When writing a non-fiction book you have several options for organizing your content. The best structure for your book will depend upon your subject matter. This article will give you seven options for organizing your book. Sometimes knowing these options can even help you decide what to write your book about in the first place.
Option #1: The Step-by-Step Sequence
If you’re writing a book about how to do something, you’re probably talking about some sort of process readers need to follow in order to succeed. For example, the first step to writing a book is to choose your subject. That has to come first. Next, you’ll need to brainstorm your content. Then you’ll need to organize your content into an order that makes sense. If your subject naturally requires readers to follow your step-by-step guidance, this option may be best for you.
Option #2: Chronological Order
Chronological order means you write your book starting at the earliest relevant point in time and move forward from there. If you’re telling a story, it makes logical sense to start at the beginning. For example, if you’re writing a personal history, family history, biography, or other historical recount, you’ll most likely choose this option.
Option #3: The Ranked Collection (or Top Ten List)
Everyone loves lists. Everyone likes to know what’s considered best, funniest or most important. If you’re writing a book that rates, ranks or reviews people, places or things, consider this option carefully.
A ranked collection doesn’t need to be a Top Ten List. Other examples of this approach might be:
- 100 Best Places to Live in the USA
- Top 25 Mutual Funds for 2012
- 99 Best Trips to Take with Children
Keep in mind that this option focuses on writing a book using comparison and rank. If you take this approach, you’ll want to be able to support your claims for why something is best or why it is better than something else. If you’re not able to do that, try the next option…The Unranked Collection.
Option #4: The Unranked Collection
I took this approach with my most recent book 21 Ways to Build Your Business with Email Marketing. In the book, I share 21 strategies online marketers can use to build their businesses. It’s not based on research. It’s based on my experience as a copywriter. The strategies don’t need to appear in any particular order. It’s just a collection of great ideas that will help entrepreneurs using email marketing.
You can take this approach without using a number in the book title. A friend of mine wrote a book called Walking on the Ceiling. It’s a collection of personal growth essays. They don’t appear in any particular order (although she did group them into related categories in the Table of Contents).
Sometimes you just want to write a book to share what you think is important. You don’t want to have to validate it, prove it, or do any research. If you have a collection of suggestions, essays or recommendations you want to share with the world, that you don’t want to rank in any order, and which don’t need to appear in any sequential or chronological order, this option is for you.
Option #5: Experts Contribute Chapters
Just the other day I sent in a chapter for a book called Dare to Be a Difference Maker 2. The subtitle is Difference Makers Who Dare to Live with Passion, Follow Their Purpose and Commit to Helping Others. It’s a collection of chapters, each one contributed by a different author. Michelle Prince, who is a contributing author and the publisher, invites people she knows to contribute content. Everyone’s picture goes on the cover and each author purchases a number of books to share with their clients and prospects. Like the Unranked Collection, Michelle divides the chapters into eight different categories within the Table of Contents. Other than that, her organization is quite fluid.
If you want to write a book but you aren’t an expert in the subject you’d like to write your book about, this could be the perfect way to get your book written with very little work on your part. Just keep in mind that people you invite to contribute have busy lives and may not respond according to your expectations or within your ideal time frame.
Option #6: The Biographical Collection
Let’s say you have a subject in mind, but you aren’t an expert. You also don’t want to take the approach suggested in Option #5 and ask people to contribute content. This option allows you to gather content without asking other people to write for you.
For example, I’d like to write a book called The Professional Mom’s Guide to Faith, Family and Fulfillment. I have a few options for collecting biographical information. First, I could set up interviews with professional moms and ask them to tell me their story with the understanding that the content they provide will be included in a book.
Second, I could research stories already in print in other books, online or in the media and either retell or ask permission to use those stories. Each one would be included with my commentary about how each woman’s story illustrates how they keep their faith, care for their family, and still feel fulfilled.
Third, I could research historical figures whose inspiring stories I can retell and comment on without needing to ask permission from anyone.
If your content would be enriched by true accounts from the lives of others, consider this option. However, you should realize that the more you involve others in your writing process and rely on them to meet deadlines, the more likely you are to be delayed in the process. Still, this is a great method for gathering interesting stories that might otherwise be left untold if it weren’t for your efforts.
Option #7: Wagon Wheel Organization
This is more of an exercise than a structure itself. Here’s how it works…
Like a wagon wheel, place your main subject at the center. You can do this on a piece of paper or on the floor using index cards. Then either write or place all the relevant topics around the outside of your main subject—like the spokes of a wagon wheel. Once you have all the topics collected, examine how they relate to each other. Should any one topic logically appear before another? Should certain subjects be covered sequentially and be grouped in their own subsection of the table of contents? Can any topics be combined? Should any be separated in to different chapters? Rearrange the topics based on your observations and conclusions.
The Wagon Wheel approach requires you to look at your content and determine what type of organization the content itself needs in order for it to make the most sense and be of the greatest benefit to your reader. This may not be the easiest option to apply. However, if your subject matter doesn’t fit into one of the other organizational structures, this exercise is worth a try.
Before you begin writing your book, consider which of the seven options fits your content best. Begin with the final structure in mind. You’ll be pleasantly surprised with how easy it becomes to write your book when you start with the big picture first.