independent blogger) you will want your content to look as professional as possible. This means doing some of the same things professional publishers do. In this “Behind the Scenes of Self-Publishing” post, I will be sharing why it’s important for every self-published writer to have a style guide.

Create your style guide, or adopt one that someone else has created, early on in your writing process (the earlier the better). In your style guide, you will answer questions about how information is presented. You can then refer to your style guide throughout your writing and publishing process to keep your content consistent.

Because of issues that can arise when you actually publish your book, you will want to wait to implement fonts and formatting until you get to that point. I’ll give you the low-down on that in a later post.

First, consider style choices for your content.

For example:

  • How will you handle capitalization and numbering of titles and headings?
  • What types of words will you hyphenate? For example, I hyphenate ages like this: “thirteen-year-old.”
  • Will you spell out numbers in full, or not? In books, I spell them in full, as you can see in the previous example. In blog posts, however, I use numerals. So you may want to have a different style sheet for each type of content you publish.
  • How will you write out dates?
  • Will you use footnotes or endnotes? What citation rules will you follow?
  • How will you organize your bibliography?
  • Is your book or blog specialized? If so, how will you handle specific vocabulary and acronyms that the general public is unfamiliar with? WIll you have a glossary or index?
  • Are there specific grammar and punctuation rules you will encounter that are flexible? For example, do you use the Oxford comma? Decide how you will follow these rules in your specific publication and stay consistent!

Perdue OWL is just one of the great online resources to help you wade through the technical aspects of this.

It’s your style guide

You are in control of it. If you are writing for someone else, you will follow their chosen style guide, but as a self-published writer, you can bring your own distinctive flair to the table.  It is important that you stay consistent in how you present it, though. That’s why knowing from the outset of the project how to handle various situations, is important.

Consistency=Professionalism

Where will you place your content within the book?

There are so many things you can put into a book. The following is a fairly comprehensive list. You don’t need to (and shouldn’t) used all of these pages. Look at books that are similar to what you are writing. What do their author’s include? Be practical. For example, my daughter wrote the foreword to Facing Cancer as a Parent. This was appropriate since she grew up with a parent who has cancer. She could speak to my qualifications to write the book. Because of that, I didn’t need to include a preface. It would have been redundant. Only use the parts you need and keep the rest in order.

Front Matter

  • Book Half Title Page—This is the title only (No subtitle or byline)
  • Series Title Page—A list of other published work in the series or a blank page. This is on the backside of the book half-title page.
  • Title Page—Your book’s full title and subtitle, as well as your name and that of any co-author(s) and/or translator.
  • Copyright Page—Copyright notice, including the year of publication and the name of the copyright holder (usually the author), permissions and acknowledgments, publisher’s address and country of publication, categories, ISBN, and disclaimers.
  • Dedication—Optional.
  • Epigraph—A quotation along the theme of the book (optional).
  • Table of Contents—Only used in nonfiction and Fiction when the chapters have titles. Subheadings are optional.
  • Foreword—Most common in nonfiction. Written by someone other than the author, typically an expert in the field of the book’s subject.
  • Preface—Most commonly found in nonfiction books. Describes the author’s qualifications to write about the book’s subject.
  • Acknowledgments—While traditionally positioned here, this note of appreciation to those who supported or helped the author as they wrote the book is more commonly being placed in the back matter. This is due to the logistics of the sample pages an author is allowed to display in online stores like Amazon.com. By placing the acknowledgments in the back, the prospective reader is able to see the more pertinent material.
  • Introduction—This is preliminary information the author wants to share to help the reader better understand the material they will read. In a fiction book, this will be a prologue, which will set the scene or introduce characters.
  • A 2nd Half Title Page—This is optional, and usually only used is there is extensive front matter.

The Body of the Material

Usually divided into sections, chapters, and subchapters.

Back Matter

  • Afterword—Situates the book in a wider context. In fiction, this is an “epilogue” to bring closure to the story.
  • Note to the Reader—When self-publishing a book, it is common and advisable to write a professional note to the reader thanking them for reading your book and requesting that if they enjoyed it, would they please consider writing a review of the book on Amazon.com and Goodreads. This is particularly applicable in an e-book format.
  • Acknowledgments are more commonly being placed here.
  • Appendix—Includes any data, tables, reports, research, and sources.
  • Chronology—Used to list the events in a historical context.
  • Glossary—Lists any complex or technical terms.
  • Bibliography—Depending on how you cite your sources, this lists source material at the end of the book.
  • Contributors and Credits—Lists any contributors to the book and credits any illustrations.

Later you will format your content.

Formatting is anything you do to change the appearance of the text. This includes:

  • Font: style, size, bold, italics, underline, etc.
  • Spacing: Single, double, or somewhere in between?
  • Lists: Will they be bulleted, numbered, in outline form, etc.?
  • How will you treat book and chapter titles, headings, subheadings, etc.?

Write your formatting choices down in your style guide, as well. You can (and should) use this same guide in all of your future books, especially those in a series.

If you are a blogger, you will create a style guide for all of your blog posts! Often it evolves over time, as you learn what you and your readers like. Later, you can freshen up old posts and make any changes necessary for consistency.

Next week…

I will tell you more about formatting and why it’s important to hold off on formatting until you are ready to publish. You will want to start thinking about this early on, though.

About Heather Erickson

I am an author, writer, and speaker and homeschooling mom of 3. Since doctors diagnosed my husband, Dan with stage IV lung cancer in 2012, I’ve focused my writing and speaking on helping cancer patients and their families advocate for themselves and live life to the fullest, in spite of their illness. My goal is to help people face cancer with grace.

My books The Memory Maker’s Journal and Facing Cancer as a Friend: How to Support Someone Who Has Cancer, are available at Amazon.com.

I also blog about living with cancer at, Facing Cancer with Grace.


Book Proposal

According to one survey, 81% of people believe they have a book in them.  Unfortunately, most people don’t[i].  They might have a story in them, but a book is another thing, entirely. A book is written for an audience. In the past, publishers have asked the questions that ensured whether or not a book would likely sell. Writers answer these questions in the form of a book proposal. With the ability to self-publish, no one is asking these questions.

Today, most writers:

  • Don’t know what sells
  • Overestimate the demand for their book idea in an already saturated market
  • Overestimate their ability as a writer
  • Don’t realize how much time it takes to write, edit, format, publish, and market their book
  • Are often too satisfied with a low-quality book

How can you know whether or not your idea for a book is worth pursuing?

Start where traditionally published writers do, with a book proposal.

When someone is attempting to traditionally publish, they don’t invest the time and energy into writing a book until they know someone wants to publish it for them. So they write a book proposal to answer two questions a publisher will ask:

  • Why should I publish this book?
  • Why are you the person to write it?

As a writer attempting to self-publish, you need to answer these same questions. You do this in your book proposal. This guide is meant as a starting point for self-published writers to assess the viability of their book in much the same way that a publisher does. And it only makes sense to do this. After all, you are the publisher!

If you are trying to traditionally publish, you will want to be more precise and professional in its layout.

Start with an introduction.

  • What is your book about?

This should hook your audience enough that they will see there’s a compelling reason to consider your book.

  • What is its genre/category?

A great way to determine this is to go to your local library. Find a book that is very similar to what you want to write and see how it is categorized. You might need to tweak it to find the best fit, but this is a good starting point. Amazon.com can be used in a similar manner. Unfortunately, many self-published authors miscategorize their books so make sure you aren’t following someone down the wrong path.

If you happen to be writing a novel, the best resource I know of is the Story Grid by Shawn Coyne. He does an excellent job of explaining genre and how to decide which genre your book falls under. It’s much more complex than it sounds, but he gives step by step guidance to help you sort it out.

Include an estimated length as well as the number of photos and/or illustrations. Pages with images are often more expensive and will need to be figured into the publishing cost.

What about the competition?

Like the three bears, it’s important that you have some competition, but that the market isn’t overly saturated. What about that book that no one has thought of yet? You know… the really original idea.

“There are somewhere between 600,000 and 1,000,000 books published every year in the US alone, depending on which stats you believe. Many of those – perhaps as many as half or even more – are self-published. On average, they sell less than 250 copies each.”[ii]

With that many books being published each year, if no one has thought to write about something, then no one is thinking about reading it, either. So some competition is good. But, you also need to stand out from the crowd. The perfect example of this is the cancer book market. I can speak to this since I am a part of this over-saturated market.

Before writing my book, “Facing Cancer as a Friend: How to Support Someone who has Cancer,” I spoke with David Henry Sterry of The Book Doctors. He explained that traditional publishers are very leery of publishing books about cancer because everyone who has ever been diagnosed with cancer has decided to write a memoir about it and they just haven’t sold well. He was also quick to point out that there is still a market for books in this category…

But you need to stand out from the crowd

I chose to do this by focusing more on the practical advice people need when facing cancer, rather than our story. My goal was to stand out from the more sterile “about cancer” books written by professionals, by making my books very readable from the voice of experience, while focusing on the reader.

Find comparable books. It’s helpful to know what books have the same style and feeling as the book you are writing. You can use this information in your book description on its sales page, as well. “If you like “Such and Such,” you’re going to love…” Also, know what is missing from each of those books, and how your book fills the void.

Book Proposal

Who is your book’s audience?

Narrow down who your audience is, as much as possible. It is common for writers to write their book in a generalized manner in an attempt to please everyone. Unfortunately, when you do this, you connect with no one. Drilling down to a specific audience in your book proposal results in your readers feeling like the book was written just for them. And in a sense, it was! How is your book going to benefit this audience?

Is it part of a series?

Will there be sequels? This is a huge factor in marketability. As I talked to David Henry Sterry about a mystery series I was starting, I said I planned on writing 3 books. It took place in a small town and you can only have so many murders in a small town before people start checking the water. Sterry laughed and said, “No way. Think about Murder She Wrote. There’s a murder every week in Cabot Cove.”  That’s how an expert marketer thinks. Possibilities!

Who are you?

In your book proposal, consider what makes you the ideal person to write this book. You are selling yourself as much as your book. What is your platform? This is the place from which you will market your book and yourself.  It includes your website, your social media accounts, and your mailing list. All of these connect you to your audience in a more personal way. Publishers demand a well-established platform. You will need them to get your book in front of your audience. Consider all the ways you can publicise your book and include those ideas here so that when you are marketing, you already have the beginning of a plan.

Are you consulting an expert if your subject is a specialized one?

For my book, Facing Cancer as a Parent, I consulted a child-life specialist who specializes in children who have a parent with cancer. As a parent of children whose dad has cancer, I have a level of expertise that was earned the hard way, through experience. But, when you are dealing with something as important as the well-being of children, you want to ensure the information you are publishing is technically correct, as well. Consulting an expert adds to your book’s credibility.

An Outline

I know there are die-hard “pantsers” out there, writers who fly by the seat of their pants and see where their muse takes them. The truth is until you are established as an author, a publisher wants to know where you’re going with your book. What’s going to be in it? Even though this book proposal is for your benefit as a self-published writer, you will want to plan out your book in outline form.

Start by listing your chapters and then under each chapter heading, list the subheadings, or what you will detail in each chapter. This will help you to get the flow of your book planned.

Sample Chapter

Even as a self-published writer, including a sample chapter in your book proposal, will help you to set the tone and get the formatting straight. We will talk more about formatting in a future post.

What are YOUR thoughts?

I’d love to hear in the comment section, below. I appreciate my readers as well as the writing community. To show that appreciation, I use Comment Luv. Just leave a comment below and your latest post will get a link next to it. Thank you!

About Heather Erickson

I am an author, writer, and speaker and homeschooling mom of 3. Since doctors diagnosed my husband, Dan with stage IV lung cancer in 2012, I’ve focused my writing and speaking on helping cancer patients and their families advocate for themselves and live life to the fullest, in spite of their illness. My goal is to help people face cancer with grace.

My books The Memory Maker’s Journal and Facing Cancer as a Friend: How to Support Someone Who Has Cancer, are available at Amazon.com.

I also blog about living with cancer at Facing Cancer with Grace.

Footnotes:

[i] Joseph Epstein, New York Times, September 28, 2002, “Think You Have a Book in You? Think Again”

[ii] Forbes, Jan. 8, 2013. Nick Welsh, Contributor. “Thinking of Self-Publishing Your Book in 2013? Here’s What You Need to Know.”

 

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