Why You Absolutely MUST Create One Before You Start Writing Your Nonfiction Book
Why do we write books (or any content)?
Most of us who write do it for several reasons. The most common reasons are we have an idea we think would benefit someone else, we have a product to sell, we want to engage with our community, we want to boost our credibility, or we want to be seen as an expert in a topic.
In my last blog post, I wrote about how to organize your book and emphasized the importance of outlines. But now I want to get even more in-depth about creating an outline that will feed the reader the correct information in the correct order so that they can best understand and integrate that information.
Think about it: if you read something that’s just a jumble of information that doesn’t seem to flow from one idea to the other, it’s confusing, right? You might have to reread whole sections over and over again in order to understand what the author is trying to say. You might get frustrated, even close the book, and never pick it up again.
And when a reader closes a book before finishing, never to open it again, all the author’s work has been in vain.
So if you want to write a book that will make a real difference to others and to the world, you’ll need to organize the information in such a way that the reader can access that information. You need a book outline.
But how do you create a book outline?
5 steps for creating a strong book outline
Consider the book’s core purpose and write it down in 1–2 sentences.
What is the concept you’re presenting? Why is it important? What value does it provide its reader? And who is the intended audience — who is the book written for? Get specific about these points.
Here’s an example: “How to Train Your Dog to Carry Groceries presents my 5-step training method for teaching medium- to large-sized dogs to carry their owner’s groceries, freeing up their owner’s hands and allowing disabled, injured, ill, or elderly people to carry more items and make fewer trips to the store.“
List the main concepts the reader will have to understand in order to get the full benefit of the book. List them in the order that the reader will need to understand them.
In this case, they need to understand how to train the dog before they need to understand how to pack the grocery bags.
1) Dog training basics
2) Choosing the right bags for your dog
3) Getting your dog used to carrying items
4) Bag packing tips
5) Your first visit to the grocery store
6) Rewarding your dog
For each concept you’ve outlined, break it down even further.
1) Dog training basics
- Voice command
- Using the clicker
- How to know when training is completed
Now that you have the concepts broken down and organized in the way that the reader needs to understand them, you have your chapters and sections within each chapter.
You may want to add an introduction and a concluding chapter, as well as a resource section, references, or appendices.
Create the entire outline for your book with all the elements you think you’ll need. Remember that you can change things around later on during the writing and development process.
The outline is now like the frame of a house, on which you build the elements that make a house a home: walls, electrical, cabinetry, décor. As you write, make sure that everything you include within each section serves the concept you’ve outlined for that section.
Avoid going off on tangents, introducing new concepts that aren’t included in your outline, or repeating information you’ve already shared.
Book Outlines Work
Authors I work with frequently resist creating outlines for their books. It might seem tedious, but it’s the absolute best way to make sure your writing stays on topic and that your reader will understand your concepts. After all, your goal for writing is to communicate your ideas in a way that the reader will take something away from them.
Create an outline before you start to write. Your readers will thank you.
Melissa Kirk (WNBA-SF) has been working in nonfiction book publishing for 19 years, including 16 at publishing houses and 3 running her book coaching and content management company Words to Honey Content Services. She specializes in working with psychology, health, and wellness entrepreneurs and businesses to create dynamic content that genuinely helps people and builds her clients’ businesses.
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