The how or why do I need a book outline comes up time and time again. Only yesterday, someone was telling me that their book was in a mess and they couldn’t work out what to do next.
The simple answer go back and outline it again… Get clarity. A nonfiction book works best when it is outlined well and before you start to write.
Ok easier said than done when you are immersed in it.
Right now I am writing another nonfiction book and I confess I have fiddled with my outline. I took time out, walked away, walked the dogs, ate cake and pondered.
I’ve talked before about people who pants it when writing a book and those that outline and what the benefits are. So you will know that I love to create a book outline before I write a book. There are too many benefits for me not to do it.
My mum, on the other hand, is a pantser. In fairness, she writes fiction and loves to see the story evolve. I tried that when writing fiction and it didn’t work for me.
I think that the reason I like a book outline for a nonfiction book is that I can see the ‘story’ or plot of the book come alive.
I am very visual and I like a picture of what is going to unfold. I want to see the journey and I want it to make sense.
Here’s some things to think about.
What is your learning style?
There are many different ideas on learning style. In the context of getting things done I like these:
- What if?
And of course the people who big picture and detail.
I have a practical blog called what kind of planner are you and when I know how my clients do things, I have a much better idea of how we will actually get this book planned, written and published.
I know when I work with clients and I present them with my book outline structure some squeal in delight and others say nooooooo.
The squealers get on with it. They love to dive in and work out, for example, the why, what, how and what if. They love uncovering questions and knowing the key messages.
They also love that once they have done this that they can allow their writing to flow.
Because it’s easy. They have done the hard work, now all that needs to happen is to trust that their muse is with them.
The ‘others’ need gentle coaxing. No document, no obvious structure. Although they love doing the bits, it just has to be in little chunks.
Either way, we get a book outline.
When you try to outline without considering how you like to do things, you can sometimes come a cropper. Which basically means none of it will make sense to you. So, find out what works best for you.
When I outline, despite being visual and would like nothing better than lots of post its and coloured pens, I flex my style and follow a process that sees me starting with the scribble and then formalising it. So whole braining it – which we are doing all of the time, it just feels right and left at the time.
Creating A Brilliant Book Outline For Your Nonfiction Book
1. Get clear on your why
This one sounds easy, but often people write a book which is not the right book. Ask the 5 whys. Get clear on this and the outline will flow from it, because it will make sense and marry with your message.
2. What is your nonfiction book about?
Here we want to discover the essence of the book. What does your reader get from reading this book? I find writing a blurb (the bit on the back) helps me to get clarity. If it’s your story – how does your story help your readers or customers?
3. What is the process your ideal reader goes though?
Think of this like you might have a plot in a fiction book. Create a timeline so that you can clearly see the journey you want them to take. Remember to meet your reader at the start of their journey and think of the outcome you want for them,in each chapter and at the end of the book.
Remember that although you want an outcome – they will get whatever they need from this book.
Keep the process short, sweet and simple. You can write other books.
4. Who is your ideal reader?
You must always write for one ideal reader so that you make an emotional connection. It makes for a better book.
5. What questions is your reader asking?
This is not what do you think they are asking. It’s what are they really asking.
When I was healing a fractured spine and was looking in the osteoporosis forums I saw the same questions, practically every day. You will too when you look in the right places.
Write a big list of questions and put them on your timeline in an order that makes sense.
6. Sketch out a rough book outline
You have a timeline and questions. Next, brainstorm chapter titles and write a short synopsis in the style of – this chapter is about. This is not about detail, it’s more that you want to explore your first thoughts.
7. Add your questions to your outline
I always keep 3 questions I am answering per chapter in my outline synopsis when I am planning and writing. They keep me on track. I confess I get carried away with my writing and have to come back to the questions… Nothing is ever wasted, but I do have a tendancy to write a lot. And I am very good at editing hard. Well, you have to be, don’t you!
8. Map your story timeline
Just as you have the list of potential chapters, you will need a list of which snippets of your story go where. It doesn’t need to be much. Map it to the chapter titles and/or questions.
When I work with clients, we are looking typically how to turn their story into a self-help book, which they can use to further develop other products and services. So, this is not a memoir, but it does have story woven through out it. A great example of this is Zoe Clements book, But I should be fine. Her stories are brilliant and you get to meet Paddy the dog.
9. List what you can repurpose and what you have to write from scratch
This is what I call a knowledge audit. But rather go through all of your content, jot down what you think you already have and do a gap analysis.
The book I am currently writing has lots of new content, but it also has other parts that I have repurposed. It’s often when you look at what you have, you can get other ideas for the outline.
10. Finish with a synopsis
Once you have mapped these steps out, write up a more detailed synopsis. The most important part is to leave it until you are ready to properly create a book outline.
Ok, I haven’t shared all of book outline secrets, but there’s enough there to get you going. This is designed to get you thinking without going into masses of depth – that comes later…
The reason this works as a brilliant first book outline is that once you get it out, your unconscious mind will start to make connections. This makes your complete book outline process much more powerful.
What you might also want to try is a test write. Pick a chapter and see how it goes. What do you learn about your writing process?