How to Write a Book Chapter in 7 Simple Steps for Your Nonfiction Book

POSTED ON Aug 22, 2019

Petros Eshetu

Written by Petros Eshetu

Home > Blog > Writing > How to Write a Book Chapter in 7 Simple Steps for Your Nonfiction Book

Are you ready to learn how to write a book chapter? This is the first step towards many exciting milestones in your writing journey, so it’s time to get started!

You’ve committed to write a nonfiction book, and you’re well on your way to begin your author journey. 

So where do you start? By learning how to write a book chapter. 

Sounds simple, right? But it can be overwhelming and difficult to gain momentum, especially when we doubt ourselves and start to feel like writing a book is such a mammoth project to undertake. 

As writers, we often tend to overthink the process, causing a flood of questions that occupy our attention instead of actually writing. 

You might be asking yourself…

  • How do I even do this?
  • Where do I begin and when do I finish? 
  • How long should my chapters be?
  • How many chapters should I have?

These are just some of the questions that might be preventing you from actually getting started writing your book's first chapter. In this article, you'll learn the exact steps on how to write a book chapter, and more.

Here’s how to write a book chapter: 

#1 – Create a chapter outline
#2 – Build out the chapter’s structure
#3 – Write an eye-catching chapter title or headline
#4 – Hook readers with your chapter intro
#5 – Expand your story with main points
#6 – Provide a recap that summarizes the chapter
#7 – Add a Call-to-Action & transition to your next chapter

But before we get started, let's make sure you have the required foundation to get started on writing a chapter.

How do you start writing a chapter?

In order to start writing a chapter, all you need to do is start writing. Remember, when you begin your draft simply focus on getting the words on the page. You can edit it later. Looking at the blinking cursor can be one of the most intimidating parts of the writing process, so just start.

Bonus: When you start writing your first chapter, it doesn't need to be chapter one. If you have a great idea for the middle of the book, write it! You may inspire yourself for chapter one.

How long does it take to write a book chapter?

The speed you write depends on many factors such as:

  • Your typing speed
  • If you choose to edit as you draft
  • Whether or not you know the direction you plan to take the story

Don't allow yourself to get hung up on your writing speed, instead, focus on your writing quality.

How many pages should be in a chapter?

The page count in each chapter depends on what is best for your story. Whether you write fiction or nonfiction, how you end your chapter greatly influences if a reader turns the page.

It would likely be better for your reader, and your story, to end a chapter a bit early on a cliffhanger, rather than drag a chapter out.

As you write, ask yourself this question: What type of chapter ending would keep me turning pages? Be sure to end your chapter at this point.

Now, it's important to note that before you can even begin, you first need to have your book's general outline in place. It's okay if you have a working outline that's not finalized, but you need to have a rough idea of what chapters you need to include. If you're asking, “What is an outline?” read more at the link.

Your book's outline is your roadmap, and it's what you will use to get to your final destination with the chapters you write. After all, how do you know which direction you’re heading if you don’t have a path?

Think of your book like a TV show, and instead of episodes, you have chapters. Most hit shows develop a general theme for the season, so each episode progressively builds up to a grand finale. 

The same goes for writing books. You brainstorm ideas, figure out a theme for your book, and structure it by chapters, so it all fits together nicely.

Your book is the general theme, and each chapter should build up to the big picture. 

What is a chapter?

A chapter is defined as section, or division, of a book, and it is usually separated with a chapter number or chapter title. Chapters break the overall book topic into sections. Each chapter in a book is related to the overall book theme, and chapters are found in many book variations and genres, such as nonfiction, fiction, academia, law, and more. The concept of a book chapter is to allow the author to break up the work, and for the reader to digest the material in increments, or chunks that are both understandable and memorable.

After all, most readers aren’t going to go through 30,000 or more words in one sitting. They need mental breaks. That’s what your chapters provide.

Also, chapters allow you to have some kind of structure in your writing compared to just rambling all of your ideas in one go like journal writing. A journal may make sense to you in your mind, but for the average person who’s reading it, they might not get the whole picture because they don’t have the same perspective as you.

Before you can get started with how to write a chapter, you need to be clear on what the purpose of a chapter is, and how it helps your book's organization.

Related: Parts of a Book

How long should my chapter be?

The short answer is, it really depends on your topic, and your writing style. There aren’t any set rules or guidelines. That’s the beautiful thing of self publishing – you as the author gets to dictate the length of your book. 

The length of your chapters will vary depending on the genre. So, if you really want some guidance, then just compare the typical length of other books within the same niche. 

How many words are in a nonfiction book chapter?

The average number of words in a nonfiction book is around 50,000-70,000 words, and the average number of chapters in a nonfiction book are about 10-20. With this logic, the number of words in a nonfiction book chapter is about 3,500 words to 5,000 words. But, the number of words in each chapter can vary greatly, depending on the nonfiction book's topic, subject matter, and the author's writing style.

Some topics will require more details, and some will require less. There isn't a set number of chapters to include, either, so make your chapters detailed, concise, and see where your word count falls and make adjustments in your editing process as needed.

As you learn how to write a book chapter, try not to worry so much about how many words to include in each chapter of your book. Instead of focusing on your word count, focus on the quality of your writing, and that you are including all the necessary information to get your point across.

Hands Typing On Laptop Keyboard With Text Overlay: How To Write A Book Chapter

How many chapters should I write? 

Again, this is up to you.  You can write as many or as few chapters as you want. Your book is your baby, and you make the final decision.

Don't decide on number of chapters just for the sake of it. Make sure you organize your chapters with sound reasoning, as opposed to just setting a random number.

This will ensure that your chapters make logical sense, and are in the correct order. With structured, organized chapters, your reader will be able to follow the information in your book seamlessly.

Now that you understand what a chapter is, and how many words and chapters to have in your book, it's time for writing!

#1 – Create an outline for the chapter 

The best way to brainstorm ideas and create an outline for your chapter is through mindmapping. 

A mindmap, if you aren’t already familiar with it, is where you brainstorm and unload all your ideas onto paper (or type it).

Once you’re done, you can look over and see if there’s a common theme beginning to take shape. At this point, you can start linking them together. You can structure your ideas to help with your analysis and see it visually.

As you learn how to write a book chapter, you'll get a better feel for how many sections make sense for your book's topic.

Here’s how to create an outline for your chapter: 

#1 – Brainstorm all of the ideas and topics that this chapter should cover
#2 – Write your ideas down on a mindmap 
#3 – Review your ideas and link similar ideas together
#4 – Identify a common theme for your chapter
#5 – Sort the ideas into a logical order of how you should present them in your chapter

Here’s an example of my mind map: 

How To Write A Book Chapter: Chapter Mind Map

After my mind map, I was able to create a structured outline:

How To Write A Book Chapter: Structured Outline

Here are more resources for mindmapping:

#1 – Mindmapping tool
#2 – Learn how to book map
#3 – Create an outline for a book

#2 – Build the chapter structure

Now that you understand the fundamentals, let’s get into the meat and potatoes of what makes up an effective chapter structure.

You'll want to be sure to include each element of your chapter structure for every subsequent chapter that you write.

It might be helpful to create a standard format, whether you write with pen and paper, or using book software on your computer. This will help you stay on track and write your chapters in an organized, structured form.

Here are the elements of a chapter structure: 

#1 – A title or headline
#2 – An introduction that hooks
#3 – Body paragraphs that provide further details
#4 – A recap, or summary, of the chapter
#5 – A transition to the next chapter

While you can add more or less to each of your chapters depending on your genre, writing style, and needs, it’s important that all of your chapter contents contain similar points or pieces of information related to your overall theme.

All of the information should also be what your reader actually needs to know to understand the overall picture. 

If any of the contents don’t fit into your chapter’s theme, take it out. If there is extra information that isn’t necessary for the reader to know, or causes the reader to go off on a tangent, take it out. 

Only add what’s absolutely necessary, and take out anything extra. Chances are, the information either doesn’t add to the value of your work, or it might belong in a different chapter.

#3 – Write an eye-catching chapter title or headline

As you learn how to write a book chapter, you’ll realize just how important writing eye-catching chapter headlines, or titles, are. 

You can have the most amazing content in the world that has the power to change people’s lives forever. But if you don't learn how to write a book chapter headline that captures their attention, then they’ll never bother reading your book. 

This is especially important when you have someone on the fence, deciding whether or not to buy your book. They’re skimming through your table of contents or flipping through the pages to see if anything sticks out.

You want a chapter headline that triggers curiosity, and makes your reader want to learn more.

Even though this is listed as the first element of a chapter’s structure, many authors find that it’s easier to create the headline AFTER the chapter has been written. 

Tip: Write your headline once your chapter is already written. 

This is because as you write, your chapter and concept might change slightly, so you don’t want to waste time tinkering with the headline every time you update your concept.

Here are three types of headlines you can write: 

#1 – Use the “How to…” approach
#2 – Use a phrase or belief statement
#3 – Present it as a question

#1 – Write the headline as a “How to…”

The “How to” format is a common strategy when writing a book chapter title because it works. A good “how to” headline is enticing, concise, and provokes action in the reader. 

To create a “How to” headline for your book’s chapter, make a list of the benefits, barriers, and beliefs that your chapter covers and then just plug it into the “How to…” template. Play around with it and see which headline combination makes the most sense.

If you’re struggling with this, think of the problem your chapter solves. Then craft that problem into a “How to” statement.

Here’s an example: “How to (add benefit) without having to (add barrier) even if (add belief).” 

#1 – Add benefit – What’s the benefit of this chapter? What insight will your readers gain?
#2 – Add barrier – What barriers or obstacles are your readers facing? What is their problem? What do your readers currently believe right now?
#3 – Add belief – What belief(s) or inner thoughts are your readers telling themselves about your topic? 

How-to headline examples on book writing:

  • How to self-publish your book without having to commit 8 hours a day, even if you don't think you’re a good writer. 
  • How to stay motivated when writing your book without having to sacrifice hours away from family and business, even if you don't feel you have enough time.
  • How to build your confidence when writing your book without having to do a ton of research, even if you don't feel like you’re an expert

#2 –  Use a phrase or belief statement as your headline

You can simply use a phrase or belief that your readers are thinking about. If you think about it as the problem you are trying to solve for your reader, your headline or title would simply be the problem statement. 

Here are examples of beliefs for people who want to write a book:

  • “I'm not good enough to write.”
  • “I’m not a writer.’’
  • “I'm not special; why would anyone want to read my book?”

#3 – Present the headline as a question 

This is similar to the problem statement, but you are rephrasing it as a question that your readers might ask. 

Think about what your chapter covers, and ask yourself, “What question is this chapter going to answer for my readers?”

Then, use that question to can create a compelling book chapter or headline.

Here are some examples of questions a reader might ask:

If you’re still stuck thinking of an enticing chapter title or headline, it may be that you need more time to flesh out your content. 

Or, maybe you just need to spend some time writing, and come back to the headline when you are feeling more creative. 

You can also use title generators like Portent (which is my favorite) and tweakyourbiz. It can inspire you to come up with something unique.

What's great is you can use these headline ideas for not just chapters, but also webinars, videos, blog posts, guest posts, etc. as you expand your book business. 

#4 – Hook readers with your chapter intro 

Alright! So, you’ve captured the reader’s attention and now they’re curious to find out more. This is where you want to avoid any first chapter blunders and have an engaging intro that keeps people hooked, and attracted to your content. 

To explain the power of a hook in your chapter, let’s use an example from the TV show Law and Order. In every episode, they show the murder scene in the first few seconds; this is the opening hook! 

This effective technique naturally hooks viewers, myself included, making us want to know more.

We are left with the lingering question through the screenwriter’s hook (“How did they die?”) and then the rest of the episode is focused on piecing together who committed the murder. 

Unless you’re writing a horror book, I wouldn't expect your chapter introduction to be that dramatic, but there are similar ways that you can create an engaging opener. You can learn how to write an intro with a few simple steps, then apply the same strategies to all of your chapters.

Here’s how to hook your reader at the start of your book’s chapter:

#1 – Share a personal story
#2 – Show a conversation or dialogue
#3 – Add powerful quotes
#4 – Add shocking statistics  

What else can you think of to grab your reader's attention? Get creative!

In my experience, the best chapter introduction that get the most reader engagement is when the author shares a personal story. This is for two reasons.

Reason #1 – It builds a connection

Before spitting out facts and solutions, share your own personal story about overcoming the challenge you hope to help others through when they read your book and/or other products or services you offer. 

Stories are what connect you to your readers. 

Describe how you felt before, during, and after your personal challenge. For example, if you’re helping people lose weight, how did you feel when you were overweight? 

What did you see, hear, and feel? Relive and visualize this because most likely that’s where your readers are right now in their life. 

Even though you have overcome these struggles, you need to communicate at the same level as your readers and not from where you’re at right now.

Don’t be afraid to be vulnerable and open up. 

I attended a screenwriting class recently. What I learned was that the most successful Hollywood movies are those with characters that have the most flaws.

It’s your flaws that will connect you to your readers emotionally. People are not looking for solutions or anecdotes as much as they are seeking for connection. 

“Think like a wise man but communicate in the language of the people” – William Butler Yeats

Reason #2 – It adds credibility

Your story helps build credibility, so people think, “Wow! This author has been there, and done that, so they must know what they are talking about. I should read what they have to say.

When people are reading your book (and chapter) they may be asking:

  • ‘Why should I listen to you?”
  • “Who are you?” 
  • “How can you help me with _____?”
  • “How do you know how it feels to____?”

No one will listen to you unless they first know that they are understood. 

“People don't care how much you know until they know how much you care.”

John Maxwell

Share your story of being in the trenches and having gone through the challenges that your readers are currently facing. Create a bridge between you and your readers. 

Once your readers know that you understand them, they will begin to trust you and will be more open to hearing your advice.

Alternatively, you could also tell a story of a client you’ve helped or share their testimonials. 

You could also paint a picture of how life will be when they finish reading your book or implementing your methods, products or services, or even how life will be if they don't.

#5 – Expand your story with main points

Okay, so you have a great opening and people are hooked. Your readers can’t put the book down.

But now it’s time to dive into the details. Expand your opening and begin to explain your points.

This is where you are offering your reader the gold. How will you solve their problem? What does the reader need to know? Keep the momentum going and make sure each point is cohesively building up.

You can have as many points as you want. I personally like sharing three points within chapter topics just because there is so much to write about for each point.

For example, in my book, The Introverted Immigrant's Journey, I share 3 steps (or points) to overcoming fear, worry, and anxiety.

  • Step 1: Awareness   
  • Step 2: Identifying self-sabotaging thoughts
  • Step 3: Take action (despite the fear)

For each point, you can simply apply the same strategy just as you would starting a chapter. Add a story, quote, stat, or some other kind of evidence. 

Then expand on your opener.

Remember when you had to write a five paragraph essay in school? Think about this in terms of your five paragraph essay. These are your body paragraphs in your chapter!

This step is where a lot of writers can get sidetracked. That's why it's important to create your chapter outline in step 1, then stick to it as much as possible so that your writing is focused and concise and you hit your writing goals.

#6 – Write a summary of the book chapter

Celebrate! You’re almost to the finish line.

Now, all you’ve got to do is summarize what you’ve just said. You’ve given your reader a ton of information, so you have to bring it back around and close the loop.

Writing a summary of your book's chapter is basically recapping the information you shared in the section.

Since people best remember what they read last, this is your chance to be truly memorable.

What’s the last thing you want people to know? The key takeaway. Keep this short and to the point.

Here's how to write a summary of a book chapter:

#1 – Skim the chapter and take notes of any major points or key takeaways
#2 – Jot down each point or key takeaway
#3 – Summarize each point in your own words 
#4 – Whittle it down to 1 or 2 sentences for each point.
#5 – Combine all your summarized points into one paragraph.
#6 – Add in transition words such as “first,” “next” or “then” for each new point.

For example, in my book, I summarized my chapter points by creating 1-2 sentences on each point. Then, I combined each of those sentences together in order. 

For my first chapter point, which was on creating awareness, I wrote this summary:

“It’s important to remember that awareness is the first step to overcoming fear. How can you fix something without knowing its broken in the first place? Begin writing daily in a journal. Track how you feel throughout the day without any judgment.”

#7 – Add a Call-to-Action & transition to the next chapter

A call-to-action (CTA) is when you ask the reader to take action by implementing what they have learned and applying their new knowledge in some way. 

In short: Ask the reader to do something. 

What do you want the reader to do now? If you want them to think, act, or do something, tell them so at the end of your chapter.

It could be as simple as leaving a few questions for the readers to think about.

Here are some ways to add a call-to-action for your reader:

#1 – Add reflection questions: “So, what’s one AHA! moment you got from reading this chapter?”
#2 – Add action steps: “What is one small action you can take today after reading this chapter?” 
#3 – Sign-up to my email list: “Do you still struggle with this (chapter problem)? Sign up to my email list, where I share more tips and strategies.”
#4 – Get in touch: “If this (chapter problem) is a continuous challenge you are facing, feel free to reach out” (add email or any contact info)
#5 – Buy: “If you’re interested in learning more about (chapter topic), consider buying these other books that focus on X.”

Once you’ve added your call to action, you can add a short transition to prepare your reader for your next chapter. 

Transitioning your reader to the next chapter gets them excited to keep reading, and it fully closes the loop on the information they just read. 

You can easily add some transition words and craft a 1-2 sentence that briefly covers what the next chapter will be about. 

Then, you can wrap up the entire chapter, and start the chapter writing process all over again!

Before you know it, your entire book will be written, and you’ll be preparing your finished manuscript for self-publishing.

Now that you have all the essentials on how to write a book chapter, it’s time to implement them!

Start sharing your stories and making the impact you’ve always wanted to make in the world through the power of your book. 

What other chapter techniques or strategies work for you?

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