Who, why, what, when, where, and how do you write a How To book? Questions of this type fly when someone realizes there is a serious gap in articles about a product or an activity, or you find you are writing so much documentation that it really should be a book. Some people also ask with a view to making money from a book or at least recovering their costs. The real answer requires some exchange of information. Here are some notes to guide you toward an initial decision.
Write an introduction
Your introduction to a book sets the direction and tone for the rest of the book. In effect, you should write the introduction very early on and stick to writing things that fit your introduction. If you are writing outside your introduction, you may need to split that information out into a separate book.
Does your introduction make sense? Let people read the introduction then ask them questions to work out if they understood the introduction. Ask them if they would buy the book. Changing a book at the introduction stage is easier than changing it at the end.
There are workshop exercises that takes you from now to your introduction and turn the result into marketing material plus your approach to publishers.
Tutorial or reference?
There are two types of How To books, tutorials and references. They work together. A subject with limited options can include the reference in the tutorial by creating a good index and some other techniques.
Wayne Berry, in Best Deals, his excellent book on negotiation, divides his information into two sections. The first half is a tutorial you read page by page. The second half is a reference with sections you read when appropriate.
There are lots of other examples of dual purpose books. A cook book might have an ingredients reference at the back of a cooking tutorial.
A tutorial explains things similar to the way you explain things when sitting with a person. In the movie Philadelphia, there is the famouse quote
explain it to me like I'm a four-year-old.. Your tutorial has to explain things at the level of the reader. Your introduction and marketing material will hint at the level you accommodate. Is it a raw beginner or someone with some experience? What experience?
When you are first developing a tutorial, you need to find people with the level of experience you aim to attract to the book. Test your tutorial. Record all questions and answer them in the book because it is too late after the book is printed.
A reference book has lots of little items of information organized in a list. The list might be structured in various ways and cross referenced by indexes. The type of thinking behind a reference is completely different to tutorials. Reference writers are organized because references have to be complete to be useful.
A reference on plants might be split into trees, flowers, and vegetables. Today in Australia, after recent droughts and floods, your book on plants might be split into drought resistant plants and flood resistant plants. You could use the trees, flowers, and vegetables divisions then have a separate index for drought resistant plants.
By comparison, tutorials are oriented more toward what you do first, second, third, and so on. A tutorial on plants might start with
How to establish a drought resistant garden then go into what you do first, second, third, and so on.
A reference is the place where you can find the answers to questions. When you establish a drought resistant garden and suddenly find your garden filled with little mounds with holes in the top you grab a reference and might look up
mounds. When you spot the little insects flying around the holes, you might look up insect mounds. You might look up bees if the insects look like bees. You might look up mud wasps if you have enough experience to recognize mud wasps. The reference writer needs to accumulate all the various terms used by less experienced people then connect those terms with the right information.
Should you write?
The market for printed books is down and the market for electronic books is up. Lots of books spin off extra items with little cost to the author. There is no best time for writing. There are best times for specific types of books on specific subjects. You need to work your way through the introduction stage before deciding to continue or move on to something else.
When you are deciding, consider a one on one session around your subject, look at th direction the book is headed, and discuss alternative ways to present and use the same information.