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Book Writing Outline

Book Writing Outline

There is a chasm between how novice and expert authors outline and write their book. Now, a lot of people writing a non-fiction book approach their writing like this:

Have an idea, start brainstorming, attack it with gusto, have too much content, rearrange it, hire an editor, editor does a huge review and two rounds of changes, mould a final book, find an angle, write blurb, hope it sells.

I used to be one of those people, so hey, I get it. But then I thought, what if I put some planning and research into those steps… would that help?

Steps in Planning and Writing a Book

Step 1:  Book Research. Find an angle that is a small gap or difference to other books on topic. Ask yourself questions. Determine reader type and purpose of book.

Step 2:  Brainstorm and mind map your topics. 

Step 3:  Outline. In a Google Docs draft, write the outline and summarise each chapter. Decide here on length of book and then length of each chapter. You could also use Scrivener, if rearranging sections and using references. 

If research will be part of your book, start collecting cool ideas and research results. Look at comparative and competitive books and find the gaps. 

Step 4:  Start writing with the research, quotes, and creative ideas, on the topics in each chapter. Be mindful of structure. See if you can add useful reader resources in some of the chapters.

Step 5:  Self-editing. Check chapter lengths. See if the creative content is on par with original reader wants and needs. 

Step 6:  Feedback. Get beta reader feedback and integrate what seems right to you.

Step 7:  Take a fresh look, make it as logical a flow as possible, also check voice is consistent. 

Step 8:  Send to editor for their copy editing work

Step 9:  Integrate the editor’s comments and finalise. Fact check/Copyright check.

Step 10: Typesetting. Send for formatting or do it yourself, if you know about book layout.


Advantages of Writing a Book with an Outline and Purpose First

When you do valid research and tap into what readers are looking for in the initial stages, you’re not just starting from your mind. This information can start to influence all the content of your non-fiction book and even the length or complexity of the book. 

Have you seen the Blue Day book? It’s a short, coloured book with lots of lovely quotes designed to mentally pick you up. It’s a bestseller that found a tiny gap in the book market.

Novices, if you want to have helpful, multimedia resources that inform about the stages of creating a new book and marketing it, just subscribe to a $20 trial membership of BOOK CREATION SUCCESS


Dummies guides are usually 90,000 words and are all of a certain format, to break up the points, but there are people who are daunted by that large a book. For them, it’s better to get three easy-to-start ideas from a small book, than to put off reading a much longer book. They might prefer a step-by-step type book that is clear and uses the author’s experience of the topic area.

Another advantage of doing your research up-front is of course you are going to be writing on the right topics: the ones that readers want to read but are currently complaining they are not getting from other books. For this reason, reading other books’ 2-star and 3-star reviews is a great starting point. 


STEP 1: ASK QUESTIONS

In Step 1, I mentioned you need to ask yourself questions. These are:

  • Do I live and breathe this topic, so it will be easy for me? (Or say, for history/biography, can I research easily enough?)
  • Will I be wanting to talk about this area in speeches for one or two years?
  • Does this topic and my thesis/angle make me feel like I’m contributing something fresh to the world?
  • Will the writing of this book lead to some greater things, perhaps some joint ventures?

Audience Research

After some thought, you might have some things people have said they wanted. But what about misconceptions in this area? And what does your typical reader think of social media? Do they read the news? Are they left or right leaning? Would any of their kids, should they have them, be sent to private schools?  The more you know your readers, the better off you are. 

You can write out a half page now on your Typical Reader Profile

Now it’s time to write a purpose statement for your book. There are often myths that you can set about dispelling. Or there might be something even more controversial you can uncover. Just a few lines to unpack the real reason the book you intend to write is needed. Feel free to get impassioned!

STEP 2: BRAINSTORM

First, go big with as many sub-topics as you can and then narrow down your topics in line with an angle and intended audience’s needs. If it’s a history book or biography/autobiography, then you will probably map out ideas in a chronological manner. 

These two steps — brainstorm and outline — can be done in the same sitting. 

STEP 3: OUTLINE 

In Google Docs, it handily keeps an outline to the left as you get started with topics. In Word, you can just use a Table of Contents format from a simple book template. Remember your initial research as you begin to outline the sections. Think about what you have read and pick out the emotive points. 

STEP 4: WRITE

After all your research and brainstorming, keep the topic starters (outline) to hand, but don’t worry over certain things. Don’t fuss on how it sounds, typos, or what other statistics or biography notes to put in the early part… just get writing and don’t look back!

You want to have momentum with a first draft. You can add more detail and check things in the self-edit. You might leave a gap if there is a diagram or model you want drawn, rather than fuss around drawing it and losing lots of time. I have a pyramid picture in my recent book and got a freelancer to make it rather than attempting it myself. Very quickly, it was done!

STEP 5:  SELF-EDITING

It’s not just important to check your grammar. It’s also important to go back to see if the important questions the typical readers had (or the controversial topic you found) is still in your book. Is your main theme shining through, or is it getting a little lost?  Time to keep picking up the thread and hit the promise that you made in your book purpose statement.

STEP 6: READER FEEDBACK

Your writer friends will help find loose threads and tell you if your theme has wandered. They may not know how to fix things, but if you instruct them well, they will be able to tell you if your theme is coming across. Some may say if your intended reader will be: a) intrigued/happy or b) put out.

 STEP 7: TAKE A FRESH LOOK

When leaving the manuscript two weeks, your fresh eyes will be able to tackle those holes and problems with voice which your readers may have found. Voice consistency means you don’t write we, then you, then him/her. Get an editor’s help if unsure.

STEP 8:  SEND TO EDITOR

Another big benefit to your back pocket is, if you’ve done these steps thoroughly, your manuscript may only need copy editing. Or if the structure is still a little wrong, at least you know it’s wrong and are seeking some advice on how to fix it.

Copy editing is much cheaper than structural (substantive editing), as it looks at the line by line errors.

STEP 9: INTEGRATE EDITORS’ COMMENTS

Now, if you have a sterling book editor, then you will be made aware of the need to write an ‘about the author’ and ‘preface’ (about the book) section. Copyright section: if self-publishing, you will also write this. If using Draft2Digital ebooks, then your About the Author and About the Publisher may go on the outside (in its interface).

Editors’ comments are usually based on grammar rules and audible flow, so if you disagree about many of the changes, question whether this is because their formality level is different or their understanding of the book is different to yours. 

Some editors are rigid, authors tell me, and some don’t look at the work as whole. As an editor, I believe that occasionally rules are made to be broken… if it suits the purpose of the work and reader needs. Some rules in grammar and spelling have become outmoded, so hiring someone up-to-date with these changes is ideal.

STEP 10: SEND FOR TYPESETTING

Book typesetting means such things as lining up bottoms, doing the best for widows/orphans, and ensuring balance when setting chapter heads. Unless you’re gifted at this yourself, or your first novel/memoir is a simple one, then probably don’t attempt it. I was once a desktop publisher and I still forgot to justify the lines of my first book: a rookie error. In other novice books I have seen abhorrent line spacing (called ‘leading’), which must have been abysmal to read, although I did not buy said book. 

It is another cost to bear, so if on a tight budget you can try the overseas book design freelancers with high ratings. Having outsourced it myself to save time (once), I can tell you that this path still meant later work for me, as the book turned up mightily unbalanced. The literally-taken instruction meant that the minimum margin looked silly indeed.

Thanks for reading — and if you want to get support while writing a book deigned for self-publishing, then have a look at our closed Facebook group and online Book Creation Success Club.

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