How to Outline a Nonfiction Book
Ask most writers and they’ll tell you the thing they dread most about writing a book is the outline process. Many never even start their book because the process of outlining a book overwhelms them so much.
But here’s the deal: without a great outline, I don’t believe it’s possible to write a good book. And I’m not alone in that sentiment. Most bestselling authors wouldn’t dream of starting a nonfiction book without first creating a detailed outline.
Why? Here are six of the biggest benefits to outlining your book.
· It eliminates writer’s block. Too many authors complain of writer’s block, but it's mostly just a symptom of not knowing what to write next. But when you have an outline, it’s almost impossible to experience writer’s block.
· It will increase your word count. When you know what you’re writing about, and in what order, your mind is set free to thoroughly write about each and every topic in the book.
· It helps you write a better book. If you know where you’re going during the writing process, you’re less likely to miss important subtopics and important points. Writing a book without an outline is like flying a plane with blinders on—you just can’t see everything you should.
· You will write the book faster. When you’re working with an outline, you won’t sit down at your desk every day and wonder where you’re going next with your book. Instead, you’ll have a detailed blueprint, which will eliminate wasted time researching your next step—or procrastinating because you don’t have a clear vision.
· You will write a better first draft. Writing a book without an outline will force you to do many more revisions and rewrites after the first draft because you will have written it in a “meandering” method. But when you work off of a solid outline, your first draft will better represent the book you set out to write.
· You’ll have more confidence. A well-drafted outline will give you the confidence you need to complete your book.
As you can see, an outline is an important part of the success of any nonfiction book. (It’s important in fiction writing, too and I’ll address that process in another blog post) And while many people look for a template for writing a nonfiction book, I don’t recommend using them. Every book is different, and if you want to write a book that succeeds, I highly suggest starting the process from scratch.
After all, bestsellers don’t come from following a template.
So, how do you create a book outline? You have a few options.
“Outlining your nonfiction book? Bestsellers don’t come from following a template!” Sam Kerns, RainmakerPress.com. Click to Tweet!
How to Create a Nonfiction Book Outline
Everyone outlines a book differently, and it’s important to find out which method works best for you. The only way to determine this is to test each method and figure out which one produces the best results for you. Here is a list of four of the most effective ways to outline a nonfiction book.
· Create a chapter-by-chapter outline. This is the method I use to outline all of my books because it’s the way my brain thinks. I like to first organize all of the chapter headings, and then using a combination of research and the knowledge I already have on the topic, I create subtopics within each chapter. By the time I’ve completed it, I have an extensively detailed outline that I can follow. The only thing left to do is write the book!
· Get creative with mind-mapping. This is a popular way of outlining a book that quite frankly, I just can’t do. I love the idea of it, but have never been able to produce anything of value from it. But maybe this idea will work for you. The premise is simple: you write down the main idea in the center of a large piece of paper and then draw lines from that to create chapters and subtopics. The idea behind this is that the free-form activity will cause your imagination to flow.
· Create a bare-bones outline. People who use this method create an outline with only the bare-bones of the book. The theory is that as you’re writing, you will naturally add what needs to be added to finish out the book. Again, this one doesn’t work for me because I like to have a detailed plan before I begin writing.
· Use software to outline a book. Scrivener die hard fans swear by its outline abilities. The program allows you to create an uber detailed outline, but be forewarned, the learning curve of this software is steep. Books have been written to help users learn the software, so if you’re in a hurry to outline your book, it may not be the right option.
Book Outlining Questions and Answers
I get asked a lot of questions about how to outline a book, so I’ve put together this quick guide if you’re in a hurry. Here are the most commonly asked questions about the topic.
How do you outline a book?
The most important thing to remember when outlining a book is that you should remain flexible. In other words, don’t create a book outline and then think you have to stick with it no matter what. I’ve often rearranged, added to, or even deleted sections of my book outlines in order to write a better book.
Your chapters should be arranged in a logical order and tell the reader everything they want to know about the topic. As you’re looking over your outline, imagine that you want to learn about the topic and decide whether or not it’s missing any pieces in the puzzle. If so, add a chapter or section to fill them in.
How Do You Start a Non-Fiction Book?
When outlining a nonfiction book, you want to begin the book by telling the reader about your credentials, or more importantly, your story. If you are writing about starting a food business, tell the reader how you have experience with the topic so they will feel comfortable with you as their source of information. If you don’t have experience with the topic, tell the reader a story about yourself that will cause them to trust that you are the right person to teach them about the topic.
How Long Does it Take to Write a Non-Fiction Book?
This is one of the most frequently asked questions, and with good reason. Every person’s life is different and that means not everyone has the same writing schedule. Some people can write a nonfiction book in a weekend, while others will take a year. There are some great books written on the topic of writing books fast.
How Many Words are in a Non-Fiction Book?
If you browse the aisles of Amazon, you will find nonfiction books in varying lengths. You will find some that are only 15 pages, while others are hundreds or even thousands of pages. But if you want to write a book that sells, most experts—including myself—believe you should have at least 10 chapters and 60 pages in your nonfiction book. If you use Microsoft Word and put an average of 500 words on a page, that amounts to about 30,000 words.
Help for Writers Who Hate Book Outlining
Is outlining your book preventing you from achieving your dream of publishing a book? Maybe the four options listed above will help, and if not, I’ve written a new interactive workbook that will guide you through the process. This step-by-step workbook will walk you through the process of outlining a non-fiction book. And once you’ve created a professional outline, your book will practically write itself!
Now stop procrastinating and write that book that’s been taking up so much space in your head!