Have you outlined your book yet? If not, no worries I’ll get you started with a good plan. With an outline, writing your book becomes more like fill in the blanks. You can easily see what comes next. As you fill in your outline, you will be able to see any gaps in information already compiled or written. With all that said, here are some tips and steps to outline your book successfully.
If you create a good outline for your book, you can easily write a good book. If your outline is weak, more than likely your book will be equally less compelling. Before we start, I must add a good outline may mean different things to different people. There are lots of good ways to create an outline. In this post, we’ll focus on creating a linear outline; then in a later post we’ll use a mind map to outline your book.
An outline is considered the roadmap for getting from a blank page to your finished book. We will look at three of the six basic ways to create a linear outline. Then I’ll post an additional section where we’ll discuss creating an outline using a mind map. I usually end up using a combination of several different methods. So, I’ll leave the choice to you which suits you best to create your book outline.
The six most common and basic outlines in the linear method are:
1. Alphabetically Outline
2. Step by Step Outline
3. Mistakes Outline
4. List Outline
5. Q/A Outline
6. Content Outline
Even so, there are two main elements every outline should have. The table of contents is one and the other is chapter divisions. You’ll find it’s easier for you and your readers to find information, if you divide it into chapters and even sections. It chunks the information into smaller pieces that are easier for you to write or your readers to read and absorb.
Also, dividing your information into chapters makes it easier to create your table of contents. This table is where your readers will find out what’s in your book and where it’s located.
So, your first step is to decide how you want to organize your information. Then arrange the information into chapters that align with your outline method. As you add information and flesh out your book, you can decide whether to add sub-topics and sub-divisions to your chapters. The last thing to do and for some the first thing to do is generate the table of contents. Now, let’s take a look at three of the six outline types.
Step by Step Outline
The step by step or process outline method is commonly used in how-to and self-help books. Whether your book is selling real estate, buying your first home, fly fishing or baking a cake, each follows a process with individual steps that can be described.
A good example of a process outlined book is Lilyan Wilder’s “7 Steps to Fearless Speaking” (John Wiley & Sons, Inc.), it walks you through seven proven steps to speaking without fear. Ms. Wilder has been consultant to broadcast correspondents at ABC, CBS, NBC, and CNN. She has coached celebrities like Oprah Winfrey, Maya Angelo and James Earl Jones.
“7 Steps to Fearless Speaking” is also organized according to a process, divided into a series of steps to explain the process of speaking, voice strengthening and voice control. The steps are organized by a distinctive feature of the total process outline and in the order they are best performed.
Using this method, each step becomes the title of a chapter. In Ms. Wilder’s book, each step became a stand alone chapter with stories and examples. Also, this type of outline lends itself easily to sub-divisions within each chapter. There is often more than one way to accomplish each step of a process, just as there is more than one way to outline a book. These options or choices can become the sub-divisions of each chapter(step).
A list outline is good for information you want to present using numbered chapters or sections. This type of outline doesn’t necessarily have to be in any particular order. A devotional type book with a timed list of devotions like 52 Weeks… or 365 Days…or the author’s “Jumpstart: 100 Book Writing Tips Action Exercises and Quotable Encouragement” or Jim Cockrum’s “Free Marketing 101.” September 2011 marked the release of his first “book store shelf” book Free Marketing: 101 Low and No-Cost Ways to Grow Your Business, Online and Off.
This method offers you a group of chapters that are fully capable of standing alone. It makes them easier to write because you don’t have to write them to connect to each other. Since there’s no logical order, it’s also easier to read naturally or in short spurts of time. The reader can jump around to any chapter at any time, according to their interest.
The list outline also gives your book easy appeal to your readers and customers. Titles like 101 Free Marketing Tips, 100 Book Writing Tips and Action Steps instantly get customers to working out mentally what might be on the list.
People are by nature attracted to numbered list that make the solution look easy. For example, the title mentioned earlier “7 Steps to Fearless Speaking” made it seem achievable. Another good example, is the popular book “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” by Stephen Covey. It became a best seller because readers wanted to know what the seven habits were.
The Q&A (questions and answers) outline is one of the easiest, in my opinion. If you have a lot of experience and knowledge on your topic, this might be the best outline method for you. If you’ve been living, breathing, talking it, dreaming it, teaching it and writing about it for years, you probably already know the most frequently asked questions and the answers. You can simply make a list of the most commonly asked questions and write the answers to each in detail. The result will be the rough draft for your book. Or another scenario might be you interviewing the experts in your field and creating a chapter for each expert. Each chapter would contain basically a question and answer interview of each expert.
The main thing to remember about this type of outline is to make sure you have answers to the questions everyone is asking. Your book will quickly become known as the solutions book for your field. You might consider an index as well as the table of contents. Inside your book, you can index the questions/answers to help your reader find specific topics and divide it into chapters and sub-topic groups.
After completing your outline, start writing your book according to the outline, table of contents and draft.
Using an Outline to Write Your Book
When I start writing a book, I use a technique very similar to my article templates. You might find it helpful too. I create a basic outline (list is my favorite) as my map. From the outline, I create a table of contents. I create a document in Word named and saved after book title. As a template, I create a page for each part of the book from front matter, table of contents, introduction, chapter names, index, and back matter. Inside the template or shell I add material as I write to each chapter or part of the book. In case you don’t know what front and back matter is, front matter is title page, copyright page, dedication, acknowledgements and introduction. Back matter would include resource list, author bio, end notes, bibliography, and index.
After your book template is created, you simply add your writing under each chapter heading and sub-topic. Then fill in the blanks on each front and back matter pages. For example, fill in your copyright information, acknowledgements, dedication, resources, author bio and the rest.
More Tips About Outlining your book – see below
Are you ready to get started writing your book the new way? Go get book 1 of Earma’s latest book collection ‘Book Money Series: The New Book Model‘
Earma Brown, 12 book authorpreneur and America’s book success coach
2 CommentsLeave a comment
I’m having difficulty on where and how to start. I should have known an outline is the best way to start. It’s how I start anything, whether it is a paper for school or a project for wotk. Thanks for the reminder.
Thanks for your comment. I wasn’t originally thinking that way myself. Although, like you it’s always a part of my planning process. This post & now lesson was born after one of my book writing course students suggested it. His constructive criticism was he still struggled with knowing where to start…I’m hoping this will help get people started on their book writing journey even faster. Best wishes on your book project.