Joanna Penn writes non-fiction for authors and is an award-nominated, New York Times and USA Today bestselling thriller author as J.F.Penn. She's also an award-winning podcaster, creative entrepreneur, and international professional speaker.

How to Write Non-Fiction by Joanna Penn

Do you want to write a non-fiction book but don't know where to start? Or perhaps you worry that you're not 'the expert' or have enough authority in your niche to write a book on it?

Are you ready to help other people and change your own life with your words?

The first non-fiction book I wrote changed my life. Sure, it helped other people, but mostly it altered the course of my life – so much so that 10 years later, I make a living with my writing.

I've written seven other non-fiction books and co-written two more and built a multi-six-figure income around my non-fiction eco-system. In this book, I'll share everything I've learned along the way and save you time, effort and frustration on your author journey.

The book includes mindset and business tips for before you write, how to gather material, write and edit your book, as well as publishing, product creation, and marketing ideas.

It's time to (finally) write your non-fiction book.


Joanna Penn writes bestselling fiction as J.F. Penn. Writers know her as Joanna of The Creative Penn Podcast. She's helped all of us negotiate this changing world of publishing with that podcast for ten years now. But she's bolstered her fiction and her podcasting with a strong nonfiction career as well. And in How To Write Non-Fiction, she shares everything she's learned as a nonfiction writer. – Kristine Kathryn Rusch



  • "Packed with clear actionable strategies and additional resources for diving deeper. It is a valuable resource that makes what could be an overwhelming goal of writing a non-fiction book into an actionable and attainable one."

    – Linda, Amazon review
  • "Probably the BEST book on how to write nonfiction. I read it with a yellow hi-lighter so I can readily refer to info I consider important. The structure makes it an easy read and I appreciate how questions and resources are listed after each chapter."

    – Jessica, Amazon review
  • "Instantly helped shift my current non-fiction project into high gear while making me clarify my vision for the project."

    – Amy, Amazon review
  • "Packed full of actionable content, insightful questions, and the clear, straightforward structure makes it really easy to navigate. I'd say this is a really valuable resource for authors no matter where they are on their non-fiction writing journey."

    – Gytha, Amazon review



Chapter 1.1. Why write a non-fiction book?

"Writing isn't about making money, getting famous, getting dates, getting laid, or making friends. In the end, it's about enriching the lives of those who will read your work, and enriching your own life, as well."

Stephen King, On Writing

Writing a book is hard work. You need a reason to carry you through the tough times.

Why do you care about this subject so much that you want to invest the time, emotional energy, and maybe money, in order to write it?

What will keep you going through the process of writing, publishing and marketing?

What is your why?

Here are some of the reasons why people write non-fiction books.

(1) You have been through a particular experience, and you want to help other people going through the same thing

A lot of non-fiction books start this way. I wrote Career Change to change my own life, and it continues to help others discover what they really want to do even years later. Sometimes the book that burns on our heart can be the most powerful, our own self-growth manifested in book form.

"The universe buries strange jewels deep within us all, and then stands back to see if we can find them."

Elizabeth Gilbert, Big Magic

(2) You want to build authority, credibility and expert status in a particular field

You want a book to demonstrate authority and thought leadership, augment your business and open doors to speaking and other business or media opportunities. The point of the book is not necessarily to make money in itself but to drive people to your other offerings. This is the 'book as business card' approach.

For example, my book, How to Make a Living with your Writing, drives people to my other books and courses. The aim of the book is to provide an introduction to that extended material.

(3) You want to use non-fiction book sales as the basis of your income, so you want to write multiple books in a niche and dominate that market.

Although it's unlikely that you will make a million and retire in launch week, some authors do make a full-time living writing only non-fiction, as covered in Part 2.

(4) You have an audience already and write to fulfill their needs, which often coincide with your own interests.

I started out writing non-fiction to learn what I needed to know myself about self-publishing and book marketing, and over time, I attracted an audience. Now I write books for that audience and ideas emerge from interacting with my community. For example, The Successful Author Mindset came from a blog post that resonated so much, I expanded it into a book.

(5) Writing is how you work out what you think.

I often don't know what I think about a subject until I write about it. The writing process is the way I turn my research into reality. I wrote How to Market a Book when I was learning about marketing and Business for Authors: How to be an Author Entrepreneur as my writing career transitioned into a global business.

"I don't know what I think until I write it down."

Joan Didion

(6) You are deeply fascinated with a topic and want to produce a book on it.

These are the type of non-fiction books that can go on to win literary prizes, books that may be commissioned and may consume the author for a long time. One example would be The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer by Siddhartha Mukherjee, which won the Pulitzer Prize. Or Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari which I consider one of the most thought-provoking books I've ever read and I recommend to everyone.

Of course, they don't have to be so epic. I've started researching the concept of the shadow for a book that may take me a while to write. I'll get there eventually and in the meantime, I can indulge my love of research and fascination with the topic.

"Nobody is waiting with bated breath for another unknown author to put out another phoned-in book … The real reason to write a book is because there is something you have to explore that you think readers want to learn about, not because you think putting 'author' on your LinkedIn profile is smart."

Ryan Holiday, author of Perennial Seller

What's your why?

Whatever the reason behind your desire to write a non-fiction book, I absolutely believe that you should go ahead and write it. After all, the book you write could change your life – as it has done for me. And hopefully, you'll help other people and maybe even make some money along the way!

What is your definition of success?

Your reasons for writing will also relate to your definition of success, which is important to define up front. Otherwise, how will you know when you've achieved it?

You need to get specific here with measurable, time-based goals that will help you mark the journey. For example, how will you measure your goal of achieving authority status in your field? Is it the number of speaking events booked, the number of podcasts you appear on or connecting with a specific influencer in your niche?

What about an income goal?

For some people, making an extra $1000 a month would be a fantastic achievement. For others, you might be aiming for $10,000 a month from turning your book into multiple streams of income. One person's idea of success is rarely the same as another's.

So be specific about how you will measure success – for this book, and for your non-fiction career as an author.

"Writing a book is a tremendous experience. It pays off intellectually. It clarifies your thinking. It builds credibility. It is a living engine of marketing and idea spreading, working every day to deliver your message with authority. You should write one."

Seth Godin